Mercer survey finds that employees in the Middle East prefer health benefits

By Stephen Clements

Employees have spoken, and they say what they want most in their benefit offerings are health-related benefits (medical insurance, dental, and vision) — this sentiment has been expressed by workers globally, and the Middle East is no exception.

This revelation was the result of a Mercer survey of 10,400 workers, titled “Making Smart Benefit Choices” which was conducted in 10 key markets around the globe to identify the value employees placed on various employer- and employee-paid benefits.

In the Middle East in particular, health care benefits typically are a prominent feature in benefits packages. This is partly a result of legislation mandating coverage in some areas but also because both local nationals and expatriates place a high value on being able access health care services for themselves and their families. To recruit and retain the best talent, employers are under pressure to offer a broader range of benefits to their employees.

While health benefits are usually an essential offering, employers are encountering difficulties with adding more benefits as the costs increasingly outpace inflation. A growing solution is to offer voluntary, flexible packages that empower employees to choose the benefits that match their particular needs and lifestyles.

Mercer, for example, has been designing solutions with employers that enable them to better manage benefit costs while providing more flexibility and choice to employees — creating a “win-win” proposition.

While leading employers in the United Arab Emirates are now moving towards more broad-based benefit solutions, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia market has been adjusting to the introduction of mandatory health insurance three years ago. Price has been virtually the only important factor in decision making, as providers seek to build marketshare and employers struggle to allocate a defined budget for a large cost that they did not need to account for just a few years ago.

With price remaining a key factor for employers, organisations today are becoming more interested in understanding what is truly driving the spend on health care and wanting to use new approaches to improve employee behaviours. Mercer believes that health insurance usually should be just one element of a broader health and wellness strategy.

The Making Smart Benefit Choices survey also asked employees to rank the kind of benefits they are willing to pay for themselves, often referred to as “voluntary” or “flexible” benefits. Employees are so focused on health care benefits that many are willing to pay for these benefits — which, in itself, is testament to the high importance employees place on health care benefits.

Stephen is speaking at the 18th Compensation and Benefit Forum in Dubai this June 9 – 10. 

Stephen  is leader of the strategic client segment in EMEA for Mercer, has been appointed to be the Employee Health & Benefits Leader for Mercer Middle East. Steve has extensive experience of advising clients on a wide range of workforce health issues from strategy, design, financial and health risk management, to third-party administrator and insurer vendor selection and management, and program performance measurement of health and group benefit plans.

This article was reproduced from Mercer’s “HR Middle East” quarterly review with permission.

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