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The Top 5 Challenges of Open Enrollment (And How HR Departments Can Manage Them Successfully)

The open enrollment period between November 1 and December 15 can be one of the most challenging times of year for HR professionals. Getting enrollment right in a timely manner is crucial to supporting your workforce and maximizing the two-way value of employee benefits.

With that said, open enrollment is tricky because it is such a complex challenge. There’s no one thing an HR leader or department can do to make the enrollment season go smoothly – it requires proactive planning and strategizing for a variety of factors and concerns.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • Introduce five of the biggest challenges, concerns, and areas of opportunity for HR professionals before and during open enrollment
  • Provide actually strategies HR leaders can use to navigate or plan for these challenges

Open Enrollment Challenge #1: Logistics

Part of having a successful open enrollment period is having a very clear vision ahead of time for what that enrollment is going to look like and how you will ensure success. Without a logistical vision for how you’re going to pull off enrollment, you’re leaving your ability to have a successful open enrollment up to chance.

As a department, your first concern is understanding whether you’ll be leading an active or a passive enrollment. If you’ve recently rehauled your benefit offerings or you have internal data suggesting that many employees are on suboptimal plans, then an active enrollment can make a big difference for your benefits program On the other hand, passive enrollments work best in organizations with many long-term employees who are generally happy with their coverage.

If you’re going to leverage technology to streamline your enrollment procedure (and in 2019, you definitely should) that means your logistical planning needs to involve your IT team, as they’ll be the people determining the actual look and feel of the system that your employees will use to enroll in their benefits. HR and IT must work together to ensure the user experience is easy, clear, stress-free, and built right into the systems that employees use for their day-to-day work to maximize accessibility and invite engagement.

Open Enrollment Challenge #2: Communication

Communication is the probably the single biggest key to a great open enrollment season, but it may also be the single biggest challenge.

As an HR professional, it’s your responsibility to ensure that nobody can forget about open enrollment season. At the same time, however, benefit election time is also when HR departments can actually harm buy-in and hurt long-term employee engagement by providing the wrong kind of communication or using the wrong tone with employees.

For example, weekly email reminders to make benefit elections are useful for employees who have not completed the process, but they can seem annoying or impersonal to professionals who were sure to make their elections early in the cycle. Creating a communication strategy that maximizes that valuable communication while eliminating repetitive or unnecessary messaging is key to short-term success during enrollment and long-term success maintaining a great relationship with your talent.

One of the best ways to be successful is by spreading your message across multiple platforms. If your organization uses an ERP that all employees work through, partner with IT to get reminders in highly visible spaces that your team members can’t help but see. If your company has a preferred messaging system or bespoke communication app, you can use those channels to send enrollment reminders as well.

Open Enrollment Challenge #3: Education

Education is your greatest weapon to ensure employees choose their ideal benefits package, maximizing two-way value for talent and the organization alike. With that said, out of all these challenges, education can be the toughest one to truly embrace and hold yourself accountable to because it takes a lot of work.

In order to provide employees with the information they need to select the plans that are best for their families, you need to think like a teacher, providing multiple access points to the information and presenting things in a variety of ways to make sure that everybody understands the material, regardless of their personal learning style. That means just passing along the literature from your provider isn’t nearly enough.

Employees require a blend of independent learning opportunities (like brochures and manuals), large group learning opportunities (like formal training sessions), and small group (or even one-on-one) support from benefits-savvy HR team members to maximize their educational level and resultant engagement potential. Making time for those initiatives requires buy-in from senior leadership, but education is truly the difference between setting up your team for enrollment success and leaving them dangling in the wind.

Open Enrollment Challenge #4: Engagement

Engagement is the special sauce that makes every single aspect of operations at your organization run smoothly. When it comes to open enrollment, engagement means a workforce that cares about maximizing the value of their benefits and getting those elections made in a timely manner.

Health and wellness are crucial points of employee engagement for any business, but when they are active pillars of the employee culture, it significantly streamlines the yearly dance of open enrollment. When talent is engaged in terms of health and wellness, they work toward building their own understanding of how they’re using their benefits, what they need, and how they could be making smarter selections. That translates directly into making the right choices in November.

If that culture doesn’t already exist in your organization, the lead-up to enrollment season is a great time to brainstorm some incentives that invite engagement and build a positive, empowered attitude toward enrollment throughout the organization. The more you can create a positive buzz for health and wellness, the more active a role your employees will take in enrollment.

