By Austin Baker
Recent surveys report that only 33% of employees rated their benefit communications as excellent or very good. The 2017 MetLife Employee Benefits Trends Survey shows that 83% of employers’ rank retaining employees as their No. 1 objective of their benefits program, whereas controlling the cost fell to No. 4 from the No. 1 spot that it has dominated. These two statistics point to a real communication challenge that has a direct budget impact, yet doesn’t appear on most benefits spreadsheets. Employee benefits have grown increasingly complex; consequently, employers need better techniques to help retain the tremendous value that a well-designed benefits program represents.
Creating a plan now for your open enrollment that includes targeted pre-communications can help you close the gap of understanding. Take a quick pulse by asking yourself these questions: Are your benefits offering, the technology that supports them, and the communications about them modern and personal? Is there simplicity infused at the core of each of these areas? Some of the steps you can take today that will bring simple, modern and personal techniques to your benefits program include applying them at the following stages: data analysis in benefits planning, setting priorities for Open Enrollment, surveying resources available to you, and setting a communication and technology project plan to make effective changes.
These options may sound like blocking and tackling, but there a few reminders and perspectives that we should consider as we approach them from a simple, modern, personal approach this open enrollment season. These three themes came to life recently through one of our major partners Colonial Life and their leadership team’s embrace of the simple, modern, personal approach that has driven double digit growth for more years than analysts could have fathomed was possible for an organization of their size. They not only apply this dogma in how they execute, they also apply to their approach as a support and implementation partner for their customers. They are obsessive about simple, modern, and personal, and it is working.
Employing the right benefit consultant or broker can help you tremendously in obtaining and understanding the benefits data as it relates to your group trends. Taking snapshots of utilization, engagement and cost trends and applying it in a comparative analysis that is meaningful is an art. Also, understanding and embracing that employees want more choices in their benefits programs is yet another opportunity that is sometimes overlooked by advisors. A full 76% of millennials said benefits customization was important towards increasing loyalty to their employers, and the good news is that many of them don’t always expect these options to be company paid. Increasing choices, while keeping the process simple, modern, and personal requires a different approach to this stage of your planning.
This analysis requires design thinking that starts with empathy, then moves into defining, ideation, prototyping, testing and implementing. So, it is important to ask different questions along this journey. What biases for our own stages of life and income earnings may be clouding our perceptions in the analysis process? Is this change in benefits offerings and/or strategy designed to meet employees at the stages of life that they are encountering, as well as the unexpected events that life brings to them? How are trends such as the gig economy, the rise of innovative tuition benefits and the rapid increase in employee interest in portable benefits being factored into your offerings?
What internal survey data are your collecting on your benefits program and the perceptions around them? Are you holding focus groups about your benefits to capture the perspectives of one of the most diverse workforces in our modern history? Did you know that 49% of employees are concerned, anxious or fearful about their current financial well-being? How will you make benefits diverse enough to be personal and simple enough to be consumed wisely?
The science of choice as well as our human nature in change management and decision making begs employers to narrow down the number of new choices we elect to put in front of employees. Now this does not constrict from having many choices in your benefits program, but it does implore us to consider an iterative process for rolling our changes out in phases. It also means we need to step up our strategy to provide decision tools and resources that help us implement a “nudge” approach to helping employees make wise decisions that are very personal.
The paradox in choice is that we all want more choices to be satisfied, but the more choices we have the less likely we are to be satisfied with our decisions and the process we must go through to make them. This asks us to consider two different strategies to this difficult but important function around benefit design and communication. The first area is in the narrowing down of priorities from our design thinking data process. The second is to use modern tools and robust partner resources to help employees make decisions that are tailored to their needs.
Think about it, if I were to ask you to choose between eight different options, then what is the likelihood of you making a relaxed and informed decision? Now if I were to ask you to choose between three different options based on data about you gathered and guided by personal advice of assisted decision making resources, then now what is your likelihood of being more satisfied? With modern tools and robust resources from benefit partners, employers can assist employees in making better benefits decisions.
Partner Resources Available to Create a Simple, Modern, and Personal Benefits Experience
The right consultant and carrier partnerships go beyond advice and sound insurance products. In many cases, these organizations can bring additional support and value-added programs from technology, to additional offerings that can help you accomplish your goals while not always incurring additional budget costs. Particularly the voluntary product carriers have an array of services and offerings in these areas.
Employees are looking for additional options, decision support tools, and tailored advice from trusted sources to navigate these options and make choices. Employers are required to meet certain legal requirements for communications and in many cases, stop there. Best in class organizations go beyond these legal requirements to make the information simple and personal. They also bring modern tools to put information at current and prospective employee’s fingertips.
Best in class carriers and consultants will bring you a toolbox of options and technology infrastructure such as; benefit administration, enrollment software, educational websites, targeted data driven communications that personalize recommendations and other programs to complement your benefit offerings. Additional communications and support that employees rank as important is one-to-one enrollment services, call center support, group meetings as well as point of service offerings such as telemedicine. Other offerings include financial literacy, tuition programs, pre-paid legal, identity theft and other well-being resources. Take time to find out about all options available with current and new carrier partnerships as it relates to your discovery and priorities.
Putting your Strategy to Work
Insurance and financial decisions create the perfect maze for our “internal procrastinator” to wonder. The culture change necessary that employers must embrace is both an internal management case for helping employees take time out to make these decisions, and the human nature factor of wanting to put off decisions that are frankly not on our favorite topics of interest. How do you think an employee would rather spend their time; on vacations spots versus options for care options when in an unexpected medical or financial situation. Surveys comparing the amount of time willing to be dedicated in these areas, were very revealing to what our challenge is in this area. Finally, leadership must be educated that considering the budget spend on benefits and the importance in attracting and retaining employees that need their support and advocacy for taking time out for benefits. If we setup a plan today, we can make this year’s open enrollment a simple, modern, and personal process that increase employee retention.
About the Author
Austin Baker is the President of HRO Partners a Human Resources Consulting and Benefit Administration and Enrollment Firm. HRO Partners is a fast-growing provider of Benefit Enrollment Solution that works with many strategic vendor partners such as Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company who is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. Colonial Life’s benefit services, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support more than 80,000 businesses and organizations, representing more than 3 million of America’s workers and their families. For more information, call Baker at 1-866-822-0123, visit www.hro-partners.com or connect with the company at www.facebook.com/hropartners, http://www.linkedin.com/in/jaustinbaker or http://twitter.com/jaustinbaker