News 1/19/2022

BenefitsPro: Why Employers Must Rethink Benefits Strategies If They Want to Win the War for Talent

Many employers introduced flexible work locations and hours, enhanced mental health benefits, broader access to virtual care, and new voluntary benefits programs as a result of the pandemic. While these are positive—albeit necessary—changes, employers must do more to show that they truly prioritize and support their employees’ physical, mental, and financial wellbeing if they expect to retain and attract talent during the “Great Resignation.” Depending on which study you read, upwards of 55% of employees plan to change jobs as a result of the pandemic. It’s important to note, then, that when choosing between a high-paying job and a lower-paying job with quality health benefits, 88% of employees would consider the lower-paying job.

By reevaluating and revising their benefits offerings—and educating employees on how they can best harness these offerings—employers can demonstrate how much they value their people; something that can boost employee engagement and loyalty. But it’s important to remember that a successful benefits strategy is more than just choosing the benefits to be offered. It also includes programs that support utilization of those plans, and a robust communications plan driving behavior change.

Benefits offerings should reflect the evolving needs of a workforce while addressing evolving health care delivery models

Just as employees should regularly (at least annually) review their benefits coverage to determine whether it still meets their needs, so too should employers constantly monitor and assess their benefits offerings so that they’re equipped to adapt to changing demographics, employee turnover, and external factors such as regulatory requirements and even pandemics. That said, any “pivots” in offerings should be grounded in a solid benefits strategy that goes beyond selecting plans and programs and ensures that those programs are being used and having the desired effect.

For direction, employers should look at actual utilization of existing programs and any trends at play. Are employees making poor decisions about when and where to receive their care? Is HR or the Benefits Call Center getting questions on a particular topic more than others? Is there an uptick in cases of preventable illnesses? If any of these apply, one or more programs is clearly missing the mark and some digging is required to determine whether the problem is poor communications or just a bad “fit” for that particular workforce.

Employers should also keep a pulse on the latest benefits trends and new products available from providers. They can work with consultants, brokers, and carriers to request new products that fit the needs of their workforce—though employers should not be tempted by the flavor of the month or the shiny new toy. There is no one silver bullet that solves every employer’s—or employee’s—needs, so employers must look carefully at their options to ensure their selections meet demonstrated demand.

Beyond looking at product offerings, employers should investigate how and where employees are accessing—and would prefer to access—care. This may drive plan design decisions around encouraging (or even requiring) primary care physicians, reduced copays for retail clinic or urgent care facility visits, or expanded coverage of telehealth services. For example, depending on an employer’s workforce, a “virtual first” option (in which a patient must see a doctor virtually before seeking in-person care) might help reduce costs and improve employee satisfaction with their health plan.

Employers may need to rethink how they communicate benefits

Even best-in-class benefits won’t persuade employees to stay at an organization if employees aren’t aware those benefits exist or don’t know how—or why—to use them. To be most effective, employers must take a marketing approach to employee benefits:

  • State the problem/challenge opportunity (i.e., the reason they might need coverage).
  • Describe and demonstrate how it impacts employees and their families. Spell out what action the employee needs to take to avoid or manage that problem.
  • Promote the resources, programs, and educational tools the employer is providing to help.
  • Remind employees that they must be active participants in choosing and using their benefits in order to receive—well, the benefit of those programs.

Regardless of demographic, employees overwhelming prefer personal, one-on-one communications. For HR teams struggling to manage higher-than-normal onboarding and offboarding rates, as well as perhaps their own talent shortage, enlisting benefits educators for one-on-one meetings or calls with employees to walk them through enrollment can be a tremendous resource, so long as they are properly promoted. In DirectPath’s 2021 Consumer Report, only 10% of respondents said they met with a benefits educator when offered by their employers—but when respondents did take advantage of 1:1 conversations with these advisors, more than 80% found them to be very or extremely helpful.

The addition of health advocates and transparency specialists can provide individualized support as employees use their plans and incur out-of-pocket expenses. Relieving employees of the responsibility for seeking second opinions, researching cost-effective treatment options and resolving billing issues—typically handled during the workday—not only eases employee stress but enhances productivity.

Delivering an exceptional experience for all employees is critical in making a business’s people feel valued, which supports retention and even employee acquisition. As employee priorities emerge and evolve, employers must ensure they are offering coverage that meets every one of their needs. Employees whose employers demonstrate a commitment to employee well-being through thoughtful benefit offerings and support are happier, more engaged, and more productive—as well as more likely to stay put.

Read the article here.

Kim Buckey is vice president of client services at DirectPath.

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