Open Enrollment Challenge #5: Picking the Right Benefits Partner

Of course, the over-arching challenge that hangs above the other four is the challenge of offering your employees the very best, most valuable benefits you possibly can.

Many employee benefits providers try to build a standardized definition of a “great benefits package,” but for your open enrollment to be successful in the long term for your department, your organization, and your talent, you should never settle for a one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re a small or medium-sized business, this can require working with a white glove service to help you connect with exactly the coverage you need to support your team.

Partnering with the wrong benefits broker can and will cost the organization in the long-term, whether it’s over-spend on unused benefits or employee dissatisfaction with limited offerings. Finding a benefits partner who understands your organization, your team, and your goals is crucial to maximizing employee experience and business value through enrollment.

Key Takeaways

Open enrollment is a complex challenge, but when you understand each individual aspect of the challenge and can formulate a proactive strategy that addresses each concern, you maximize your chances to deliver wins for your employees and organization as a whole. Remember…

  • You must plan ahead in the lead up to open enrollment and create a roadmap for success
  • You must communicate positively with your team in a way that guarantees awareness and provides them with the information they need to enroll
  • You must educate your team in a way that ensures they are able to make the best benefit enrollment selections for their families
  • You must engage your team in a positive manner that builds their enthusiasm for wellness in general
  • You must find the best possible benefits partner for your size and goals

How to Learn More

If you’re an HR professional hoping to lead or support a successful open enrollment this winter, you can get your enrollment knowledge up to date with the latest trends, connect with actionable success strategies, and get coaching from two of Chicago’s top HR and employee benefits professionals by attending the upcoming webinar “How to Have a Successful Open Enrollment.”

The free one-hour learning session will take place at 11AM CST on Tuesday, October 29, but even if that time doesn’t work for your schedule, you can register for the event to receive a link to a full recording of the webinar as soon as it concludes.

The webinar will feature insights from Alex Koglin and Christine Lewis of Launchways, as they apply their respective backgrounds in employee benefits and HR thought leadership to walk the audience through seven actionable steps businesses can take today to improve their enrollment process. Specific discussion topics will include…

  • How to create a data-driven approach to enrollment
  • How to set and track reasonable enrollment goals
  • How to design a successful enrollment communication strategy
  • How to leverage technology to streamline the enrollment process
  • How to provide education that will lead your employees toward the right plan
  • How to identify the right benefits provider

This learning opportunity will be packed with actionable takeaways for HR professionals looking to improve their organization’s approach to open enrollment and stay up-to-date on emerging best practices. If you’re an HR leader recognizing the challenges of enrollment, register for “How to Have a Successful Open Enrollment” today!

Want to Get the Most Out of Your Team? Financial Wellness Could Be the Answer

Building and maintaining an effective team is one of the greatest challenges that growing businesses face. It’s a constant struggle to hire the right people, keep the team engaged and productive, and keep top performers from jumping ship. Given that 80% of full-time employees are living paycheck to paycheck, taking an interest in your employees’ financial wellbeing can be an effective way to stand out as an employer.

Most people acknowledge the importance of employee benefits to winning the war for talent. But they frequently overlook the potential that financial wellness has to attract, engage, and retain great employees. Let’s explore why investing in financial wellness can help growing businesses succeed and how to create an effective financial wellness strategy, including:

  • The importance of financial wellness
  • How to effectively leverage 401(k) plans
  • Which benefits you should consider in addition to 401(k) plans

Importance of Financial Wellness

Financial wellness benefits can have a significant impact on employee productivity. Seventy-percent of employees currently experience financial stress while at work, which should be no surprise given the fact that most American’s don’t have $500 to cover an emergency expense. What comes as more of a surprise, though is the fact that employees spend an average of 28 hours a month worrying about their finances at work. That’s almost an entire week’s worth of productivity every month! Addressing these concerns and allowing employees to focus on their work should be a top priority for any employer.

You aren’t just losing hundreds of hours of productivity each year from your employees’ financial stress either: you’re also risking losing your most valuable employees to turnover. Employees who are worried about their finances, and especially those who feel their current employer is not dedicated to their financial stability, are much more likely to start looking around for a higher paying employer. This can be an especially potent threat to growing businesses who frequently cannot compete with major companies when it comes to base salaries.

Luckily, financial wellness is an extremely cost-effective way to improve your employee’s financial stress and actual financial wellbeing. Instead of sinking tens of thousands of dollars into increased salaries, you can invest in financial planners, 401k plans with optional matching, loan assistance, financial education, and more.

