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Workplace benefits: The new employer battleground

Aflac survey reveals employees want new and diverse perks

All’s fair in love and war, as the saying goes. But on the employment battlefield, there’s another arena where all is fair: in the battle for the best and brightest employees.

Companies are pulling out all the stops to make sure their employee rosters are stocked with individuals with strong talents. That means they’re constantly coming up with new perks to add to their lists of employee benefits. The CEO of one startup, for example, pays the college tuition of employees’ children and also picks up the tab for employees’ weddings.

“Our goal is to increase the overall employer-employee bond,” said Chieh Huang, CEO of Boxed, which allows customers to order bulk quantities of more than 1,000 products for delivery within two business days. Wedding costs and college tuition aren’t the only unusual benefits the company provides. In addition to dental, vision and health care insurance, Boxed provides unlimited paid time off, maternity and parental leave.

It’s fair to say Boxed is unusual in the realm of employee perks, but more companies are competing for top employees by polishing up their benefits plans. Employees, many tired of routine increases in their health insurance expenses, are increasingly interested in benefits that would help lower those costs. For example, employees who took part in the 2016 Aflac WorkForces Report* survey said they’d participate in these activities in the interest of reducing health care costs.

Those benefits are tame compared to the perks employees identified in Mass Mutual’s latest Generations@Work Study. The study revealed that 4 percent of employees would like to bring their pets to work, another 4 percent want free coffee bars and 6 percent long for company provided nap rooms.

Of course, more standard wants were higher on their lists, including increased vacation days (47 percent), better 401(k) matches (44 percent) and flexible work schedules (36 percent). Interestingly, an optimistic 40 percent would like to pay no health care premiums.

Companies might not be willing to accommodate those who want to bring Spot and Fido to work, but a group of employees they can easily satisfy is the one wanting expanded health care benefits. One obvious option is the addition of voluntary insurance policies. Because premiums are usually paid by employees who elect to enroll, these benefits options can bulk up a company’s list of health care offerings at no direct cost to the business itself. And employees can choose from an array of plans that meet their families’ needs and budgets.

Most employees are familiar with the most common voluntary options, dental and vision insurance, because they’ve become almost standard at American companies. There are other voluntary policies, however, that may be even more valuable to employees today as the health care costs continue to hit employees’ wallets. Among them:

» Critical illness insurance : Voluntary critical illness insurance helps employees stay ahead of the medical and out-of-pocket expenses that can accompany certain medical events. For example, many lump-sum critical illness policies pay benefits when a worker experiences a covered event such