Lifestyle benefits are the industry's future

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NEW ORLEANS — Advisers who don’t direct their clients to benefits that can significantly improve employees’ quality of life are missing the mark.

That was the key takeaway during a panel discussion at Workplace Benefits Renaissance, a conference hosted by Employee Benefit Adviser, on Tuesday. Lifestyle benefits are becoming just as standard as medical, dental and vision benefits, said experts, noting the rising interest in so-called voluntary benefits, particularly among younger workers.

“People are becoming more vocal during the onboarding process and coming in saying ‘tell me more about your benefits,’” said Merideth Harrington, a panelist and chief revenue officer of Zeamo, a health and fitness benefit provider. “They’re asking this question because the expectation is the benefits are going to be more robust than medical and dental.”

Around 60% of employees say benefit offerings are a significant factor in their decision on whether or not to take a new job, according to a Glassdoor survey. The panelists said benefits will become more innovative as younger generations, like millennials and Gen Z, continue to dominate the workplace.

“Baby boomers are used to sticking with a job for 10 to 20 years, millennials are not — that shows they’re willing to take risks and chances,” said Anthony Lombardi, a panelist and senior managing consultant at Healthcare, Wellness & Benefits.

The panelists agreed employees’ increasing desire for more comprehensive benefit packages can be largely attributed to socioeconomic factors, like high childcare prices and the student debt crisis — to name a few. Competitive employers offer perks addressing these needs to help their workforce achieve greater work-life balance, which leads to higher productivity rates and employee loyalty.

“If they’re struggling outside of work, it’s going to affect them at work. Employers are smartening up to get ahead,” Harrington said.

Shadiah Sigala, co-founder and CEO of Kinside — a childcare benefit provider — noted that the U.S. is one of the few developed countries that doesn’t provide universal parental leave. As a result, working parents have to make arrangements for their young children to be supervised by relatives or childcare professionals. Sigala said brokers can be part of the solution by directing employer clients who have employees with families to childcare benefits.

“Our society has become a place where parents are spending 20 to 30% of their income so their child can be raised by someone else,” Sigala said. “Employers aren’t doing enough now, but they’re in a position to support Americans in a holistic way in the future.”

Anita Ward, chief development officer at Salary Finance, a financial wellness platform, pointed out that income is a major factor that determines employee lifestyle. If raises aren’t possible, employers can provide tools to help their workforce make the most out of their current earnings, she said. Salary Finance, for example, allows employees to get an advance on their paycheck so they don’t have to rely on short-term loans to make on-time payments.

“Financial troubles create anxiety in people; they’re more prone to sleepless nights and fights with coworkers — that’s certainly not a good work environment,” Ward said. “Employers are in the best position to teach financial literacy to create a more dignified workplace.”

During the post-panel discussion, an audience member pointed out that the most competitive employers have lifestyle benefits; brokers who don’t deliver them are in danger of being replaced. She emphasized that brokers need to focus on creating a custom experience for each client.

“Our job as consultants is to cultivate a program that complements our clients’ culture,” said Katie Ott, director of worksite benefits and employee practice at M3 Insurance. “If you introduce new programs gradually, you can make a meaningful impact.”

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