Financial wellness is not just about avoiding the negative effects of employees’ financial concerns, either. Your benefits package is a powerful tool to attract, engage, and retain the talent you need to thrive as a business. Many employees would accept a lower salary in exchange for better benefits, and that includes wellness benefits. Once again, this is great news for growing companies who can’t always compete on salaries. Stellar benefits show employees that you care about them and will go above and beyond for them, and they will return the favor.

It’s also a good idea to consider not only whether or not to offer financial wellness benefits, but also what financial wellness approach will work best for your business. For financial wellness benefits to work, they have to meet employees’ financial and psychological needs. Which means that employees have to actually use the benefits. It also means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to financial wellness: your strategy should depend on the specific needs and demographics of your employees.

401K: Taking a Deeper Look at the Cornerstone of Financial Wellness

If you had to implement just one financial wellness benefit, a 401k plan would be a clear choice. According to the 2018 Jobvite Recruiter Nation Survey, 401(K) plans ranked just after medical and dental benefits in their ability to attract top talent. That should make them a top priority for any employer looking to beef up their benefits package and assuage their employees’ financial concerns.

And the importance of 401k plans makes sense. Almost two-thirds of employees do not have any retirement savings and those who do have saved an average of just $40,000. No wonder retirement readiness is a top concern for employees. But just like any other benefit, 401k plans are only as effective as employees make them. How can you make sure that your investment in a 401k plan pays off?

The first thing you can do is implement automatic enrollment to make sure that all of your employees adopt your new or existing 401k plan: this removes a major barrier to saving. You can even automatically deduct contributions from your employees’ paychecks to spur their savings, allowing them to opt-out if they wish. And if you have the budget for it, 401k-matching is a time tested strategy that is sure to both encourage your employees to save and win you major points as an employer.

However, your 401k plan should be just the first step in your financial wellness strategy. By themselves, 401ks struggle address employees’ immediate day-to-day financial concerns which are often the cause of stress and decreased productivity. Many employees are so burdened by debt or day-to-day expenses that they cannot bring themselves to think about saving for retirement even if their company offers good 401k benefits. And they are likely to raid their retirement accounts to pay for emergency expenses without planning and assistance to give them greater financial stability.

Looking Beyond 401k Plans

So what are the other financial benefits that can make you stand out against competitors?

One of the biggest financial concerns for today’s employees, especially for younger employees who are especially prone to switching companies, is student debt. America’s graduates owe a total of over $1.5 trillion in student loans and most Millennials would trade vacation time for student loan repayment assistance. Now, there are plenty of pros and cons to repayment assistance, but you would do well to consider offering these benefits, particularly if you have young employees. Only 11% of employers provide any kind of help or guidance on student loan repayment even though about half of workers want help with the repayment process. But when employers do offer loan assistance, they hire faster and increase average employee tenure by more than a third.

So how can you help your employees with loan repayment? The easiest method is to help them set up dedicated accounts with automatic contributions to make repayment easier for employees to manage. This approach incurs few direct costs to you as an employer, so it should be a viable option for just about any growing company. If you have a bigger budget, you can also match employee contributions to these accounts. Alternatively, you can work with lenders to refinance private student loans at better rates. Finally, you can provide educational materials regarding loan repayment and access to financial advisors so help make management easier for your team members without directly assisting repayment.

A robust financial wellness strategy should also include financial planning and retirement advice. Providing employees with one-on-one financial counseling can help them build their short-term savings as well as plan for retirement, holistically supporting their financial well-being. They can stop worrying about their finances at their desks and put their trust in the experts who you connect them with. Best of all, this can be significantly more affordable than matching contributions and other direct benefits. Financial education is often the most cost-effective financial wellness benefit and growing businesses can use it to improve employees’ financial wellbeing with minimal investment.

Key Takeaways

Today’s employees are having more difficulty saving for retirement, let alone emergency expenses, than in the past. It is probably no coincidence that they are also changing jobs at an unprecedented rate. Financial wellness benefits can be extremely effective at retaining the talent you need and making your employees as engaged and productive as possible. Just remember:

  • Your financial wellness strategy should match your employees’ actual needs to minimize costs and maximize effectiveness through utilization
  • 401(k) plans are still the cornerstone of an effective financial wellness package and you can make the most of them through automatic enrollment and contributions, as well as employer matching
  • Loan repayment assistance is a rare but highly effective financial wellness benefit that can especially increase hiring, engagement, and retention of top Millennial talent
  • Financial counseling and education provides holistic financial support to remove employee stress and improve wellbeing

As with all benefits, it can be difficult for growing businesses to provide competitive financial wellness benefits without incurring excessive costs. The right partners can help you develop a strategy that minimizes those costs while maximizing the impact on employees wellbeing.

