Balancing costs with employee needs is the focus of employers when it comes employee benefits, according to the latest National Benefits Survey by Lockton Companies.

With more than 1,600 employers responding nationwide, this year’s survey confirmed reducing cost was now virtually on par with recruitment in terms of employer priority, the independent insurance brokerage and consulting firm found.

In previous years, attracting and retaining talent was the most important factor survey respondents cited by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

“The past few post-pandemic years can best be described as a war for talent with benefits being one of the primary tools for employers to differentiate themselves,” said Lockton People Solutions National Executive Committee Chair Tom Schaffler. “This year’s survey results indicate the re-emergence of a wave toward cost control and containment as economic factors mount and the price of healthcare continues to escalate, significantly outpacing inflation. Employers need to be clear on how they can move forward as they try to balance these two competing priorities.”

Lockton predicts the cost of healthcare will rise again next year at an average rate of 6 to 8 percent.

Some employers are already taking action to optimize their plans, according to the survey.

The strategies used cause little disruption to employees and don’t save on costs significantly.

According to the survey, “plan sponsors are not yet deploying more progressive and disruptive strategies that would result in more significant cost savings.”

“Plan sponsors really need to have a clear perspective on how willing they are to disrupt their employees. When sponsors understand their benefits philosophy, they can better evaluate the strategies to manage cost that are right for their organization. They are also then more prepared to communicate these changes to their people,” said Lockton People Solutions National Practice Leader Shannon Demaree.

“Our clients have come to depend on Lockton’s annual benefit survey information as they benchmark themselves and their plans across their industry and the broader economy,” added Schaffler. “Lockton’s objectivity as the nation’s leading independent broker and consultant gives us the flexibility to work with our clients to interpret and analyze their data and develop tailored solutions that are ideally suited for their organization and people.”

Employers are also looking for ways to enhance access to quality healthcare, to improve medical outcomes and reduce cost.

The survey also reflects plan sponsors’ continued interest in providing personalized benefits that support self-care.

Employers are prioritizing benefits that promote family building and caregiving, gender affirming care, as well as mental and financial well-being.

The number of survey participants reflects an increase of more than 20 percent over last year.