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Tower of Misery Aren't employerslucky to have such appreciative employees who clearly understandthe overall value of their comprehensive and expensive benefitspackage? (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Be sure to attend DougLeayman's Motivation Track session, “Demolishing the Tower ofBenefits Misery: Communication Strategies to Drive EmployeeEngagement” April 17 at 2:44 p.m. at the Benefits PRO BrokerExpo


Aren't employers lucky to havesuch appreciative employees who clearly understand the overallvalue of their comprehensive and expensive benefits package? Isn't it wonderful howeducated employees are when it comes to understanding their benefits? And isn't it agreat feeling to know employees don't feel entitled to those benefits?

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OK, enough of fantasy land. Thetruth of the matter is most employers have given up on even tryingto achieve those lofty outcomes. Affordability is where the focus is now.Considering how much money employers spend to offer a “competitive”benefits package, why shouldn't they expect these kinds ofresults?

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In most cases the cost to provideemployee benefits is around 32 percent of an employee's totalcompensation, according to the Bureau  of LaborStatistics. That's big money.In every other type of business, you would require some substantialoutcomes for that kind of investment, but when it comes to drivinghome the value of employee benefits, we have strayed from the path.A high percentage of employees view all of the information given tothem at open enrollment as “the tower of benefit misery.” Really?Employers should be offended; so should brokers and consultants.It's too expensive and too important to have benefits packagesviewed so negatively.

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It's time to ask why employeesfeel that way. Why are these benefits so undervalued? Why don'torganizations have clear objectives for the benefits package, andmost importantly, why should they even bother?

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I truly feel bad for employers.Most seem to fall victim to the latest idea or benefit trend, andthis causes them to lose sight of what they are really trying toaccomplish. Imagine what could be accomplished if the benefitstrategy and corporate culture were well-aligned, clearlycommunicated, and linked together with a long-term purpose. It'simportant for employers and brokers to not get caught up in chasingthe silver bullet. Establishing a clear strategy focused onretention, employee engagement, productivity and the overallwell-being of employees makes benefit decisions easier and obvious.Drinking from the “what's new” fire hose hinders organizations fromexecuting a clear and sustainable strategy.

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Sustainability cannot existwithout alignment from all stakeholders. Stakeholders could includethe C-Suite, human resources, benefit administration/enrollmentvendors, insurance carriers, brokers/consultants, TPAs and others.It is critical that all of these entities agree to clearly supportand understand the goals and objectives of the client and arechallenged to achieve them.  The employers' relationshipwith these organizations shouldn't be about selling ancillaryproducts, face-to-face meetings, private exchanges, less choice,more choice or more participation in the 401(k) or wellnessprograms. It should be about the clear and sustainable strategythat was created, which could mean all or some of the above, or anentirely new list.  

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One of the first steps foremployers is to find partners who best align with the establishedgoals and objectives. Don't start with an RFP to find the cheapestconsultant, system, products and TPA. Develop an RFP to see whowill give the organization the best opportunity to succeed. 

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Related: How are brokers taking advantage of the latest techtrends?

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I have learned that when you findorganizations who can truly generate some synergy, and who youenjoy working with, then the price tends to work itself out. Talkprice after you know who you want to work with; otherwise, pricecould cause strategic goals and objectives to change prematurely.Help your clients understand the value of sharing a vision withtheir partners and the decision will become much easier. A perfectexample are brokers and consultants. They are so important in everystage of the employee benefits process that the fee shouldn't be atthe forefront. Employers should be focused on how consultants alignwith their culture, executives and purpose.

