Employers’ top health care priority: offer choice and decision support tools to meet employees’ diverse benefit needs

Yet a majority of employers lack a listening strategy to understand the benefit needs, wants of their workforce

Annandale, Virginia, UNITED STATES

ARLINGTON, Va., June 24, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- To improve their employees’ health care experience, employers say offering or expanding benefit choices is their single highest priority (31%) over the next three years. This is according to the “Choice and Personalization” findings from the 2019 Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

“Every employee’s benefit needs are unique, and each is looking for a benefit package to address their individual priorities,” said Kevin House, national leader of client relationships and sales for health benefits delivery at Willis Towers Watson. “With five distinct generations in today’s workforce, most companies have vastly different populations — from stage-of-life perspective to health situations. The challenge for employers is to offer both the options that address a diverse set of employee needs and the tools that make those choices easy to navigate and understand.”

To thoughtfully select the best benefit choices and tools to help employees navigate these options, employers need a good read on their workforce. However, most employers (54%) say they don’t have an effective listening strategy to understand the needs and wants of their employees. Nonetheless, employers are confident they have not overwhelmed employees and offer the right number of benefit choices (74%).

With more choice comes a higher need for decision support

Employers are less confident, however, that they are giving employees the tools they need to sort through these benefit offerings. That’s why over the next three years, three-in-four employers (75%) are prioritizing efforts to provide employees with the tools they need to make smart benefit choices and personalize a benefit package that best suits their situation. Today, just over half of employers (55%) provide benefit decision tools.

Up to now, providing employees with tools to make informed decisions about benefits is often confined to open enrollment, rather than year-round support. While more than half (56%) of employers feel they offer effective tools to help employees make informed benefit choices during open enrollment, less than half (44%) are confident they give employees the information they need to make choices when using health care services regularly. To aid the process, nearly three-in-four employers (74%) plan to enhance health care navigation tools over the next three years, helping employees access the right health care providers when needed. Employers are also prioritizing online and in-person training to educate employees (67%).

“With the rise of e-commerce, Americans have become smart comparison shoppers. Technology-powered solutions, such as an online benefit shopping experience and smart decision support tools, empower employees to make intuitive health care choices year-round,” said Catherine O’Neill, senior director of health benefits strategy at Willis Towers Watson. “For employers, it’s all about listening to your employees and offering the choice and personalization that allows them to become champions of their own health. However, the majority of employers lack sufficient budget or internal staff to support improving the employee experience.”

The future of benefits delivery is holistic

Currently, less than one-third of employers (28%) provide a holistic approach to enhance their employee experience, but the tide is turning. Employers are beginning to implement solutions that help employees consider the broader financial context when making their benefit decisions. Today, less than a quarter (24%) of employers promote thinking about what their benefit selection means for financial planning, including 401(k), health savings accounts, loan repayment and emergency savings, but nearly three-fifths (59%) plan to implement this approach in the next three years.

Technology will also play a larger role in decision support over the next three years. Less than one-third of employers (31%) provide easy access to decision support through digital means like a mobile app, but almost twice this amount (61%) plan to enhance this capability in the next three years. Gathering data and using artificial intelligence, machine learning or virtual assistants to create a personalized experience to help employees make informed enrollment decisions will climb significantly, too — few employers (9%) use this approach today, but nearly one-third (32%) are planning to do so in the near-term.

“As technology evolves, employers are increasingly taking an employee perspective that weighs their needs across the entire slate of benefit offerings — from adequate medical coverage to financial security in retirement, to income protection or caring for a pet,” added O’Neill. “These decisions are complex and require trade-offs. Smart tools will make it easy for employees to take an integrated view and make their benefit decisions based on personalized recommendations.”

About the survey

The Willis Towers Watson Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey: Choice and Personalization was completed by 535 U.S. employers in January 2019. Respondents collectively employ 5.5 million employees and operate in all major industry sectors. Results provided are based on employers with at least 100 employees.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at willistowerswatson.com.

Media contact

Julia B. Mellon: +1 212 584 5474