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Benefits Matter in Iowa!

David P. Lind BenchmarkEight in 10 employees say “benefits are one of the reasons they work where they do and that benefits make them feel appreciated by their organization,” according to a recent national study* by Mercer, a human resources consulting, outsourcing and investment services firm. 

The Mercer results coincide with the results we discovered in our 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study©, conducted to better understand the opinions, perceptions, and values of Iowa employees and how they differ from their bosses.

  • We found that employees valued retirement, vacations, and health insurance as the most important benefits offered by their employers. 
  • However, their bosses severely underrated the importance of other benefits such as long term disability insurance, life insurance and dental coverage to their employees.

So why is this important to you, the employer?  First, the investment made for employee benefits can be extraordinarily large, roughly 40% of an employee’s total compensation. You could potentially be overpaying for benefits that are not highly appreciated or not investing in benefits that employees greatly value. 

Avoid assuming you know what is important to your employees—you may need to ask them. Demographics such as age, gender, education level, race, generation distribution (Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y) all play key roles in determining what benefits are (or will be) most important to them. 

I leave you with one encouraging gem to consider. Employee benefits are important to employees, but the top four workplace values clearly desired by Iowa employees are not as expensive as you may think.  They are (in order):

Respect—being appreciated and valued in the workplace

Achievement—the sense of purpose and meaning from work

Balance—the opportunity to balance work time with family needs

Job Security—confidence that the job will be there every day, that it will not be phased out  

* Link to the “Mercer Workplace Survey.”


David P. Lind BenchmarkWhat if Iowa families had to spend more than half their yearly income just to pay for health insurance—making it difficult to afford housing, food and clothing? Sound ridiculous? Think again.

Already in 2011, the average Iowa family health insurance premium gobbled up roughly 27% of estimated yearly household income of $49,985*. If current trends continue, that will grow to 58% in 10 years. Unsustainable?  You bet—for employers and employees.

Look at the numbers:

  • Health insurance rates in Iowa increased an average of 10.2% annually during the last five years, according to our Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. 
  • In 2011 the average annual family health insurance premium provided by Iowa employers was $13,295.
  • The average premium for family coverage in Iowa would increase 165% to over $35k a year by 2021 if current trends continue.

We all know that rising health premiums suppress employer profitability and ultimately employee take home pay (this is why unsustainable health trends are important to both employers and their employees).

Clearly, Iowa employers and their employees (and society in general) must find new and innovative ways to seek affordable health care without compromising the quality of care they expect to receive.

Does your organization have a sustainable strategy to avoid the projected increases?

This is a topic we’ll be talking about a lot here on the blog, as we explore possible solutions. 

* The 2009 Iowa Median Household income was $48,044, and was trended up by 2% annually to 2011.


Small Employer? Here’s another SECRET

David P. Lind BenchmarkAre you hiding your head in the sand? Iowa’s small employers are walking away from some serious pocket change—for both the employer and the employee. What gives?

They aren’t taking advantage of a well-known section of the Internal Revenue Code (Section 125) that provides tax advantages for premium conversion plans (PCP) and flexible spending accounts (FSA). Hard to say why. Look at the tax advantages.

PCP advantages*:

  • allows employees to use pretax dollars when paying their share of premiums for welfare benefit plans (i.e. health and dental insurance)
  • reduces employees’ out-of-pocket costs for premiums
  • reduces employees’ federal income taxes and Social Security contributions (FICA) and possibly state and local income taxes
  • saves employers the 7.65% they would otherwise contribute to Social Security taxes

FSA advantages*:

  • allows employees to use pretax dollars when paying for certain qualified medical expenses
  • reduces employees’ out-of-pocket costs for eligible medical expenses
  • reduce employees’ federal income taxes and Social Security contributions (FICA) and possibly state and local income taxes
  • saves employers the 7.65% they would otherwise contribute to Social Security taxes

PCPs and FSAs are easy to communicate and cost little to administer. Simply:

  • have a plan document in place
  • notify employees of the option
  • make payroll deductions on a pretax basis rather than an after-tax basis.  Consider hiring an outside flex administrator for FSAs due to protected health information laws.

Seems like a no-brainer. PCPs and FSAs save money for employers and ease the financial burden employees’ face as a result of higher premiums, deductibles, copayments, etc. They cost little to set up and administer. Yet every year without exception in our Iowa Employer Benefits Study©, we find that the smallest employers (those with 2 to 19 employees) don’t take advantage of these tax savings. 

Don’t leave money on the table. If you aren’t utilizing the benefits found within Section 125, it’s not too late to start taking advantage NOW!

*This is not intended as tax advice.  Visit with your Tax Advisor for more information.