By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®
Dr. Ron Leopold, vice president at MetLife, has two simple questions for employers:
1. Which of these statements best describes the amount of money your company spends to fund your overall benefits program as compared to your competitors? Best in the industry? Better than most? Comparable? Or worse?
2. How would you prioritize meeting the diverse needs of your workforce in benefits spending? Top, high, medium or low priority?
Based on your answers to these questions, you then fit into one of four "profiles" in the "benefits landscape," according to Leopold's new book, "The Benefits Edge." (Visit the MetLife site to order a free copy.)
Imagine the four categories as an x-y axis, with diversity of choice on the horizontal axis and spending on the vertical.
The farther right you go on this grid, the more you get into the realms of the "Progressive" and the "Flexible" employer. Flexible employers have tighter budgetary constraints but still try to provide a wide range of choices to match the diversity of their workforces. On the other hand, Progressives can offer both richness and variety in their benefits. It's these Progressive employers who typify the new ethos of benefits as a major way to retain and attract employees.
To the left side of this grid, you find the "Traditional" employers--those who seek to preserve, and can still fund, the employer-based benefits system--and the "Standard" employers--those who just are hanging on with the status quo and merely "keeping up with the pack," explained Leopold.
Based on the breakdown in the 7th annual MetLife "Trends Study," 18 percent of employer respondents fit into the Traditional mold, 28 percent into the Standard, 22 percent in the Flexible and a whopping 32 percent in the Progressive.
Similar results could occur no matter the industry you surveyed or the employers' location.
"What we found was that, in every major single industry sector, all four of these employer groups were there, as well as split by geography and by size," Leopold said.
He added, however, that more Progressives than Standards occurred within the ranks of larger companies, while smaller firms tended to have the most Standards among their ranks.
"Economies of scale do not allow every small employer to compete benefit by benefit against larger companies," Leopold said.
Don't fret, though, if you're finding yourself in one category versus another. Leopold stressed that one shouldn't place value judgments on each category: i.e., that one is better than the other. That's not the point of the new MetLife classification system. Instead, where an employer ends up reflects given business environments and realities.
The categories and the two questions that form their basis are a "self-assessment," how an employer sees itself today, what is being valued in the organization, and how that meshes with what competitors out there are doing--which can only help bosses focus on goals for tomorrow.
"Yes, this does describe where we are today. But it does help me shape and make a case for where we want to go tomorrow," Leopold said, talking in the viewpoint of employers.
WHITHER TO? PRODUCTIVITY!
A large part of Leopold's book, "The Benefits Edge," is also dedicated to convincing employers to change their mindset about benefits. No longer should they be considered a product. Benefits should be a reflection of culture, a shift if necessary, including a reset not just in the meaning and design of healthcare packages and retirement savings but also a refocus on the employees' work-life balance.
Employers should realize there is value in having an employee explain to a colleague or family member that they stay with their job because "I just get a much better deal here," said Leopold.
"If you are interested in changing ... consider if there would be a business advantage in being a little bit better than your peers in terms of the richness and diversity of your benefits," Leopold told Risk & Insurance®.
It had been, in the good old days of capitalism a couple years ago, that one employer could leverage superior benefits as an advantage over another employer in getting the best talent on the job market. According to recent MetLife surveys, though, the importance of attracting new talent through benefits has taken a back seat in the recession. Managing costs and retaining current employers are holding steady, nevertheless, as concerns when it comes to benefits programs.
And now, according to Leopold, employers are also seeing importance more than ever in how benefits affect productivity. In part, it's because of the growing awareness of the relationship between healthier workforces and more productive workforces. Employers are realizing as well that financial difficulties at home can distract employees.
"The more that employers can help employees help themselves in terms of getting their financial picture in order ... will greatly reduce the distractions that those things will have on people on the job," Leopold explained.
Then again, if you don't fit into the category of employer that can provide such help in the current financial situation, don't let that distract you either.
June 1, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications