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The latest on employer health benefits and services


2009 survey cover

Last year I dropped the ball on Sanofi-Aventis’ annual health care survey—in fact, it’s still sitting on my desk under a pile of other things! So this year, I’m making it a priority, and getting this brief post on the report to you right away, before I file a more in-depth article for HRinfodesk.

This year, the report looks closely at “Taking Responsibility for Health”. Engaging employees is key to success in many areas of a business today, and health is one of the most important areas. Danny Peak, a senior manager at Sanofi-Aventis Canada, notes that when employers engage employees in health, employees begin to take greater interest in their well-being, which benefits everyone. Engagement means everything from making employees aware of the health benefits available to them and the costs of the benefit program, to active promotion of positive health outcomes, for example via internal fitness programs, fun days or other initiatives.

The 2010 Survey Highlights Video and Report contains far more information than I can fit into a blog post, but here are some highlights.

While the great majority of employees (95 percent) feel that the quality of their employers’ health benefits is good or better, workers with poor health or low incomes tend to feel less positive about their benefits. The survey asks, “What can or should employers do differently to reach those plan members?”

Well, it appears that the better employers communicate their plans to employees, the better employees feel about their benefits. And vice versa; employers that don’t communicate, or do so poorly, get bad health plan ratings from their plan members. In addition, the more employees actually participate in employer-provided health and wellness programs, the more likely they are to feel positively about the benefits available to them.

There’s also disparity between the actual and perceived costs of health benefits plans, and the value that the plans provide. Almost two-thirds of plan members (60 percent) guess that their employer spends less than $1,000 per employee on health care, and a further 19 percent feel their employer spends between $1,000 and $2,000. Despite broadly underestimating the actual costs of administering a health care plan, employees place great value on the health benefits their employers provide. And those benefits became even more valuable due to the recession and continuing weak economy.

It’s hard to draw firm conclusions from such a brief look at the data, but there are a few things to think about.

Employees appreciate their employers’ health plans, and they want to participate, but sometimes they don’t have the information to do so—either the employer isn’t communicating with them or they simply can’t access it. Certain groups of employees in particular—those most at risk of poor health—under-appreciate their health plans. Low income plan members and those in poor health need more attention when it comes to plan communications. Engaging them in the plan and in their own wellness might improve their health and their perceptions about their benefits plans—and also their work performance.

On the other hand, plan members don’t understand clearly the connection between the costs of their health plans and the value they offer. They don’t want to pay more, but they don’t want to lose their benefits. Clarifying the relationship between plan costs and benefits could encourage employees to focus their wellness efforts in ways that optimize health at the lowest cost—both to them and to their employer.

My complete analysis of the 2010 health care survey is available on (requires subscription).

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about the survey. And take a look at Christina’s recent post about workplace wellness programs.

Adam Gorley
Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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