by Sherry Olson
Last week, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) annual conference and expedition brought over 17,000 HR professionals and 3,000 vendors to Chicago for keynotes, sessions and special events. On the exposition floor, 700 exhibitors provided a buffet of HR solutions for every need, with a focus on HR technology, talent acquisition and retention solutions, health, wellness, leadership development and more.
In addition to what I learned during the keynotes and sessions, I found significant value in the many opportunities for networking, which gave me a chance to connect personally, share experiences, perspectives and challenges and creatively look at new ways to approach the diverse workforce needs that WEX Health faces every day. I thought these learnings would be valuable for our partners, many of whom work in human resources. What follows are my key takeaways from the conference:
- Company culture must start in HR: This was reinforced in many of the sessions I attended, with the call to action being that HR must come to understand the strong influence they have on organizational cultures. From recruitment to engagement, the best companies don’t just assess a candidate’s fit; they look for originality (people who challenge others, processes and systems) and focus on assessing and hiring people who can enrich the culture.
- Change biases through recruiting, benefits/leave and compensation programs: Many initiatives now exist to detect biases in the workplace and to address them, including pay and gender analysis for disparities, enhanced parental and bereavement leave policies, and the use of alternative ways to review and engage candidates in the recruiting process. Human resources professionals need to continue to seek out methods for recognizing and addressing bias.
- To keep talent, expand your benefit offerings: During the conference, SHRM released its 2018 Employee Benefits survey. Among its key findings, 34 percent of organizations increased their benefit offerings in the last year, with 72 percent citing retention as a reason for doing so and over one-half saying they’ve done it to attract new talent (58 percent) and/or respond to employee feedback (54 percent). Companies are also putting a higher priority on benefits today because of historic low unemployment rates and the number of millennials entering the workforce.
- Employers are more likely to offer employees additional health-related benefits, including consumer-directed healthcare: A statistic from the 2018 Employee Benefits survey revealed that the share of employers offering consumer-directed healthcare plans linked to health savings accounts (HSAs) increased to 56 percent this year—up from 45 percent in 2014. Given the nature of HSA portability, the tax savings these accounts provide, their use in helping to mitigate first dollar costs and to create retirement accounts for the future, HSAs will continue to be a popular topic.
- Wellness wins: Of organizations that increased their benefits offerings in the last 12 months, 44 percent increased their wellness benefits, according to the SHRM survey. Many of the sessions I attended demonstrated how wellness is being customized, as employers offer to help their employees manage their stress, miss less work and reduce costly health conditions by providing fitness center subsidies, quiet rooms, online stress management and wellness challenges.
- The future of employee benefits: Emerging and leading-edge benefits include student debt repayment programs, paid leave benefits (parental leave, expanded VTO, review of PTO limits), work life/convenience benefits, financial/career benefits (incentives, awards) and professional/career development benefits (memberships, certifications, licenses, counseling, coaching)—all aimed at higher employee retention. Of special note, the SHRM survey found that the prevalence of paid parental leave increased significantly between 2016 and 2018 for every type of parental leave assessed, including maternity, paternity, adoption, foster child and surrogacy leave.
As an HR leader, I’ve returned to WEX from the SHRM conference feeling much more informed, inspired and equipped with tools to solve my organization’s greatest challenges.
For more on benefits administration, read our post about why employers should care about their employees’ financial stability.
Senior Director of Product Management at WEX Health
Sherry specializes in implementation for human resources policies and practices, benefits, rewards, performance management and HR efficiencies. During her 20-plus years in the corporate world, Sherry has served in HR positions in healthcare, high-technology software development and banking. She holds designations as a SHRM Senior Certified Professional, a Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), a certified Discovery Insights Practitioner and career advisor, President-Elect for the Agassiz Valley Human Resources Association (AVHRA) organization.