You can learn more about how to make the most of your benefits at the lowest possible cost by streaming our webinar “How to Reduce Healthcare Costs at Your Growing Business”. On the webinar, Sean Condon of Windgate Wealth, the author of this guest post, shared his knowledge of 401(k) strategies during the panel-style discussion featuring several leading experts in the healthcare space. Learn more about the webinar and stream it on-demand here.

About the Author

Sean Condon of Windgate Wealth specializes in helping entrepreneurs build a culture of financial wellness by offering their employees unprecedented access to a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ as well as low-cost 401(k) plans. Part of an employee-owned team, Sean takes an owner’s approach and does his best to understand the many elements of his clients’ own entrepreneurial journeys. Sean has more than ten years of experience as a financial planner & wealth advisor.

How to Have a Successful Open Enrollment This Year

Health benefits are important to everyone. Your employees need them for their well-being and you need healthy employees who want to stay and work for you. The benefits you offer show how important your employees are to you. Unfortunately, most employees don’t fully understand their benefits or what they cover. With open enrollment coming up, this is the perfect time to educate employees and make sure everyone in your organization is getting what they want out of their benefits plan.

In this post we’ll present:

  • Where knowledge about employee benefits breaks down
  • How employees get their information about their benefits
  • How you can make your open enrollment more effective

Where knowledge about benefits breaks down

Having good health benefits is crucial for being a working adult in the United States. And yet, most adults who have health coverage don’t fully understand it. A poll from Maestro Health showed that 35% – over one third! – of employees don’t fully understand their healthcare coverage, with some saying they know nothing about it. For something that is so expensive and that shapes so many Americans’ employment decisions, this is a concerning blind spot. That ignorance is not surprising given how complicated the medical coverage process can be.

Where open enrollment could be the perfect opportunity for educating employees so they can make good benefit decisions for a lifetime, it often ends up being a time for more confusion and quick, impulsive decisions to avoid digging deeper for information. If your employees have made plan choices that don’t benefit them or don’t do so efficiently, they are in for a whole year of struggling with insurance companies and providers. That can result in employees needing to spend more time away from work and possibly getting into debt from poorly managed healthcare costs. It’s also a miserable process for your employees to experience.

A survey from Aflac shows that 80% of employees say that their benefits package influences their engagement with their job. It also stated that 57% of employees would accept lower compensation in a job if it had better benefits. Clearly the confidence an employee has in their coverage is a very important part of their employment decisions, so anything you can do to make them more confident in the decisions they’re making will make you a more attractive employer.

How employees get their information

If employees don’t fully understand their benefits, where are they getting their information? The most trusted source for benefit information for most employees is another person. A recent survey from Colonial Life showed that, no matter what generation they are from, employees prefer to talk to a trusted person for their benefits information rather than going to a website. More often than not, that trusted person is an HR or Benefits professional, but it can also be family members, friends, or colleagues. The point is, when it comes to something as personal as discussing employee benefits, people prefer a human touch.

Make your open enrollment work better

How can your company make open enrollment the most helpful, educational, and productive time possible for you and your employees? There are a few things you can do to help make that experience work better for everyone.

Ask what employees want

Ahead of enrollment, ask your employees what they want from their benefits. This can be a general question posed to all employees, or a survey with specific questions on each benefits offering. You may find that your benefits program is either missing out on a needed area or is offering plans that aren’t relevant to your workforce. If you find a need for significant changes to your plans, you’ll want to start this process well before you kick-off the enrollment period.

Limit the bombardment of information

One possibly counterintuitive answer to solving the open enrollment puzzle is to limit the amount of information you’re giving your employees ahead of enrollment. This doesn’t mean keeping them deliberately in the dark about their options.

Instead, this means not bombarding employees with everything remotely related to their health benefits and all possible plan options. Without any guidance to prioritize that information, your employees will have no idea what’s relevant to them. This can be overwhelming for employees that are already stressed about picking the right plan options. Instead, start with general information that should apply to all employees. Explain confusing benefits terminology. Walk people through the process step-by-step. Remember that you’ll be educating your employees over time.

