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Workforce, Working Well

Benefits Are a Large, Important Part of Total Compensation 

On this first day of SHRM’s annual conference, the association released its annual benefits survey which comments on trends in the employee benefits space.  

The view of New Orleans from the SHRM conference.

The 2017 Society for Human Resource Management conference is in New Orleans this year, which I love. I got to stay with my sister and her 60-pound pit bull for a couple of days before entering Conference-land. We went on long walks in the heat, took a yoga class and ate some good food. We spent one Friday evening at a small Irish pub, where none of these non-HR professionals knew much about HR at all — but it still came up in conversation.

This is going to be really obvious, but benefits truly impact people’s lives, even if people don’t regularly think about HR. One person I talked to that night is using his unlimited PTO to take a motorcycle trip across the country. Another person got to leave work early that afternoon and have some Abita beers/frozen Irish coffees with us because of a policy at her office; take shorter lunch breaks throughout the week and you can leave early Friday. We didn’t mean to have this conversation about workplace benefits, but there it was.

This first night of SHRM’s conference, the HR association released its 2017 “Employee Benefits” survey, which cemented this feeling that benefits really do make up a large part of the employee value proposition.

A couple of statistics stuck out to me at first: one-third of surveyed organizations have increased their benefits offerings in the past year in an effort to be an employer of choice and attract the best people. Not surprising, of course. What interested me was that the value of benefits accounted for, on average, about 30 percent of an employee’s total compensation (30 percent in private industry; 37 percent in state and local government).

This was relevant because of an article I read about how employees shouldn’t just negotiate for a higher salary. Negotiating for alternative forms of compensation like benefits is just as important. This article pointed out areas like flex time, transportation and student loan repayment, which an employee can ask for if, for example, the company is not in the financial situation to offer a raise.

Wellness was a benefit that saw a large increase in the survey. A quarter of these companies have increased their wellness benefits, and three-quarters said their wellness program was “somewhat to very effective on reducing health care costs.”

I’ve seen statistics like this a lot, and they disagree greatly with other stats that say wellness programs don’t save money at all. There are very logical arguments on both sides of this wellness coin. From what I can tell, employee wellness programs aren’t going anywhere, whether they notably reduce employers’ and employees’ health care costs or not. What they do is help give people resources to make healthy changes in their lives.

Interestingly, in the wellness space, fewer employers offer smoking cessation programs than before. The person presenting this information, SHRM Vice President of Research Shonna Waters, did mention that “sitting is the new standing” line we’ve been hearing about so much. While smoking cessation programs are in the decline in the employer space, sit-stand desks are spiking upward, from 13 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2017.

My take on this? Since the “Mad Men” era 50 years ago, smoking’s prevalence in, well, everywhere has declined. People are also much more educated on the health risks of smoking. No one can pretend it’s harmless anymore.

In an employer wellness program, wouldn’t it be more valuable to focus on a problem that’s less understood and more prevalent in 2017? Even though people still smoke, other harmful habits are growing in prevalence. Those problems deserve a little attention, too, and many people could use the educational opportunity.

Three more days of the conference and so many more benefits related sessions to go! I’ll be sharing my takeaways from sessions on this Workforce blog and at my twitter handle @andie_burjek. Any questions in the benefits/wellness space, comment or tweet at me and I’ll scope out the answer in this room of an estimated 15k HR professionals.

Andie Burjek is aWorkforceassociate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. FollowWorkforceon Twitter at@workforcenews.