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Perceived value

Let's get back to the issueof value.Perceived value is a tricky thing. What one person perceives asextremely valuable may have very little value to someone else. Too often, we make the mistake of believing thatvalue is about money.  I have seen manyorganizations with employees who truly value the benefits packageoffered by their employer, even when the actual dollar value ofthat package is less competitive than the market. I have also seenorganizations who offer a very rich benefits package to employeeswho don't appreciate them at all.  Why is this the case?The answer to this question can quickly become complex, but thegood news is that employers have more control over this problemthan they realize. Corporate culture is directly tied to perceivedvalue. Organizations with healthy cultures that truly value theirgreatest assets (people) tend to score very high on the perceivedvalue chart. Throughout the employment process, from recruitment,hiring, performance evaluations to exit interviews, they drive aconsistent message. These organizations never become a victim oftheir benefit package, because their employees aren't placing allof their value on the size of a deductible or the percentage ofcoinsurance. They understand total compensation, the importance ofoverall well-being and place their value on the overallemployee-employer relationship that enables them to progresspersonally and professionally. Employers offer so much more than“salary plus benefits,” so let's remove that vernacular.

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Chasing the silver bullet

Employers are constantlysearching for the next best thing, and the employee benefitsindustry as a whole is never lacking for new ideas; it's easy toget trapped chasing the silver bullet. There are some good productsand strategies out there but unfortunately, employers rarely havethe patience to truly commit to one before moving on to the next.This creates confusion, stress and a lack of engagement amongemployees.  Employers have to be able to customize anemployment experience that is consistent with culture, builds trustand keeps everyone aligned. The health plan and employee benefitsare just a part of the employment experience and need to fit like aperfect piece into the corporate puzzle. The answer for this liesin some of the highest ranking factors for job satisfaction,outside of compensation and benefits, according to theSociety for Human ResourceManagement

  • Opportunities to use skills andabilities
  • Financial stability
  • Relationship with immediatesupervisor
  • Communication between employees and seniormanagement
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Management recognition of employees jobperformance
  • Overallcorporate culture
  • Flexibility to balance life and workissues

These top drivers of jobsatisfaction are universally supported and should be the backboneof a quality organization. If each of these are being accomplished,then employers do not need to be a prisoner to their deductible orco-insurance.  Just create a benefit package that isconsistent, clear, purposeful and aligned with these drivers. Thisis a critical point for brokers and consultants. It is time tofocus more on cultural alignment, employee engagement and helpingdevelop services that enhance the overall employee experience. Thiswill increase credibility and create long-term inspiredcustomers.

Personalization

When you are managing employeesit is important to meet them where they are in the process. Everyemployee is unique and therefore needs to be managed uniquely. Itis important for clients to get the most out of their employees,which requires trying to understand what motivates them. Are theyanalytical, emotional or financially driven?  Benefitsdelivery and communication is very similar. With the influx ofdefined contribution and private exchanges, we have moved rapidlyinto the personalization of benefits. When benefits become personalto someone, they become far more engaged in the process of choosingand utilizing them. Both advocacy and wellness are good programsthat are inherently personalized, so it makes sense to evaluatethose options. It is critical, regardless of the overall benefitstrategy that you communicate in a way that clearly explains thepersonal impact of benefit choices. Do not deliver the program in a“take it or leave it” way. We need to shift the message andemployee mindset from “these are the benefits the company offers”to “this is my benefits program.” Having an employee take ownershipof their benefit package will take a huge bite out of theentitlement mentality and significantly increaseengagement.

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Let's face it, even with all thevalue technology can bring, it is now harder than ever to build abenefits package that appeals to all employees. However if thefocus remains the overall employment experience, then things becomemuch clearer. Remember to do the following: 1) align allstakeholders; 2) be consistent with corporate culture; 3) don'toffer “salary plus benefits,” offer an overall employmentexperience; 4) focus on the top drivers of job satisfaction; 5)personalize the benefits experience.  This will help youshift the paradigm to an environment where employees stop feelingso entitled and begin to truly value their employer and takeownership of not only their benefits but their overallwell-being.

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Doug Layman is the Presidentof Health & Life at Gilsbar. He is responsible for Gilsbar'scorporate direction, vision, marketing and salesstrategy.

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