Make sure they have the basics

While having information from printed material and online is crucial, most employees don’t find this information useful when they have a question specific to their personal healthcare needs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make this content available, just that it should be supplemented with other channels for benefits information. Make sure to provide all employees with:

  • A schedule for open enrollment, including all key dates and deadlines.
  • A statement of their current coverage.
  • Summaries, changes, and rates that are specific for each individual plan.
  • An open enrollment guide and forms.
  • Contact information for knowledgeable sources in HR/Benefits  for specific questions or additional help

Communicate all year long

You don’t want open enrollment to be the only time your employees think about their benefits and health coverage. Set a communications plan for letting employees know about changes, deadlines, and general information throughout the year. This can be tailored around changing seasons, birthdays, employee anniversaries, or any other signpost that’s a good time to examine and learn about their benefits. If learning about tackling advantage of their benefits is on your employee’s radar all year long, they’re going to be in a better position to retain what they learn and use that knowledge effectively during open enrollment season.

Let them know about non-traditional benefits

If your company offers non-traditional (more than standard medical) benefits, communicate that to your employees. Many companies are attracting top talent with benefits like tuition assistance or telehealth programs. If benefits like these are options during open enrollment, make sure your employees know about these offerings and help them sign up for what makes sense for them and their families.

Voluntary insurance is becoming more important to employees. These are policies that cover periods of disability, critical illness, or accidents where major medical insurance may not cover costs like deductibles or copays. Again, if this is something you offer your employees, this should be advertised to them along with guidance on how to sign up.

Use alternative modes of distributing information

Employees learn in a variety of ways, and sometimes benefit from multiple sources of information. Some companies use online articles forwarded via email; quizzes and contests on benefits information; brown-bag lunches with speakers; or town-hall meetings to field individual questions. You can schedule these throughout the year, increasing the amount of time people are actively thinking and learning about their benefit options.

Analyze what worked when you’re done

Once your open enrollment is over, take a hard look at what worked well for you and what didn’t. This is the perfect time to solicit feedback on how easy (or difficult) the process was, how accessible needed information was, and what people would like to see in the future. Similarly, check with your management and HR staff to see what could be done to make things easier for them for the next enrollment. Look at that feedback and figure out if the issues are with the processes for getting people informed and enrolled, or if there are bigger issues with the policies your company has available. Also look at your initial survey information to see if there are gaps or surpluses in what you offer currently. The best time to make changes in your plans is well before the next open enrollment.

Get a hands-on employee benefits broker

This entire process can be made much easier through partnering with a proactive, hands-on employee benefits broker. A great broker is knowledgeable about all the different employee benefit options available so they can build plans tailored to your workforce’s unique needs and effectively educate your teams to take advantage of those plans. This process is done through in-person education sessions (usually on-site), interactive webinars, and one-on-one phone calls with employees who may have specific questions.

Your next steps

There’s a lot your company can do to make open enrollment the most successful it can be:

  • Ask what employees want
  • Limit the bombardment of information
  • Make sure employees have the basics
  • Communicate all year long
  • Let employees know about non-traditional benefits
  • Use alternative modes of distributing information
  • Analyze what worked when you’re done
  • Work with a great employee benefits broker

Your employees will be happier knowing they have the right coverage. The sense that their employer is concerned about their health and well-being goes a long way as well. And employees with a well-fitting health insurance plan will also cost your business less in the long-run. Your employees are the most important asset your company has. More than that, they’re the people who want to make your company thrive, so help them engage with a benefits plan that allows them to thrive too.

Are You Overspending on Benefits Your Employees Don’t Need or Want?

As we approach 2020, businesses are more concerned than ever with being scaled and built for profitability. Teams are leaner than ever, superstar talent carry greater workloads, and businesses that aren’t built for sustained growth are disappearing fast.

In that quest to trim the fat, controlling employee benefit overspend should be a major goal for all growing businesses. Even with responsibly scaled salaries, employee benefit offerings that aren’t well-selected can cause an organization’s compensation costs to balloon, significantly eating into opportunities for profitability.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:

  • How benefit overspend can happen to any organization
  • Why monitoring benefit overspend is especially relevant for growing organizations
  • How to understand which benefits are actually beneficial
  • How to bring finance, HR, and senior leadership together to make benefits work for everyone

Why Benefit Overspend is Such a Common Problem

Employee compensation is one an organization’s strongest tools when it comes to talent acquisition and retention. That means that the quality and value of your benefits program is indeed crucial to building a great team that’s fit, happy, and productive.

