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February 22, 2023

Offering inclusive benefits

Gary Abernathy & Ann Marie Olszewski 

A diverse workforce has diverse needs. Many are concerned about both retirement savings and student loans. Younger new hires may be looking for flexible work schedules and pet insurance. Middle-aged employees with young children and elderly parents may prefer paid caregiver leave and accident coverage. Others may have medical needs not entirely covered by the health plan such as mental health, infertility, gender affirmation, and hearing loss. 

This means employers must thoughtfully consider their approach to benefits if they intend to offer coverage that accommodates the needs and desires of their current workforce and prospective candidates. Inclusive benefits confirm your dedication to employees’ total health and well-being.  

Getting started

If you intend to offer inclusive benefits, it’s best to begin with an analysis that evaluates your current plan offerings and how they fit into your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategies. Where do you see gaps in the benefit offerings for employees and candidates? For example, if many of your employees are in their 30s and 40s, infertility coverage may be of interest.   

It’s important that your organization have clear DE&I objectives, a solid understanding of your current benefit plans and provisions, detailed demographic information on the employee population, and awareness of the marketplace. While you could address this on your own, it’s helpful to have assistance from experts on benefits trends and the competition’s offerings. An outside advisor should carefully review your policies and plan provisions before providing recommendations and best practices to better align your DE&I strategy with your benefits package. 

Providing work-life balance

While not necessarily part of a benefits package, allowing for a good work-life balance can go a long way. Flexible work schedules and remote work are likely to have universal appeal, although for varying personal and professional reasons. This can also attract candidates, many of whom now see remote and/or flexible work as a prerequisite. 

Floating holidays are another benefit most employees appreciate. For employees who do celebrate holidays not traditionally included in corporate holiday schedules, providing floating holidays allows them to take time off on those days of significance for them.  

Paid parental leave, following the birth or placement of a child, is a benefit many employers are also considering or adopting. This can be an important tool for retaining employees and establishing you as an employer of choice. Paid parental leave is important to both women and men, especially as the latter would not be covered by any paid disability leave directly associated with childbirth. 

Health coverage for every body

Knowledge of your employee demographics can help make your health plan more inclusive. Understand that people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and individuals with disabilities are not always treated equitably or given attention and respect when they access the health care system. This can have adverse effects on both their physical and mental health. 

Start by looking at the contributions for your health plan. Per the Affordable Care Act, if you employ at least 50 full-time equivalent employees, you must provide an affordable plan that meets the minimum value standards to avoid potential penalties. While the cost for employee coverage cannot exceed 9.12% of wages in 2023, this may still be quite high for an individual dealing with the rising cost of living. You may want to consider tiered, income-based contributions, where employees earning the least would enjoy the lowest health care contributions. 

Work with your insurer or third-party administrator to examine your provider network. Are high-quality primary care providers found within a few miles of employees’ home ZIP codes, including in underserved communities? What about obstetricians and gynecologists? Are there providers who specialize in geriatrics or gender-affirming care? Are there providers nearby who communicate in employees’ primary language? Paying special attention to this if you are considering a more limited provider network can help keep plan costs down.  

Check the policies and certificates to see if excluded services could be detrimental when offering an inclusive plan. For example, people of all ages may experience hearing loss, but hearing aids are typically not covered by the health plan unless a rider is added. Adding coverage for hearing aids would be relatively inexpensive and could help improve a disabling condition for employees and their dependents. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, 26% of American adults suffer from at least one diagnosable mental health disorder. Even if your plan provides comprehensive coverage for mental and behavioral health services, is outpatient care assessed a flat-dollar copay or is it subject to the deductible and coinsurance? Making outpatient care more affordable may make it easier for employees to access services. 

Gender-affirmation benefits, which could involve medical and surgical procedures as well as behavioral health, are offered by an increasing number of employers. Your health plan may not provide sufficient coverage, which can be a significant gap if you are trying to offer more inclusive benefits to the LGBTQ+ community. While relatively few employees and dependents are likely to require this treatment, it could be lifesaving in some cases.  

The post-pandemic workplace continues to transform and the employee benefits package is part of that change. Employers have realized that embracing and cultivating diversity is a successful business strategy. Accommodating the workforce’s various needs can be a key difference to retaining and recruiting the workforce you desire while keeping costs in check—especially regarding more expensive programs. Introducing a thoughtfully designed inclusive benefits program has the potential to make you an employer of choice and a community leader. 

Interested in how you could integrate these innovative benefit offerings into your plan? Reach out to a Marsh McLennan Agency representative today and learn how we can help you tailor an inclusive benefits package.