Employees treasure their workplace benefits more than ever, yet employers are increasingly asking workers to shoulder more of the costs of providing those benefits, finds a new survey of benefit plan participants and employers.

Nearly half of employers (47%) plan to ask employees to take on a higher share of benefit costs in 2014, according to the Guardian Workplace Benefits Study, in part because of the Affordable Care Act. And while half of employers feel they’ve been successful in rolling out post-health care reform benefits, only 22% say that they are “well prepared” to communicate these changes to employees.

 “Employers need to lessen this disconnect by using a multi-channel approach that allows employees to get engaged and to fully take on the responsibility of protecting themselves,” says says Phyllis Falotico, assistant vice president at group marketing at Guardian. “They can do this by providing every opportunity to support enrollment efforts and  by educating employees on how the different product offerings can help solve their unique needs while providing overall financial protection.”

The transfer of costs to this loyal workforce comes at an inopportune time as many employees leverage their benefits to help with financial stability and overall health. Guardian’s Benefits Value Index – used to calculate how employees value their benefits – has increased to 7.1 on a 10-point scale, an increase of 0.3 percentage points from 2012.

Guardian notes that the increase signifies a correlation between an employer’s benefits strategy and retention. Eight-in-10 employees say that they enroll in health and disability insurance as well as retirement savings through their employers. Approximately 79% of employees surveyed say that benefits are vital for job loyalty.

“While the responsibility of benefits costs may be shifting, it’s still essential for companies to ensure that their employees have expert financial planning advice and a clear understanding of which workplace benefits are best for their particular situation,” says Falotico. She notes that now – more than ever – employers are looking for assistance from external parties.

Outsourcing to carriers or third-party administrators can help with benefits changes across company divisions and groups. It is also considered to be more cost effective, according to the study.  

Falotico adds that having additional options for employees can help employers to maintain an angaged workforce. She recommends that benefits decision-makers “need to first rethink today's current benefits model and provide access and education to products.”

“While it is always important to have a loyal workforce, in this age of uncertain health care reform, employers have a great opportunity to strengthen worker loyalty by providing coverage  options that protect a middle class worker’s income and savings, especially as heath-related events occur,” Falotico explains. “Supplemental health products along with disability and life [insurance] can provide that added protection for today's working middle class.”

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