Benefits Products & Services
By Thomas A. McCoy, CLU
MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE BOOMING HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY
MetLife study suggests opportunities for more product choices
Business cycles may come and go, but the healthcare industry rolls on. The demand for healthcare will always remain strong. It is a unique and diverse industry, and the employee benefits needs of its workforce merit some special attention. MetLife has provided some useful data on healthcare employers and employees as part of its 17th Annual Employee Benefit Trends Study.
The HR manager’s job in a healthcare business in one respect is no different from those in other industries. It boils down to understanding what motivates the workforce to achieve maximum effectiveness. The closer a workforce gets to “firing on all cylinders,” the better the chance the employer has to reach its revenue and profit objectives. The benefits broker’s job, in healthcare and other fields, is to help HR people and senior management figure out and execute their employee motivation strategy.
MetLife’s new data on the healthcare industry probes the attitudes of employees and employers in healthcare that might differ from those in other industries. It then provides suggestions for meeting the distinctive benefits needs of healthcare organizations.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the decade between 2016 and 2026, the healthcare industry expects to need to fill 4 million new jobs, a growth rate that is three times faster than the rest of the economy. The challenges in filling this burgeoning need are obvious, but so are the opportunities for employers that design benefits packages that attract and motivate the right people.
The BLS projects a need for 203,700 new Registered Nurses to keep up with demand, and the American Association of Medical Colleges foresees a potential shortage of up to 100,000 physicians by 2030. “The employment crunch in the medical field extends well beyond nurses and doctors,” says Joe Heaney, senior vice president, national accounts sales, for MetLife. “Job growth projections also show spikes in non-clinical, administrative and support roles—receptionists, billing staff, home health aides—across the entire healthcare industry.
“Healthcare employers are becoming more versatile and flexible in where they find talent and how they engage that talent,” says Heaney. He notes that the study data shows that 39% of healthcare organizations said their HR departments are playing a more strategic role in their organizations, a five percentage point increase over 2018.
MetLife’s survey results indicate that most healthcare employees want their work to give them a “sense of purpose”; 96% cite a “sense of purpose” as a key consideration when accepting a new job or deciding to stay with their current employer and 73% of healthcare workers say they do feel a strong sense of purpose in their work.
At the same time, 51% of healthcare employers see “employee burnout” as a problem for their workforce, compared to 37% among employers across all industries.
What are some of the implications for benefits strategy based on the employer and employee attitudes uncovered in MetLife’s study? Overall, 61% of healthcare employees say they are satisfied with the benefits they receive—a decline of 15 percentage points from 2018; 63% say they are interested in having their employer provide a wider array of non-medical benefit options that they could pay for on their own.
In general, the data suggests the need for a broadening of benefits choices outside traditional offerings, more customization, and emphasis on a stronger connection between work life and home life.
“We’re seeing an increasing emphasis within the healthcare industry on the employee as a ‘whole person,’” Heaney says. “Employers are beginning to recognize there is a need for new approaches to recruitment and retention, and they are looking to us to help them find solutions to support employees both inside and outside of work.
“The study shows that more healthcare employers see value in this kind of holistic approach that helps their employees successfully blend their work life and personal life. We had 85% of employers agree with the statement, ‘When work and life blend and enrich each other, everybody wins.’ And that’s up eight basis points since 2018. This represents a big jump in attitudes among employers.
“There’s a real societal value in the work done by all kinds of healthcare employees. They want to harmonize their work with their life more broadly, and employers are recognizing it,” Heaney says.
The MetLife study identified several emerging benefits as potentially helpful in harmonizing employees’ personal lives and work lives and reducing burnout: wellness programs; phased retirement; paid sabbaticals; and onsite healthcare, including mental health counseling.
Healthcare employees overwhelmingly (93%) said that the ability to customize benefits selections to meet their needs is “nice to have” or “must have”; 76% said greater customization of their benefits selections would increase their loyalty to their employer. Among employers, 65% viewed benefits customization as “nice to have” or “must have.”
The impact of consolidations
Strategic mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare field, such as medical practices affiliating with hospital chains, contribute to the dynamic nature of today’s healthcare industry. They can also be a source of stress for employers and employees. In an industry where more than half of employers are citing employee burnout as a problem, benefits providers have a role to play in smoothing the way for client organizations.
“It’s important and highly sensitive work to bring the cultures of different organizations together, in both the design and communication of the benefits program,” says Heaney. “There can be a mix of emotions among employees after a merger of organizations—enthusiasm and excitement but also some anxiety. The job of the benefits team is to understand that and to communicate effectively. We take an active role in supporting that effort.
“It is crucial for the HR and benefits teams to understand the culture of newly merged organizations and how they connect as you bring them together,” he adds.
In studying the needs of healthcare employees Heaney also points out that “it’s important to remember that six employees out of 10 are women. We found striking differences between the responses of women and men in healthcare. There are higher levels of financial concern among the female population compared to males.”
All healthcare employees (both male and female) are less confident about their personal finances (54% express confidence) than are employees across all industries (63%). Nearly half of healthcare workers say that personal finances is their top source of stress.
This lack of confidence points toward possible opportunities for financial wellness programs. The study found that only 20% of healthcare employers offer financial wellness programs, even though 86% of healthcare employees say financial planning tools to help them understand their options and reach goals is a “must have” or “nice to have” benefit.
Interest in financial guidance is especially strong among younger workers; 70% of Millennials in healthcare agree that employers have a responsibility for the financial well-being of their employees.
Brokers and consultants can use MetLife’s data to help them survey their own healthcare clients. The report suggests that brokers include questions in their surveys that provide deeper insights into the motivations of and pain points for employees—both in and out of work. Survey questions could explore gender, generational and job type differences.
“This study of the healthcare industry—like our Employee Benefit Trends Study—is published with our brokers and consultants in mind,” says Heaney. “We actively work with our brokers and consultants to help them understand it and apply it to their customers and prospective customers.”
Thomas A. McCoy, CLU, is an Indiana-based freelance insurance writer.