Are sideburns in or out? Are skinny jeans still in fashion or not? These are not topics that preoccupy my thoughts, but I do regularly contemplate trends when it comes to the benefits industry. It is an area of importance for my practice and particularly for how I consult with my clients.
Strategy involves being aware of and remaining ahead of the curve. With that said, this post relates specifically to what I consider to be some of the top trending topics in the realm of Canadian employee benefits. Since my first post in October 2012, I've blogged about each of these 5 areas on more than one occasion. For ease of reference, I've included a link to some of my past posts within each trending topic.
1) Employee Wellness: increasingly, employers are looking for ways to dial up productivity and engagement levels and in so doing, they recognize the need to consider the employee from a holistic perspective. More and more companies are embracing wellness programs and determining the baseline metrics to establish success criteria. Whether it is something as simple as supplementing worksite vending machines with healthier food options or hosting wellness fairs, it is time to consider what wellness programs can do to add to the overall staff experience while driving success for better employee health outcomes.
2) Mental Health: Whether via mega employers like Bell Canada through their mental health anti-stigna "Lets Talk" campaign, or Great West Life's Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, the focus is consistent because the statistics are staggering -- mental health issues are a real concern in Canada. According to the CMHA, 20 percent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime and approximately 8 percent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
Back in January 2015, I wrote about mental health indicators for Canada and how they influence group benefit plans. At that time, a national commission had just been released regarding a compressive study on the state of Canada's mental health. Mental health claims represent approximately 12 percent of disability claims according to CMHA. Many employers see dips in productivity well before a disability claim surfaces through sporadic absenteeism, workplace safety, and more regular issues of lack of focus and emotional reactivity among colleagues.
3) Prescription Drugs: Weighing in at 13 percent of total health expenditures in Canada, prescription drugs have been an area of focus for a long time. Costs are high especially when specialty drugs factor in the the equation -- just as I wrote about with new hepatitis C short term treatments. Cost management trends include ways to mitigate these risks through pay-direct cards, mandatory generic substitution, dispensing fee caps, preferred pharmacy networks and prior authorization.
4) Financial Literacy: November is financial literacy month and with it comes many reminders of free online tools available to help Canadians manage their money and save for retirement. These reminders are important as employees continue to experience stress due to financial woes. Many Canadian struggle to make optimal financial decisions and don't have more than $2000 in an emergency fund. When employees are stressed about their finances, it impacts their ability to focus and be productive at work. Increasingly, employers are placing more emphasis on providing financial educational opportunities as part of wellness programs.
5) Benefits Communications: Whether designing a benefits plan or making tweaks to an existing arrangement, the need for excellence in benefits communications is ever present. Driving up plan member pension participation rates or gaining appreciation for the value of the total compensation package, employers continue to seek ways to catch employee's attention.
Considering the demographic changes and the life cycle of the workers moving along the employment continuum are also areas of focus for our firm as we address trends with our clients. As Wayne Gretzky said, "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." We believe the same concept holds through in the benefits industry. We invite you to contact us, we're watching where the benefits 'puck' is going to be so that you can continue to focus on what you do best.
When people think about hepatitis C, there might be a tendency to imagine people in developing countries contracting this virus as a result of unsterilized needles.
Surprisingly, it is also a major health concern in Canada largely due to injection drug use. It is a disease that carries a slow progression where someone who had a blood transfusion or got a tattoo prior to 1992 could fall victim to it. Approximately 150-200 million people worldwide have hepatitis C. In Canada, there are an estimated 242,500 individuals infected with the virus.
What is hepatitis C? It is an infectious disease that attacks the liver. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) creates an infection that is slow moving and people who contract it might seem asymptomatic for years before it starts to scar the liver — leading to cirrhosis — followed by liver failure, liver cancer and related complications. The virus is treated with medication and approximately 50-80 percent of those treated are cured. To date, there is no vaccine against this virus.
From an employer perspective, hepatitis C should be something to watch for on the benefit plan horizon as HCV medications like Holkira Pak, Sovaldi and Harvoni infuse the market. These medications are pricey and depending on the duration of treatment, may cost somewhere in the $150,000 range. For example, a single 12-week treatment may cost around $80,000. Prior to the introduction of these new short term treatment specialty drugs, one hepatitis C treatment might cost $17,000. It is worth mention that these new drugs help prevent the need for liver transplants and as a result are a sound investment from that perspective alone.
Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, all had these new generation hepatitis C drugs on their formularies. Recently, the provinces of Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Manitoba announced they would follow suit.
As an experienced benefits advisor, my team and I monitor the introduction of any new and costly drugs that may affect private group benefit plans. We work with service providers to implement and positively influence cost management mechanisms. For example, we know and communicate with our clients what group insurance carriers offer pre-approvals or prior authorizations for speciality drugs such as Sovaldi.
Increasingly there will be more new and expensive drug treatments flooding the market and we want to help you mitigate your financial exposure all while offering your employees an arrangement that allows them to live healthier lives.
I invite you to contact us to learn more about this topic and to help you manage your group benefits drug spend. We’re here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Employers continually look for ways to improve productivity, increase efficiencies and enhance engagement levels. It begs diving deeper into the answers sought when management asks of their HR business partners, “How do I help employees get more done during their work day?”
Research findings by FlexJobs reveal some surprising results. Of the 2,600 employees who completed the survey, a mere 24 percent said that they do their best work during office hours. The remaining 76 percent reported that they were more productive elsewhere. This "elsewhere" includes: at home, at coffee shops, libraries, and other public spaces. The survey also reported that 14 percent of respondents said they could be productive at work, but not during office hours.
Employees reported several reasons why trying to be productive during office hours was so difficult. Their reasons included - a distracting atmosphere, co-worker interruptions, uncomfortable workspace, stress of commuting and office politics. What was even more surprising? If given the opportunity to have an outside the office workplace, employees were willing to take a 10 to 20 percent pay cut and 40 percent were willing to forego company perks.
Perhaps it is time to revisit where employers are placing emphasis when looking for increases in productivity levels. There might be some remaining biases toward the thinking that employees can’t be trusted or productive when they aren’t in the employer's line of sight. Survey results differ significantly when employees report that they don’t consider their normal workday in the office to be the optimal place or time to complete important work assignments.
Perhaps it is time to consider asking:
Introducing telecommuting options may be a potential solution and one where it could be tested first as part of a small pilot project. Another consideration may be to create ‘do not disturb’ signs for workstations where employees need to really keep their heads down and focused on the completion of important projects.
There are many creative ways to tweaks your current environment to enhance your employees’ ability to be more productive while making your office a more health-supportive environment. We’re here to help you explore these options along with other ways to customize solutions right for your workplace. I invite you to contact us. We’re here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.