Benefits Cost Still Rising
The cost for U.S. employers to provide employee benefits increased by 24 percent, from 15 percent of pay to 18 percent of pay, between the years 2001 and 2015, according to a new report from Willis Towers Watson. The report, Shifts in Benefit Allocations Among U.S. Employers, analyzed
a database of retirement and healthcare programs of more than 500 medium and
large U.S. employers during this time frame and found that healthcare costs for
active employees more than doubled, rising from 5. 7 percent to 11. 5 percent of pay.
“The rising cost of employee benefits remains a challenge as employers seek
to get the most employee value from their pay and benefit programs,” says John
Bremen, managing director of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson
in Chicago. “Beyond the overall increase, there has been a seismic shift that can be
characterized as a tale of two benefit programs. Healthcare benefits are eating up
a larger portion of dollars while the amount spent on retirement programs is on the
decline. This reallocation has major implications for employers and employees alike.”
Premiums Drive Health Plan Choice
Data from the Washington-based Employee Benefit Research Institute suggests that reducing or even eliminating annual premiums might be an effective way to increase employee enrollment in health savings account- eligible health plans.
A recent EBRI analysis of administrative data from two large employers found
that, after eliminating employee premiums for all coverage tiers, HSA-eligible
health plan enrollment increased from 4 percent to 25 percent among individuals
with employee-only coverage and from 2 percent to 31 percent among individuals
with family coverage.
The same analysis also found that offering coverage with no payroll deduction
attracted individual enrollees who were marginally healthier than those who would
have enrolled without this financial incentive, “therefore not mitigating adverse
selection as anticipated,” according to EBRI.
Court Rules Against Same-Sex Benefits
The Texas Supreme Court recently threw out a lower court ruling that entitled spouses of gay and lesbian public employees to government- subsidized same-sex marriage benefits. In its decision in Pidgeon v. Turner, the Texas Supreme Court wrote
that there was room for state courts to examine the “reach and ramifications” of
the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down
same-sex marriage bans at the state level.
At issue in the Pidgeon case is whether that ruling obligates public agencies to
extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of government employees. While Texas
law prohibits same-sex couples from receiving such benefits, former Houston
mayor Annise Parker mandated in 2013 that this law no longer be enforced in
the city, after the U.S. Supreme Court required the federal government to offer
benefits to married same-sex couples. Plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks
subsequently challenged that decree, contending that providing benefits to same-sex couples would be devoting significant public funds to an illegal activity.
Job Security and Health Issues
Research finds that stress linked to a perceived lack of job security is contributing to numerous physical and psychological problems among the workforce, including heart disease, sleep issues and psychological distress. A new report from Ball State University’s College of Health analyzed
17,441 individuals who participated in the National Health Interview Survey. Over a
12-month period, the study’s authors found 33 percent of respondents saying they
feel insecure about their job security. These respondents were more likely to be
obese and to smoke, experience short sleep duration and fail to engage in regular
“The perceptions of job insecurity in American workers are serious and
a source of severe chronic-stress-causing health problems,” says Jagdish
Khubchandani, an associate professor of health science at Ball State, and lead
author of the study. “Job-insecure individuals will not be able to maintain good
health and, with time, will suffer from chronic diseases leading to healthcare- and
productivity loss-related costs for employers across the country.”
Shift workers maintain schedules that pit them against their bodies’ circadian clocks, says Dr. Allan Pack, chief of the division of sleep medicine at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.
“What happens is that shift workers often go home and
get to sleep quickly. Then they can’t sustain sleep because
that clock is saying they’re supposed to be awake,” says
Pack, who is also director of the Center for Sleep and
Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s
Given such challenges, it’s not surprising that significant
numbers of shift workers aren’t sleeping as much as they
should be. Consider a 2016 study of 6,338 U.S. employees,
conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics,
which found 62 percent of shift workers reporting short
sleep duration (less than seven hours nightly), compared to
36 percent of daytime workers. Close to 20 percent of shift
the importance of sleep to life through
an engaging, interactive format,” says
Susi, adding that he and the HR team are
currently planning sleep fairs at other
offices in the U.S. and internationally.
The goal, he says, is “to educate our
employees on the importance of sleep
and [offer] advice on how they can get
a good night’s rest.”
Spreading the Message
At Humana, State and the HR team
have a similar objective with respect
to sleep health, and have prioritized
“putting the issue in front of our
associates,” he says.
State notes that associates with
high-levels of well-being are more
engaged, have one-third as many
missed work days, one third the
stress and are one-third as likely to be
looking for another job.
The HR function’s role in
encouraging the type of sleep habits
that keep engagement and retention
numbers high and stress levels low is
largely “raising awareness of sleep’s
role in overall well-being,” says State.
To help disseminate the message,
the HR department has enlisted a team
of nearly 300 associate volunteers
who serve as “well-being champions”
throughout the organization.
As part of the Well-being Champion
Program, these employees “guide and
inspire their teammates, helping them
maximize their opportunities to engage
in experiences and resources that drive
improvement,” says State.
To earn a spot as a well-being
champion, Humana associates
must complete quarterly training,
participate in monthly internal
and external well-being champion
meetings, and help maintain the
company’s SharePoint site to keep
their colleagues up-to-date on well-being news, programs and initiatives.
Well-being champions also help
update Humana’s internal social
media network—known colloquially
as Buzz—as well as the company’s
intranet, which includes links to
sleep-related articles and tips for
achieving better sleep, such as
tracking sleep habits for a few weeks,
finishing exercise at least two hours
before bedtime and avoiding naps
after 4 p.m.
Just this year, Humana updated its
corporate intranet to feature a section
“People can reflect on not just how
many hours [of sleep] they’re getting,
Going forward, State says, Humana
will continue to raise the awareness
of sleep health through its various
“For many [of our associates], it’s
a wake-up call,” says State. “No pun
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Shift Workers and Poor Sleep
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Consistently getting inadequate sleep naturally creates
safety issues on the job, not to mention on the road home
after a long shift, says Pack, who offers a novel suggestion
for employers relying on large numbers of shift workers.
“A really good company would not only offer sleep-
health education to employees, but would allow nap
breaks,” he says, “have specific policies in place for how to
handle naps in the middle of the night.”
Special Focus Health and Benefits