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U.S. employers eyeing changes to employee benefit strategy

Employers placing higher priority on broad employee wellbeing, employee choice and integration of new technologies

September 24, 2019

Health and Benefits|Wellbeing|Benefits Administration and Outsourcing Solutions

ARLINGTON, VA, September 24, 2019 — Faced with rising costs and continuing struggles to engage employees with their benefits, U.S. employers are expanding their overall corporate benefit strategy to better meet employee needs, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company. The survey found employers are looking to place greater emphasis on employee wellbeing, broader benefit packages and use of new technologies to support employee decision making.

While controlling costs remains their top challenge, employers are increasingly focused on a broader benefit strategy that goes beyond their core health and retirement offerings.”

Jennifer DeMeo

Senior director, Retirement, Willis Towers Watson

The 2019 Benefits Trends Survey found the primary benefit strategy challenges U.S. employers expect to face over the next three years are rising benefit costs (82%), followed by difficulties communicating benefit choices to employees (53%) and the differing wants and needs of a multigenerational workforce (50%). Just under half (47%) cited lack of employee engagement with their benefit programs as a primary challenge.

"While controlling costs remains their top challenge, employers are increasingly focused on a broader benefit strategy that goes beyond their core health and retirement offerings," said Jennifer DeMeo, senior director, Retirement, Willis Towers Watson. "In addition to the traditional emphasis on plan design and cost management, employers are looking for ways to better connect with employees to meet the benefit needs of a diverse workforce and to get the most value for their benefit spend."

According to the survey, employers are focusing across a broad range of benefits — starting with wellbeing. When asked about their highest priorities, 80% of respondents cited incorporating employee wellbeing into their benefit programs. That includes physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing programs. Nearly two-thirds (64%) cited aligning benefit provisions with employee wants and needs, followed by enhancing work policies (61%) and incorporating inclusion and diversity into benefit programs (56%). Importantly, 70% of employers plan to focus on enhancing corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and aligning them with their benefit strategy over the next three years, nearly double the percentage of respondents who focused on CSR policies in the past three years.

The survey also noted some employers are changing their benefit strategy to improve their current programs' overall effectiveness. For example, only four in 10 respondents said their programs are effective at offering significant choice and flexibility in benefit selection, while just under half (49%) are effective at tailoring their benefit packages to support their employees' needs.

Higher priority on talent experience

Employers are putting a greater priority in their benefit strategy on talent experience, including the continuing desire to deliver a technology-enabled benefit deal — and with good reason. According to the survey, less than three in 10 employers (28%) said they are effective at using decision support and other digital tools to drive engagement. Not surprisingly, 84% of respondents plan to focus on the talent experience over the next three years, compared with 54% over the past three years.

Among the broader moves expected in the next three years include the use of technology to deliver benefit messages to employees (82% over next three years versus 44% over past three years) and creating a shopping experience when employees sign up for benefits (65% over next three years versus 38% over last three years).

"Most employers are giving their employees choice across their core and voluntary benefits. However, there is still much opportunity to enhance employee engagement, including widespread adoption of new decision-making technologies," said Julie Stone, managing director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. "Employers are also moving forward by incorporating human-centered design thinking into their overarching benefit strategy, thereby improving their ability to tailor their communication to various segments in the workforce."

About the 2019 Benefits Trends Survey

The 2019 Benefits Trends Survey was conducted during May and June 2019. Respondents totaled more than 4,300 companies from 88 countries, including 400 large and midsize U.S. companies.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at

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