Sean Mehra
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Employee Benefits

On Demand Workers Want Employee Benefits—And Employers are Listening

The workforce of the future is on demand. Working part-time, hourly or diving in to deliver specific skills as a consultant are becoming the norm. This shift away from traditional full-time employment is changing the way workers and employers are thinking about their business relationship—in particular, access to healthcare benefits.

In the U.S., the majority of working age people obtain their healthcare benefits through their employer. But those benefits have traditionally only been made available to people who are considered full-time internal employees. The folks who receive a W2. Most other workers have been left to find private healthcare which, even with the Affordable Care Act, is typically far less competitive and more difficult to obtain. But that trend is shifting.

Why? Because one in five jobs in the U.S. is now held by an on demand worker and, in a recent study, healthcare was cited as their #1 concern. It ranked higher over any other issue, including unpredictable income. Hourly workers also share the concern. Research indicates that while hourly workers value overtime pay and paid time off, the benefit they value most is healthcare.

As a result, some name brand companies have begun to bridge the gap between the benefits they offer on-demand and full-time internal employees, gaining a compelling talking point when competing for members of this valuable workforce.

Flexible options for a flexible workforce

By 2028, non-traditional, on-demand talent (freelance and temporary workers) will comprise 24 percent more of the workforce than today. As more people shift from internal, full-time to flexible positions, human resource managers are recognizing the need to attract and retain this critical workforce.

The majority (59%) of companies in the U.S. employee flexible talent, and many are exploring ways to build long-term, productive relationships with these workers. Organizations are creating programs that offer affordable health benefits, such as virtual primary care, as well as paid leave, 401(k) savings plans, and life and disability insurance.Several years ago, Starbucks announced its program to cover tuition for its part- and full-time employees to earn an online bachelor’s degree and other companies have now followed suit. “We know the workforce is changing and we believe that our associates want to be in the position to come along on the ride with us,” e xplained Michelle Malashock, a Walmart spokeswoman. Other large employers including Costco, Chilpotle, UPS, Lowe’s Home Improvement, REI and Trader Joe’s have begun to provide a mix of benefits to part-time employees.  

Happier and healthier with the help of tech

Technologies are driving the development of more cost-effective and flexible benefits solutions, and HR managers are exploring ways to deliver virtual services that support employees and address pain points.Financial wellness programs, for example, are provided virtually and have helped workers manage debt and housing concerns for more than a decade. 

For a number of years HR managers have looked to telemedicine as a flexible, accessible solution to rising healthcare costs, but with varying degrees of success. Full-time employees have been slow to choose telemedicine over traditional doctor, urgent care or emergency room visits,even though they are more costly--sometimes simply because old habits die hard. However, as the workforce becomes increasingly flexible and mobile, comprehensive virtual primary care is offering HR managers a cost-effective solution that fits the needs of their organization and their evolving employee base: anytime/anywhere access to care can support their teams and their families in staying healthy and productive.

As more pay-as-you-go options roll out for services such as satellite TV, phones, car insurance, and even pension plans, HR managers are taking note of innovative programs from other industries and adapting the approach to their growing on-demand workforce, proving companies and their workforce with flexible benefits, when and as they need them.

Helping millions--and the bottom line

In the past, organizations have worked with on-demand talent mainly for cost-savings, as well as the ability to quickly increase and reduce staffing. But as the workforce changes, so are the rules for navigating these relationships.

Helping to find and implement solutions that extend affordable healthcare options to all employees is not solely good for the bottom line, it's good for an organization’s overall morale and the greater community. With the support of today’s technology, companies have the opportunity to help transform access and improve the lives of millions.

In less than ten years, external workers will likely be the majority of the U.S. workforce. Forward-thinking organizations can aspire to be an employer of choice. Talented professionals and people with specialized skills will always be in demand, and will demand the benefits they need.

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