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Who Benefits
Education makes the case for workplace benefit plans

Employers have plenty to gain by investing in benefits plans.

Unplanned absences cost an average of $572 per employee in 2011, according to the Conference Board of Canada. In contrast, ill and injured employees are able to return to work more quickly if they have access to otherwise cost-prohibitive treatment options. Workplace wellness programs are also designed to help prevent such absences by promoting everything from exercise to proper diets and smoking cessation programs.

"Clearly an individual's health affects not only their personal life, but also their professional life, and a company of healthy employees is more likely to benefit from positive work behaviours, reduced absence rates and healthcare costs, and increased productivity and engagement," said Laura Murray, Unilever's North American wellness and benefits manager, in the 2014 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey. Unilever's HealthyU program offers employees a $150 discount on flexible benefits if they complete an online health risk assessment and tap into resources such as a health coach to address identified concerns.

Besides that, workplace benefits offer a tax-effective way to enhance compensation.

But for benefits to become a powerful retention tool, employees need to understand the true value of what they receive.

I regularly educate workplaces about their plans, and many people are shocked to learn that such support is not mandatory. The details shine employers in a positive light, and encourage employees to take the steps which make plans more sustainable.

Telus has incorporated education as a key component of a flex plan which allows younger workers to opt out of traditional benefits in favour of cash in a health spending account. "A key part of the enrolment process is educating people on costs.

For example, we'll walk into team meetings and talk about how much it costs to clean your teeth. This helps people make their selections, and over time we hope it gives us a better appreciation of the value of the plan," said director of HR, benefits and pensions Carol Craig, in the Sanofi report.

Even in the land of universal healthcare and the Canada Health Act, there are plenty of services which fall outside OHIP or the Ontario Drug Benefit Program.

The visit to a doctor to look at your sore back is covered. The chiropractic care which might have prevented the problem has not been funded since 2004. 

The location of care can make a difference, too. The province will pay for the inpatient pharmaceuticals administered when someone is in the hospital, but patients who are not covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit Program will face a bill for any drugs taken while recovering at home. Dental surgery is covered in the hospital, but the work that happens in a dentist's chair will come at an extra cost.

Age plays a difference of its own. People over 65 are eligible for support under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. Annual eye exams are free for those under 20 or over 65, but will come at a cost for anyone in between who does not have a medical condition requiring such exams.

Then there's the question of what is covered when someone is traveling. The Ontario government is among the sources to see the value of extra coverage here. "Ontario residents are encouraged to purchase supplementary insurance when traveling outside Canada, as many emergency health services provided outside the country cost much more than OHIP may pay," observes the Ministry of Health. "For people travelling outside Canada, the ministry pays a set rate for emergency health services. Emergency health services are those given in connection with an acute, unexpected condition, illness, disease or injury that arises outside Canada and requires immediate treatment. Ambulance services are not covered."

A mere 25% of boomers would trade their health benefits for an extra $5,000 a year, according to the Sanofi report. Even members of Generation Y -- who because of their youth face fewer chronic health problems and earn less money -- are not that likely to opt for the cash. Only 45% would take the $5,000.

Once educated about their benefits, I'm confident that even fewer employees would trade them away.

Top Tips:

  • Regularly educate employees about what existing benefits cover.
  • Consider flexible plans which allow employees to choose the healthcare options which best fit their personal needs.
  • Include details about benefits plans in recruiting literature. They can be a powerful draw.

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The Buzz Bits
Miscellaneous links to interesting benefits information

Saskatchewan couple hit with $1M hospital bill after baby born in Hawaii: Toronto Star

Improving workplace mental health: Standard Life

A termination issues checklist: smallbizadvisor

4th annual pulse of talent survey: Ceridian

Making a difference for employees with diabetes: Benefits Canada

Bill Zolis honouring Canada's veterans: Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade

Community Ethics, Big City Expertise

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