Will Education Benefits be the Next Big Trend?

Find out about Aetna's unique benefit program aimed at employee happiness … and finances.
By: | April 11, 2018 • 4 min read
Student loan repayment, graduate cap on money

New research from Robert Half reveals that many employees view “job hopping” — having more than five or six jobs in a 10-year span — as beneficial. CFOs, however, don’t share the same sentiment — 44 percent said they “are not at all likely to hire a candidate with a history of job hopping because they want to avoid losing them in the future.”

Perhaps not too surprising, 75 percent of millennials surveyed said they think job hopping improves their career outlook. Sixty seven percent of all respondents who viewed job hopping in a positive light had at least a bachelor’s degree.

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One can imagine that switching jobs may be a necessity for some workers, given the staggering amount of student loan debt that has crippled much of the millennial generation (38 percent of the 1,000 working professionals in the U.S. that Robert Half surveyed said the main reason for switching jobs was higher compensation).

With so much debt, it’s hard to think about saving for retirement, starting a family or even buying a house. Thankfully, companies are beginning to acknowledge this financial stress and its impact on their workforce and are opting to help employees ease some of this strain.

At the Health Benefits and Leadership Conference, held April 4-6 at the Aria Resort in Las Vegas, Aetna presented its most recent solution for employee financial wellness: education benefits.

Kay Mooney, vice president of employee benefits and well-being at Aetna, reviewed the company’s commitment to investing in its employees. The “social compact” began in 2015 and started as a pay increase for minimum-wage workers to $16 per hour.

Though the official commitment began in 2015, Aetna has been focused on its employees’ financial wellbeing for many years first introducing tuition reimbursement nearly three decades ago. It started out as 80-percent reimbursement up to $3,000 per year and eventually increased to $5,000. Today, Aetna reimburses 100-percent of that $5,000 per year, and even pays it up front directly to the college for employees who qualify.

Mooney said these upgrades happened because Aetna surveyed its workforce and listened to what employees wanted. She said the company sought to ensure that benefits would help employees not only now but in the long term, and education fit that bill.

“Education is a powerful vehicle to help employees advance their career,” said Mooney. “If, five to 10 years down the road, our employees are still only earning $16 an hour, we’ve failed them.”

The education benefits didn’t stop at tuition reimbursement, though. Aetna added alternative learning opportunities and partnered with College for America and Capella University to give employees access to self-paced, online, competency-based accredited degree programs. Mooney said there is a large portion of single mothers working at Aetna who don’t have the time for traditional learning routes, but wanted to advance their careers. This program provided a non-traditional, flexible approach to education for these employees.

Last year, Aetna became one of the few companies offering a student loan repayment program. Mooney said full-time employees have access to $2,000 per year up to a $10,000 lifetime maximum loan repayment and part-time employees have access to $1,000 per year up to a $5,000 lifetime maximum. The program is available to employees who obtained a degree within the past three years.

“When we think about it, if an employee struggles with financial stress, that impacts the quality of their work,” said Mooney. “If employees are healthy and happy, they’re more productive and engaged and can better focus on our customers. It helps them, and it helps us — it’s win-win.”

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Since Aetna is one of the first organizations to roll out student loan repayment benefits, Mooney and her team had to pave the way for what this benefit looks like because no data was available at the time.

“We didn’t enter into this offering with perfect information. There is limited data on this, so we needed to think intuitively—will this have the impact we want it to have?” she said. “We made enough of an educated case that it would, so we moved forward with it and now we have numbers and data that prove program success.”

So far, Mooney pointed out, there has been a 45-percent faster promotion rate among student loan repayment program participants and a 27-percent faster promotion rate among employee tuition assistance program participants. Additionally, there has been an 8 percent retention gain among tuition assistance participants.

 

“We truly believe that employees are our greatest asset. It’s up to us to treat them as such,” Mooney said.

Danielle Westermann King, staff writer for HRE, received her bachelor’s degree in English from Temple University. She has written and edited articles for various print and online healthcare publications and is now setting her sights on human resources. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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