News 3/23/2022 Better Benefits Need To Be Pandemic-Era Employers’ Top Priority

As we begin to emerge from pandemic-era restrictions, businesses re-open and employees return to the workplace, employers face a talent crisis. Time away from the worksite has prompted many individuals to reassess their career goals, preferred work environment and benefits needs. As a result, employers need to step up their benefits game. Best-in-class benefits offerings have become an invaluable bargaining chip for employers. Recent SHRM research shows that 36% of employees are looking to switch jobs for better benefits options. And despite employers adding benefits like flexible work arrangements and mental health programs due to the pandemic, a 2021 PwC report revealed that many employers made no changes at all. Clearly, the benefits packages of the past won’t satisfy the expectations of today’s employees. To attract and retain talent, employers must be more inclusive, flexible and responsive to employee needs.

Listen to the Needs of Your Workforce

Considering how dramatically many Americans’ lives and lifestyles changed during the pandemic, it’s likely that their benefits needs have changed as well. Just as employees should routinely assess whether their selected benefits still fit their needs, employers should regularly confirm that their offerings remain adequate amid employee turnover, new product offerings and new regulations. In addition, employers can look at how employees are currently using their benefits to understand where the opportunities are for updating and even expanding coverage.

HR teams should review past claims and utilization data to identify behavioral patterns, potential coverage and education gaps. For example, high usage of the ER rather than urgent care for non-emergency treatment might point to a lack of understanding of treatment costs and options or the need for a PCP. High hospitalization rates might drive interest in critical illness, hospital indemnity or disability buys-up offerings. Feedback from customer service lines and call centers can also provide valuable intel—as, of course, will employee survey and focus group results where feasible.

Employers can also work with brokers and other consultants to identify opportunities to adjust their benefits programs. According to DirectPath’s 2022 Broker Report, brokers are seeing an almost 60% increase in clients adding voluntary benefits to attract and retain talent, with accident insurance (78%), critical illness (73%) and hospital indemnity (60%) at the top of the list. That said, every workforce is unique, and employers need to think critically about which benefits options would be “nice to have” and which address demonstrated employee needs. To ensure they offer value to workers and are worth the spend for both employees and the company, any changes in benefits offerings must be grounded in a well-thought benefits strategy.

Reconsider How You Communicate Benefits Offerings

Even the best benefits program won’t meet employees’ needs if employees aren’t aware of what’s offered, how to use them and what’s in it for them. That means taking a good look at how benefits are described, and the channels being used to reach employees with the information they need when they need it.

With Zoom, Teams, and Slack now routine ways of communicating at work, we know the value of digital communications. While employees have been slow to embrace digital educational materials, DirectPath’s 2021 Consumer Report discovered that, of the resources that employers made available to employees, consumers seemed to prefer digital options more than physical materials, although physical materials were preferred over presentations. This same report showed that consumers find social media channels and one-on-one meetings were extremely helpful.

That said, the most informative benefits communications take an omnichannel approach. Not all employees are comfortable navigating digital media, so employers need to cater to employees that still prefer physical mailers and pamphlets.

Prepare for What’s Coming

The next two years will see new regulations requiring employers to share personalized out-of-pocket cost information and the underlying rates negotiated through the employer’s health plans for covered health care items and services.  This is meant to give consumers accurate estimates of their cost-sharing liability for health care items and services from different providers in real-time. It can also help them understand how costs are determined and how to shop and compare health care costs before receiving care.

Now is the time to arm employees with the information they need to understand and use this information or, at minimum, to take advantage of and make employees aware of a benefit they may have never heard of, advocacy and transparency services. This individualized service empowers employees to become better health care shoppers by doing the legwork of comparing treatment costs and resolving billing issues and enhances productivity by reducing or eliminating the time spent at work by employees trying to tackle these chores. In addition, having this information at hand will help employees make more informed decisions about the plans they choose and how they use them.

Over the last two years, the benefits landscape has significantly changed. As the war for talent continues, employers must pay attention to what prospective and current employees need from their benefits packages and what new regulations may require. By understanding what the workforce needs and updating their benefits communications strategies, employers will see greater success in keeping employees happy and attracting new talent while ensuring their plans are being used effectively.

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(Kim Buckey is Vice President, Client Services at DirectPath)