Between the upcoming holiday season and “gig economy” swelling with independent contractors on short-term assignments, employers with the help of their advisers are crafting relevant benefit packages to lure top contingent talent.
The trend is being powered by emerging technologies that support automated clearing house (ACH), credit and debit elections of benefits online. What it does is avoid an “immensely cumbersome payroll deduction retroactivity process” that can become an “enormous administrative hassle.”
So says Jeff Oldham, VP of consumer strategy at Benefitfocus, whose cloud-based benefits management platform simplifies how organizations and individuals alike shop for, enroll in, manage and exchange benefits.
“With part-time workers, someone can work 10 hours one week and 12 the next,” he explains. Given the wide variation in their pay, he says using a full-time, payroll deduct mechanism for benefits enrollment has proven problematic. But new technology allows part-timers to log in online like a full-timer and purchase their benefits through ACH, credit or debit arrangements.
Oldham describes the platform as “Amazonian-like” and says “it’s like any other kind of website consumer experience that most people expect, but now you’re finally getting it in the employer world.” Benefitfocus is wrapping up its second open-enrollment season with the ACH, credit or debit technologies and plans to further diversify its catalogue next year.
The platform supports text messages, emails and alerts. These consumer-driven communication tools and strategies are ideal for a variable hourly population with individuals who may show up to a certain location only once a week, according to Oldham. He has noticed that texting still trumps all other forms of communication.
“It’s imperative for these industries with a high percentage of variable hourly employees that when they’re onboarding their employees, at a minimum, you have to get someone’s cell phone number and perhaps even a personal email address,” he says.
Benefitfocus began reaching out to brokers and advisers in late summer with lunch-and-learn events ahead of the 2017 open-enrollment season. “We are very pleased to see their reactions because the majority of the time, we’re working directly with brokers and their customers,” Oldham reports. Each year, he says new benefit carriers and products have been added to diversify offerings to part-timers.
“This is a new segment of the population they’ve never had an opportunity to represent,” he explains, “and recognizing that a number of these industries have such a significant part-time, variable hourly population, we’re finding that the brokers are very interested to learn how to do it and be successful.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics periodically analyzed part-time employment between 1995 and 2005 when funding of the research ran out. But starting in 2017, the agency plans to reissue this report every two years. A dramatically changing work landscape in the mobile-apps Age of Uber has certainly necessitated the change.
So-called alternative work arrangements accounted for 10.1% of U.S. employment in 2005 when the BLS last examined the trend, while two economists estimated that it edged up to 15.8% last year. Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger, research associates at the National Bureau of Economic Research, also noted that the 9.4 million additional contingent workers during that decade slightly dwarfed the 9.1 million jobs that were added to the U.S. economy.
Two other significant developments they identified is that part-timers between ages 55 and 74 drove that growth, while the number of women working part time more than doubled to 17% in 2015 from 8.3% in 2005.
Employee benefits continue to drive recruitment and retention of the contingent workforce. Oldham points out how Betterment recently began offering IRAs to Uber drivers and Starbucks is now allowing part-timers access to full-time benefits.
“We just see this continuing to grow in popularity,” he says. “And now that the technology is caught up, we’re looking forward to offering a rich, diverse set of benefits to a population that, up until this time, has never had that kind of access.”
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