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September 23, 2021

3 ways employers can leverage employee benefits to attract and retain top talent

In For Employers, For Consultants

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It’s a job seekers’ market right now. Unprecedented numbers of open jobs and not enough applicants to fill them have given an upper hand to those seeking professional opportunities. In fact, 32% of employers plan to increase staff in Q3 2021 while only 3% plan to decrease hiring—for a net employment outlook of 29%. Even when adjusted for seasonality, this outlook is the strongest since 2000 and a significant step forward from the 3% employment outlook score recorded during this timeframe one year ago.1

Amid this hot job market, employers need to creatively distinguish themselves from competitors to attract top talent. Employee benefits offer an often-overlooked way to do just that. Nearly 90% of employees consider health and wellness packages when choosing an employer.2

Here are three ways I’ve seen employers leverage employee benefit options to recruit and retain top talent:

Look beyond the health plan

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered workplaces; the same holds true for employee benefits. For quite some time, benefit discussions revolved around health plans, including what was and wasn’t covered, related copays, and in- vs. out-of-network providers. Likewise, discussions about attracting and retaining top talent involved free lunches, in-office games, and casual Fridays.3

Today, however, with so many employees working virtually or as part of a hybrid arrangement, employers need to more broadly view benefits—considering solutions such as3:

  • Access to professional coaches – Even in this hyper-connected digital age, talking to a person—face-to-face or virtually—can be quite refreshing. By offering access to coaches as part of their benefits, employers can help employees make better business choices.
  • Work-life benefits – We’re all familiar with the term “work-life balance,” recognizing that balance actually requires quite a bit of ongoing effort to maintain. Employers can play their part by providing benefits such as four-day workweeks, unlimited paid time off (PTO), time to invest in recreation or personal development, and extended maternity or paternity leave.
  • Open, transparent communications – Employers need to regularly, consistently, and transparently communicate to employees how their benefits serve them specifically while aligning with the company’s business goals. Effective communication can significantly impact retention; in fact, nearly 80% of employees agree that they’d be less likely to leave their job with well-communicated benefit plans.4

Focus on the whole person

Due to concerns over the pandemic, 53% of U.S. adults say their mental health has been negatively impacted.5 COVID-19 has highlighted the need for employers to consider offering benefits that focus on the whole person—i.e., employees’ mental, emotional, and physical health.6 By taking a holistic approach to employee health, employers can encourage engagement with benefits while enhancing recruitment and retention.

Comprehensive packages may include lifestyle management with nutrition and fitness options, and wellness offerings such as anxiety or sleep programs. The Chronic Care Action Index shows that exercising, eating healthier, and getting more sleep are the health-related changes that people most want but find most difficult to make. It also shows that nearly one-third of respondents cite motivation as a barrier to following their doctor’s guidance. If employee benefits address multiple health dimensions and provide ongoing support, they could significantly help improve health outcomes.

Given the increasing and much-needed prioritization of employee well-being, many employers offer a dedicated wellness center or hub. Larger companies often provide fully staffed onsite fitness centers with treadmills, ellipticals, and other equipment along with health classes and programs. For employees working from home, employers can provide free or discounted yoga or meditation classes, gym memberships, or athletic equipment reimbursements.
7 Regardless of company size, these offerings can help improve overall employee health, reduce workplace stress, and attract and retain talent. To ensure engagement, however, organizations must steadily promote these offerings as part of the company culture for employees.

Consider the needs of those with chronic conditions

Beyond the whole person, employee benefits should consider the whole health spectrum. This includes the 6-in-10 U.S. adults who are managing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. These conditions are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States and the leading drivers of our country's $3.8 trillion in annual healthcare costs.8

Employers can play a key role in helping employees manage chronic conditions. Here are a few ways9:

  • Ensure they’re familiar with company policies, procedures, and benefits – Ensure employees know where they can easily find resources that can help manage a chronic condition. These resources may include information on health and prescription drug coverage, content on leave options, employee assistance programs (EAPs), workplace accommodations including flexible scheduling, and other support options including a case manager in more-severe cases.
  • Just be supportive – If an employee chooses to share their chronic condition with you, don’t give advice or anecdotes about others with similar conditions. Instead, let the employee know that the company is there to support them throughout their journey.
  • Demonstrate flexibility during and after treatment – Many chronic conditions require treatment, so employers might need to modify work schedules or responsibilities to accommodate. Even following treatment, employees may still need to go to follow-up appointments or additional treatments, or experience side effects. Employers should consider these circumstances while developing their employee benefits and policies surrounding work schedules.


1 Maurer R. Job seekers are gaining control over hiring. SHRM. June 29, 2021. Accessed August 11, 2021.
2 Views: Job satisfaction and wellness programs: cause and effect. Employee Benefit News. February 5, 2014. Accessed August 11, 2021.
3 16 employee perks to attract and retain top virtual talent. Forbes. March 2, 2021. Accessed August 11, 2021.
4 Aflac. 2014 Aflac WorkForces Report: Financial services industry trends. Published 2014. Accessed August 12, 2021.
5 Hamel L, Kearney A, Kirzinger A, Lopes L, Muñana C, Brodie M. KFF Health Tracking Poll – July 2020. Published July 27, 2020. Accessed August 12, 2021.
6 Hamborg E. The missing piece in achieving better employee health and well-being. BenefitsPro. March 8, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021.
7 5 awesome job benefits that attract quality candidates. Glassdoor Blog. Published May 1, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021.
8 About chronic diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Updated April 28, 2021. Accessed August 12, 2021.
9 Cancer in the workforce HR tip sheet. Published November 2017. Accessed August 12, 2021.



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