Employee assistance programmes’ rise in popularity continues as employers seek to support staff who may be under pressure for a variety of reasons, says Debbie Lovewell
The top core healthcare benefits have changed little in recent years, although the order in which they are ranked has altered slightly. For the second year running, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) have taken the top spot, with 78% of respondents offering these to staff as a core benefit.
EAPs have risen in popularity over the past decade. Back in 2002, they were offered as a core benefit by less than a quarter of respondents (23%). By 2007, this figure had risen to 48%, before increasing to 54% in 2008, 69% in 2010 and 73% last year.
This rise may be due to how the benefit is viewed by employers and staff, with a lessening of the stigma often previously perceived to be attached to such benefits. In recent years, there has also been a growing awareness of mental health issues and the steps employers can take to support staff with these in the workplace.
The economic climate could also be behind the continuing rise of EAPs. Employers may be looking to support staff around non-work-related stress, perhaps concerning financial matters. In addition to EAPs, 34% of respondents offer debt, legal or family counselling as core benefits, while 31% provide other types of stress counselling such as cognitive behavioural therapy.
Other consistently popular core benefits include life assurance/death in service, private medical insurance (PMI) for employees, regular workstation health audits, income protection and flu vaccinations.
A number of wellbeing benefits also rank highly on the leader board of core benefits offered by respondents. These include wellbeing advice or workshops, subsidised gym or sports facilities and nutrition advice, although offering healthy-eating options in a staff canteen has fallen slightly in popularity this year. Encouraging staff to take a proactive approach to boost their health and wellbeing can help to reduce sickness absence levels and lessen the likelihood of some lengthy and potentially costly claims on some healthcare benefits.
Providing employees with the opportunity to extend healthcare benefits to their dependants can help to give them peace of mind that their health needs are being covered. This can go a long way to creating a sense of loyalty and good feeling towards their employer among employees. Yet, when offered on a voluntary basis, although employers can use their bulk-buying power to secure discounts for staff, the cost of purchasing the benefits is met by employees.
So it is perhaps little surprise that three of the top five healthcare benefits offered on a voluntary basis by respondents this year are dental insurance, private medical insurance and health cash plans for employees’ dependants. This has changed little over the past few years, although the order in which they appear has fluctuated slightly.
Dental benefits for both employees and their dependants top the list of healthcare benefits offered on a voluntary basis for the second consecutive year, offered by 42% and 46%, respectively. These have risen in popularity over the years. In 2006, for example, one-fifth of respondents offered dental insurance through a voluntary benefits plan. In 2008, the first year we asked about each group separately, 24% of respondents offered dental insurance to each group.
The increase in the percentage of respondents offering dental insurance as a voluntary benefit to both groups over the past two years may be due to employers’ desire to offer staff assistance with everyday costs during the economic downturn.
It is well documented that employers often offer some healthcare perks only to particular groups of employees, typically senior or executive staff. Just under one-third (29%), for example, restrict private medical insurance (PMI) to senior or executive staff only. A further 23% offer health screening only to this group.
As well as helping to identify problems at an early stage and help employees who do go off sick to obtain treatment and return to work as quickly as possible, these are both often seen as status perks by senior staff.
A further 58% of respondents offer PMI to the general workforce. This does not mean that it is available to all staff, but rather it is offered more widely than solely senior and executive employees.
Health cash plans are often seen as a poor man’s PMI, although a number of hybrid cash plan/PMI products have been launched to market in recent years. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that these are more likely to be offered to the general workforce than to senior staff.
Given the pressure organisations have come under to justify and control costs over the past few years, it is perhaps surprising that more than a quarter of respondents (28%) claim not to know how much healthcare benefits provision costs their organisation. Historically, however, this percentage has remained at a similarly high level.
Overall, the cost of providing healthcare benefits, as estimated by respondents, has changed little over the years. Broadly speaking, the most popular amount to spend has stood at between 1% and 3% of payroll, followed by less than 1% of payroll.
Read more Healthcare research 2012