Cable’s Core Benefits On The Rise

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Most cable-company employees not only saw a rise in their salaries between March 2007 and March 2008, but the number of core benefits offered by companies participating in the Cable Television Human Resources Association survey also rose — from four in 2007 to nine this year.

Every company that participated in CTHRA's benefits survey this year offered health care insurance, a 401(k) plan with matching funds from the company and paid holidays prior to the latest survey. This year, every participating company offered vision care (up from 62.5% who offered it last year), short-term disability insurance (up from 56% in 2007 survey results), long-term disability insurance (up from 62.5% in 2007 survey results), life insurance (up from 69% in 2007 survey results) and a tuition-reimbursement program (up from 56% in 2007 survey results).

Competition for talent continues to intensify as cable, phone and Internet companies enter each other's lines of business, so companies are finding they must do more than throw money at prospective employees.

According to Lynne Ramsey, Charter Communications senior vice president of human resources and president of CTHRA, “Employee engagement and clear career paths are the No. 1 reason people join a company or stay,” Ramsey said.

The five benefits employees want most, according to the survey, are health care; 401(k); vacation and paid days off; pension plans; and alternative flex-work schedules.

But that's not all. The ability to telecommute, health and wellness plans, assistance wiith adoption expenses and elder-care benefit plans have been very popular, said Scripps Networks senior vice president of human resources Julie Cookson, CTHRA's treasurer. Indeed, 83.3% of participating CTHRA companies now offer adoption-expense assistance programs, up from 44% a year ago.

No participating companies offered elder-care benefit plans last year. This year, a full 75% have programs in place that employees can take advantage of. Of the companies that participated in this year's benefits study, 41.7% offer day-care subsidies or have a day-care center on site.

Clearly, managing health-care costs is a major concern and many companies have tweaked their benefits packages to better serve their employees and manage their costs at the same time.

Every participating CTHRA company reported its intention to continue offering medical coverage, but wellness or preventative care is on the rise. Last year, 62.5% of participating firms offered such programs. This year that number grew to 67%.

Disease-management programs — designed to coordinate heath-care coverage based on an employee's particular health issues using interdisciplinary clinical teams, analysis of relevant data and technology to improve the health of patients with specific diseases — have also become popular.

Five years ago, Cookson said she hadn't ever heard of disease management. Today, 75% of companies offer such a program and 42% are aggressively practicing it.

Employees may be paying more each year for their health insurance, but the percentage of health-care costs has remained somewhat steady, said Cookson and Beth Pollard, human resources leader at Cisco Systems. Most health-care benefits are set up so that the employer pays 80% of the costs and the employees pay 20%, Pollard said.

“Eventually, I think companies will move toward programs where employees have more control over what kind of health-care programs they want and companies will provide a fixed-dollar amount of care,” said Pollard. “Employees will make the rest, but they will be able to determine what kind of care they want.

“For example, most insurance packages include maternity services, but I don't need maternity coverage anymore. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to health care coverage. I think customization will be the way to go in the future.”

Despite the fact that 401(k) plans rank high among the types of benefits employees want, and that 100% of participating CTHRA companies provide 401(k) plans, only 66% of the eligible employees take advantage of the company plans. Many younger employees would rather spend their retirement funds on stocks, Cookson said.

“They have trouble focusing on a 401(k) program even though we will match those funds,” she said. “Stocks tend to be sexier to them. We tell them they are leaving money on the table and some of them will just look at you. It's our job to educate them about the benefits of a 401(k) program, but at the end of the day, they make the decisions that work best for them.”

Both Cisco and Scripps provide breakdowns every year of what employees get with their health care and 401(k) programs to help give employees an idea of what they are getting — or what they are missing. Cisco also publishes its COBRA insurance rates so employees know how much they would have to pay for the health care they are currently receiving if they no longer worked for the company.

Given the fact that corporate green initiatives are gaining popularity, CTHRA expanded the scope of its Employee Benefits Survey to examine the topic. Eleven of the 12 companies responded to questions related to green initiatives.

Of the 11 respondents: 100% offer at least one type of in-office recycling (paper, cans and bottles, or computer/test equipment), with 73% offering all three types; 73% offer mass transit incentives; 46% offer car pooling incentives; 45% offer an alternative work schedule to reduce commuting (either work from home one or more days, or a four-day work week), with an additional 36% considering it; and 27% offer incentives for alternative fuel vehicles, with an additional 36% considering it.

“We are seeing the lines between life at home and life at work melding,” Pollard said.

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