Unfortunately, however, scaling and aligning those benefit offerings is a complex task. In fact, compensation plan design is probably one of the most difficult tasks HR has to manage. That intimidation factor, paired with the fact that human resources professionals don’t always have the background in finance they need to correlate the direct connection between employee benefits compensation and the bottom line, is why benefit overspend happens in so many organizations.

More is Better, Right?

The biggest mistake businesses (especially new businesses) make when they design a benefits plan is trying to include every form of inclusive coverage and access to any valuable program. In the increasingly competitive war for talent, that kind of an approach can be attractive at face value, but year-to-year, it can become a burdensome anchor on business profitability.

Both benefits professionals and individual consumers frequently make the mistake of assuming benefits are like a stockpile of food for emergencies: it’s maintained in case you need it and provides peace of mind, but it’s not a part of your daily, weekly, or monthly life. If that’s your paradigm, then of course you’re going to assume more is better.

Here’s the truth, though: Impactful benefits programs aren’t the emergency food in the basement; they’re the dry and canned food in the pantry – they’re there for use in a pinch day-to-day. True “benefits” are the offerings that provide value, security, and convenience to employees’ and their families’ everyday lives.

Once you understand that, it quickly becomes clear that bigger isn’t better; usefulness and accessibility improve benefits programs.

Over-Emphasis on Industry Competition

One of the most common ways new or growing businesses fall into benefit over-spend is over-reliance on industry benchmarks to help guide their benefit plan design. While benchmarking is a great tool to help you understand and plan relatively fixed expenses like base salary, benefits packages must be scaled to the individual business and workforce.

Without an incredibly deep and granular understanding of your competition or goal competition’s complete financial picture, you can’t reasonably predict that their employee benefit practices will translate to success in your organization.

Studying the competition’s benefit offerings certainly has value and can inform your planning, but if it’s the main guiding light for your benefits program, you’re making the classic mistake of focusing on the competition rather than yourself. Finance, HR, and overall leadership must work together to articulate a vision of the business, its blueprint for success, and how benefits can be scaled to make that happen.

Lack of Understanding Means Lack of Alignment

Another classic mistake businesses of every size and sector make is that they create their benefits plans for a hypothetical team of theoretical employees instead of letting the real needs of their actual employees shape the process. While that can be quite difficult at outset, after a year or two of benefit program usage, you should have enough data available to create a rich understanding of what people within your organization need to build that daily health and security we’ve discussed.

If you’re not working to optimize your offerings to what people actually use, you’re likely creating or fostering overspend. At the same time, however, your benefits program must also answer and scale to finance goals. In just a minute, we’ll explore how you can leverage HR and finance help create that alignment.

Why Benefit Overspend is a Potential Pitfall for Growing Businesses

Early-stage businesses are incredibly dynamic, but that also means there is the potential for vulnerability. A disappointing quarter or behind-schedule development project can quickly erode a business’ profitability, and without the secure cash holdings of an established company, bloated employee benefits spend can turn into a big red number for a given financial term.

In order for an organization to grow continuously, with an expanding staff and increasingly complex human capital structure, an employee benefits program must account for not just costs at the program’s launch but of the way those costs might balloon, expand, or creep as the company grows. That means benefits plans aren’t just about the design that will land talent right now, they must be plugged into and built with short- and long-term financial and organizational plans in mind.

When benefits are well-scaled and well-aligned, they support an organization’s internal team, maximizing their ability to do great work while also maximizing the organization’s chances for profit as well as their ability to make informed financial projections. Finance leaders, HR leaders, and CEOs must come together to create that robust, clear vision, or they’re not really thinking about or planning for growth.

Defining “Benefit” in a Way that Makes Sense for Everyone

Increasingly, employers and employees alike are aware of the fact that employee benefits are actually an opportunity to create mutual benefit. The old way of thinking was that businesses offered benefits to be competitive and benevolent. Now, however, the cards are on the table, and people understand that part of the benefits game is keeping employees present and productive.

That doesn’t mean the pendulum has swung back and benefit plan design can be all about making the books look good, however. Medical care, prescription drugs, and hospital visits are only increasing in cost, and more people than ever have complex, potentially expensive medical needs.

