HR urged to do more to promote value of benefits

LAS VEGAS – The employee benefits world is at a turning point, going through big changes, but even with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it’s not going away.

That was the point made repeatedly Monday at the opening session here of the second annual Human Resource Executive Health and Benefits Leadership Conference and Expo.

Less assuring was the point that HR is going to have to do a lot more work in justifying the value of benefits, especially to CEOs and CFOs who view the world from the bottom line.

But matters aren’t that grim, according to David Ballard, the assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Association.

Ballard told the audience that, beyond helping with recruitment and retention, there’s plenty of data to support the idea that benefits keep organizations competitive.

With so much changing at the moment, he said, “We’ve lost sight of some of the more important aspects of why benefits exist. So let’s ask the question of what and how we do what we do.”

The session was aimed less at sharing ideas as much as focusing on the notion that benefits pros must do more to prove value at a time when health insurance can be bought through one of the growing private insurance exchanges and, as a result, becoming less of a differentiator for companies competing for talent.

As Ballard noted, it doesn’t help that seven out of 10 employees claim they’re motivated to do their very best for their employers, yet just half of the workforce says it feels valued. Those two figures help explain why a third of workers intend to seek out new work in the next year.

As employer search for solutions, Ballard cautioned that two popular options at the moment – wellness incentives and gamification – are largely untested, with little research available to support what works and what doesn’t.  

Offering hope, Ballard said the American Psychological Association has found that psychologically healthy workplaces embrace diversity and support work-life balance and, as consequence, have lower turnover (7 percent vs. a national average of 38 percent).

Moreover, these organizations outperform other organizations in almost every indicator, including business performance, he said.

Another panelist, Thomas Parry, the president and CEO of the Integrated Benefits Institute, said many employers have finally realized that trying to control medical claims is a dead end.

But the job ahead for HR, he said, is to identify strategies that are relevant to CEOs and CFOs.

It’s important, he said, to “know your CFO’s language. Know what the key metrics are in your company, so that you become a partner in the business, not a cost center.” 

Rick Morrow, the director of benefit strategies at Marriott International, offered a couple of ideas that he said were helping the hotel giant cut “inappropriate delays in care and preventable time away from work.”

Among them, the company has hired onsite health coaches for six of its larger properties, he said. As a result, it saw a 12 percent reduction in ER visits between 2011 and 2012 in its Chicago market, while the company saw an overall 8 percent increase overall in ER usage.

The move has saved it more than health care costs, he noted. Marriott has seen fewer lost productivity days as a result.

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