As an HR professional for Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, talent retention is one of my greatest challenges across all levels of the organization. The hospitality industry is not known for lengthy employee tenures.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee turnover in the industry was as high as 72 percent in 2015, several times that of other sectors and increasing. That was the fifth consecutive year of turnover rate increases in the hospitality sector.
For the HR team at Sandestin, retention has always been an uphill battle. We’ve tried many ways to increase the employee lifecycle, including employee recognition programs, opportunity for internal advancement, and ongoing training, to varying degrees of success. But recently we found that the implementation of a private exchange actually impacted not only organization-wide turnover, but also improved employee morale in the process.
In November 2015, we launched a private exchange for all Sandestin employees. Our benefits offerings went from a single medical, vision, and dental plan to six medical, three dental, and four vision plan options, along with 10 other products, to accommodate the needs of our diverse employee base.
Each of our employees was able to create a unique portfolio of benefits that met their individual needs through a benefits marketplace. In just our first year, we achieved 95 percent participation in enrollment. But, the most meaningful metric for my team was that 68 percent of our employees said that the new benefits program made them more likely to continue their employment with Sandestin.
Here are several best practices our team adopted throughout the process of setting up a private exchange.
1. Engage leadership early.
Demonstrating how the new exchange and benefits would positively impact Sandestin’s company priorities was essential to getting upper management and resort ownership on board early in the process.
We were able to show how the new employee benefits and use of the exchange would enhance Sandestin’s ability to contain costs, improve employee retention, increase employee happiness, and ultimately, have a big impact on our organizational culture.
To ensure resort ownership was fully invested in the transition to a private exchange, we presented an introduction of the exchange including a demonstration video and webinar. Then we followed up with an on-site presentation for senior-level decision makers within the company.
They were extremely involved in the decision to move forward with the private exchange model and the selection of plans offered. Maintaining an open dialogue was an essential part of the process and ensured that we had champions for the exchange when it was eventually implemented across the organization.
Our benefits team learned all we could about the private exchange concept before presenting to resort ownership. It was important for us all to understand the costs associated, plan design, and execution process. Our resort owner was very open to this change as long as we, the subject matter experts, were in agreement and confident this would be the best move for the company.
2. Communicate early and often with employees to drive enrollment.
By making sure all employees were aware of the shift to a private exchange and its value for them, we were able to attain maximum engagement when enrollment time came around.
We distributed pre-open enrollment communication materials across all departments. These included videos (distributed to employees in advance via email and played during open enrollment) and flyers intended to educate employees on the new marketplace and all of our new benefit offerings.
In addition to pre open-enrollment collateral, we held on-site open enrollment meetings to not only explain our new and improved benefits offerings, but also demonstrate how the marketplace worked by walking employees through the web site’s interface and showing how they could shop for benefits online.
Throughout our internal communication efforts, we focused on the excitement of the new benefits program and the expanded choice the private exchange would bring.
By creating buzz around the new marketplace, as well as the benefit offerings, we were able to reduce the widespread fear of change that can often accompany organization-wide transitions. While employees seemed reluctant to participate at first, they ultimately embraced the private exchange concept and online enrollment process.
3. Ongoing support is critical for helping employees embrace change.
All told, we dedicated six months to the rollout of Sandestin’s private exchange, including an introductory period for management, an implementation period for the exchange and plans, and finally, the enrollment period for all employees.
While the initial push leading up to open enrollment was important to guarantee a smooth launch, continued support throughout the open enrollment period and beyond had the greatest positive effect on Sandestin’s employee benefits experience.
We also made ourselves available for one on one meetings for five days after the large group open enrollment meetings. For employees unable to enroll through a device of their own, 15 computer kiosks were set up for employees to enroll on-site and ask questions. Ongoing support was also provided for employees who needed assistance with the technology and/or had benefits questions.
In addition, one of the major reasons we selected Liazon’s technology over other private exchange operators was their decision support tools, including the recommendation engine. Using sophisticated statistical modeling, the exchange ask a series of questions about a person’s health, wealth, personality, and habits, and ultimately predicts the optimal combination of plans that will result in the best personal financial protection. Eighty-seven percent of our employees found the recommendation engine helpful when making their selections.
4. Employees like choice (in all lines of coverage), so give it to them.
In implementing a benefits program that offered employees greater flexibility, we had no idea how impactful additional options would be on employee satisfaction.
Ultimately 8 in 10 of our employees picked a different medical plan than they had in the previous year. With selections made across all medical, dental, and vision plans, as well as the various additional lines we offered, there was a lot of variety in what comprised any one individual’s coverage.
But while no two plans looked alike, employees did have one thing in common: 96 percent were satisfied with the variety of choices Sandestin offered through our private exchange.
Ultimately, the greatest takeaway from moving to an exchange is that transparency and empowerment can have an immediate impact on employee satisfaction. By giving our employees choices through varied benefit options, and empowering them to make decisions that are best for their unique needs, we were able to improve morale, manage costs, and increase retention in an industry notorious for high turnover.