Healthcare is still one of the most common and popular offerings, but the rising cost of healthcare adds complexity for companies and for employees, says Esen. About three-quarters (74 percent) of companies have not considered providing subsidies to purchase health care insurance through a private exchange, according to the research. And 73 percent of organizations anticipated an increase in their company's total health care costs between the 2015 and 2016 plan years; one-third anticipated an increase of over 10 percent.
"Even with the affordable care act and the options for companies to shift responsibility to the private exchange or other areas, we didn't see a major push from companies to stop offering healthcare. These are really popular with employees, and it's also a way for companies to say, 'We care about our talent and we want to enhance your life and wellness and make sure you're healthy,'" she says.
Companies also are offering comprehensive wellness plans to help lower healthcare costs and improve engagement, according to the research. About three-fourths (74 percent) of organizations that had wellness initiatives in place say they were "somewhat" or "very effective" in improving overall engagement of employees, and almost half (48 percent) of respondents say their wellness initiatives decreased health care costs. Respondents also say the initiatives decreased unplanned absences (42 percent) and increased productivity (30 percent).
Flexible work is another standard benefit; according to the survey, 56 percent of employers offer the option to use flexible work arrangements and in technology that number rises to 76 percent of organizations who offer flexible work arrangements.
"The benefit that actually delivers the highest return in terms of improving employee engagement is giving employees the gift of time. For today's workforce, the most important thing is creating the most flexible working environment that you can in order to improve the work-life balance of employees. Focusing on this aspect will deliver a higher return than most other benefits offerings," says Kropp.
Where should organizations focus in 2017? It's less about offering specific benefits over and above the classics -- like healthcare, flexible work, retirement savings and planning and paid leave -- and more about tailoring your benefits plan to meet the unique needs of your workforce, says Laura Kerekes, chief knowledge officer at ThinkHR.
"You don't want it to become an arms race, but you do want to include interesting and voluntary benefits so that you are appealing to every aspect of your workforce. When you're thinking about this, look at the demographics of your workforce. We are seeing all kinds of thing like critical care and long-term care insurance for Boomers, identity theft insurance, pet insurance and student loan repayment benefits for millennials -- these make employees feel valued, and like the company cares about their overall well-being," says Kerekes.
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