better benefits program

4 Strategies for a Better Health Benefits Experience

The phrase “You can lead a horse to water …” has become synonymous with far too many engagement efforts in today’s workplace — new systems that go untouched after implementation, or innovative new offerings that employees just don’t connect with.

When your organization makes an investment in a new program, it’s not enough to just set it up. You won’t see a good ROI if you can’t get employees to engage with your offerings and make them a part of their experience. And nowhere is that more clear than in health care benefits.

Health benefits shouldn’t be a blind spot when it comes to employee engagement — they’re traditionally a major part of the employer/full-time employee compact, and they address one of the most important facts of life for all of us: health. But health benefits have traditionally been characterized by tedious administration, confusion and lack of choice. They’re often viewed as a necessary evil rather than a helpful asset by both managers and employees. Faced with these negatives — and more — employees tended to focus on subsistence goals: Fix immediate problems, tend to the minutiae, deal with an illness or injury.

But that was then. Now, given the choice, employees want to be involved with their benefits; they want benefits they can use and they often view their employer through the lens of the benefits offered. A survey by Glassdoor found that 79% of employees would prefer new or additional benefits over a pay increase — the numbers break down to slightly more women (82%) than men (76%) and more millennials and Generation Z (89%) than Generation X (70%) or baby boomers (66%).

That said, the problem is getting the horse to drink: As companies get on board with a consumer-focused approach to benefits, how do they best reach their employees, and succeed in engaging them with new benefits programs? Here are four strategies.

Get the C-Suite on Board

Organizations need to make the case to senior leaders that investing in a better benefits experience can drive business results. Better benefits can drastically improve talent acquisition, retention, and the overall ROI of benefits spend. Better benefits can also decrease HR admin time.

An up-to-date, forward-looking benefits program with a digital benefits platform can bypass the need for a time-consuming ramp-up by managers, and deliver improved services and choices directly to employees. It can also consolidate the channels connecting managers and outside providers, reducing administrative pressures.

Go for Ease of Use

Employees want to be engaged with their benefits just as they’re engaged with every other service — as individuals, and as consumers who can make their own choices. Most employees are accustomed to making consumer decisions in the digital environment, and they’re more than ready to use the same approach with benefits, even those with chronic conditions. A Deloitte study that measured consumer use of technology for health found that among consumers with major chronic conditions, tech-based monitoring increased from 22% to 39% in two years.

But ease of use is critical, and service is everything. So provide a simple, singular point of entry; an easy way to select and personalize options; self-service and auto-population; and access to the entire ecosystem beyond just traditional benefits — for example, wellness programs and spending accounts. The value to employees decreases if some offerings are easy to find while others are only reachable through an entirely different portal. This kind of fragmentation is likely to reduce adoption and diminish engagement.

To stand behind a benefits program that includes great choices as its hallmark, organizations should ensure that all are equally accessible and easy to use.

Clarify the Terms and Offerings

User adoption is the first step to engagement, but often that’s a blind spot. You never want employees to throw up their hands in frustration and say, “I had no idea this existed!”

Companies need to make a concerted effort to convey the scope of benefits and programs being offered, how employees and their families or partners can participate, and who to go to for information. All the specifics should be clear. It should go without saying that the more employees understand about their health benefits, the more they will continue to engage with them: as we know in terms of consumer behavior, familiarity breeds stickiness.

This is another compelling argument for reducing the complexity of too many point solutions and increasing the points of contact, from chats to FAQs to real-time assistants and navigational help. Genuinely consumer-centric programs (like a health care wallet and wellness initiatives) should be simple, nearly self-explanatory and able to be self-driven. Your employees are looking for easy access to answers about their benefits questions.

Autonomy in terms of health benefits will gain far more traction than a top-down, wait-until-we-get-to-you approach when it comes to sustained engagement. And, in highly engaged workforces, you may also see long-term employees informally mentoring new hires on how to get the most in terms of their own health and wellness from the organization’s benefits, in effect becoming employer ambassadors for the program.

Equate Choice and Freedom with Health

If you want employees to leverage your new benefits, provide the kinds of programs that offer development, improvement and choice. Shopify, for instance, offers employees $5,000 to apply to a health or wellness spending account — or a charitable giving account, or retirement savings. Shopify collaborated with League to best serve up a benefits program that would meet the needs of all of its employees, by enabling them to pick and choose on their own terms. The program has helped put Shopify on Canada’s Top 100 Employers list for 2019.

Not only do the company’s employees engage with this benefits program and actively make choices, but they also refer to it in their glowing reviews of the company on job portals. Again, engagement has traction, and will pay off in far more ways than just direct ROI.

Health and wellness need to be about empowering employees to get healthy and stay that way. But that means companies need to leverage the best technology to deliver an employee experience that increases engagement and reduces complexity. That means streamlined navigation; plenty of online tools, secure messaging and data; confidentiality throughout; and responsiveness.

Make the details clear, offer plenty of support and information, and encourage active adoption with a range of programs — even rewards and incentives if those fit into your company culture. But health is its own reward, after all, and frontrunning companies know that. Wanting the best benefits for your people is going to be noticed. From the employee perspective, you might even say that’s the sign of a healthy employer.

This post is sponsored by League. League is the benefits platform of choice for the world’s most forward-thinking organizations, including Shopify, Unilever, Lush Cosmetics, and Uber. Learn more about the award-winning League Health Benefits Experience platform (HBX).