Creating an approach to benefits that works for everybody and supports growth truly requires finding a balance between the needs of the actual people within your organization and the financial needs of the organization as a business. You can’t serve either purpose exclusively and expect to solve the problem in a satisfying way; both sets of values must be accounted for.

Understanding What People Really Need

As we’ve said before, one of the best ways to understand your actual organizational healthcare/benefit needs is to understand your employees’ actual healthcare/benefit needs. There are two main ways to do this: by asking them using surveys or other tools or by reviewing your carrier’s usage reports. The best approach involves using and weighing both.

Too often, employers are scared to talk to their team members about benefits because they’re scared all they’ll hear is that the programs aren’t good enough. While there’s sure to be a certain degree of that feedback, the discussion can also provide the best-possible understanding of what people actually want, need, and value. If you can get the buy-in you need to build an authentic data set, a lot of your most important questions can be answered for you definitively.

Those usage reports from your carrier will fill in the quantitative data to help you understand which offerings are most accessible and well-used (which, remember, means “valuable”). You can also build a very strong understanding of where the dead weight in your benefits program might be.

Understanding What the Business Can Bear

Once you have a strong grasp on your human needs, the next step is to determine what kinds of plans and packages your organization can reasonably offer. Obviously, the goal is to create packages that deliver consistent, satisfying offerings while still leaving yourself the best chance to predict and achieve business growth.

If identifying and eliminating overspend is your primary goal, this is really the most important point in the process. HR needs a clear picture of the finance goals so that they can create plans accordingly. At the same time, finance requires HR’s understanding of day-to-day employee needs in order to do their work in an accurate manner. Bringing those two data sets and approaches together can seem incredibly challenging at first, but it’s actually your best chance to get benefits right in a way that works for everyone.

Embracing the Push-Pull

The intersection of HR and finance can be tricky to navigate because both sets of professionals come from very different backgrounds and come equipped with what some might say are competing sets of values. With that said, they share the most important common ground of all: they’re responsible for setting up operations for success.

Getting your employees the benefits they need while keeping the business lean and scaled for profit and growth is a tall task, and frankly, no one person can make it happen. It takes a major commitment from leadership and a willingness between finance and HR to work together, plan together, and commit to seeing things through each other’s lenses (at least some of the time).

When your organization can articulate an approach that makes HR, finance, and the executive suite or boardroom happy at the same, that’s how you know you’re onto something really great.

Key Takeaways

Employee benefit overspend is rampant across business, and part of the problem is that many organizations don’t understanding how or why their approach to benefits isn’t aligned with their employees’ needs or business goals. In order to create impactful benefits packages that delight your team and drive business, it’s important to remember:

  • More is not better when it comes to benefits because overspend can be devastating to potential profitability
  • In early-stage or growing businesses, benefit overspend can be especially damaging
  • Overspend usually happens because organizations either lack a strong understanding of employees’ actual needs or feel the need to offer exhaustive benefits in the name of competition
  • To truly be “beneficial,” offerings must be impactful and see actual use
  • When it comes to determining which benefits are actually essential, ground-level employees (and their usage data) are your best resource
  • Part of getting benefits right is learning to manage the dance between humanistic priorities and business priorities

Still Fully-Insured? A Growing Business’ Pathway to Self-Funding

Most businesses begin their employee benefit journey fully-insured for good reason. Early in a business’ growth cycle, it’s highly advantageous to keep monthly healthcare expenses predictable and under control, with any variation squarely the carrier’s problem.

However, once a business has grown past that developmental stage and stabilized with a properly scaled workforce and projections of continued success, self-funding becomes increasingly attractive. When businesses self-fund, they gain more granular access to their bottom-line healthcare expenses and can potentially save money in the long term by assuming increased benefit management responsibilities and opening themselves up to a little more risk.

Moving forward, we’ll explore:
• Why growing businesses should transition toward self-funding
• First steps for businesses looking to self-fund
• Important planning considerations for organizations hoping to self-fund
• The advantages and disadvantages of level funding

Why Transition Toward Self-Funding?
Shifting toward a self-funded benefits program is a major decision for any organization and not something that can be accomplished without a great deal of planning and follow-through. While the process may sound daunting for HR and finance leaders accustomed to fully-insured processes, there are tangible benefits available for those brave and organized enough to make self-funding a priority.

Leveraging Your Business’ Stability to Reduce Overspend
Self-funding uses organizational size and stability to reduce average monthly costs, as the employer significantly lowers overhead by paying a variable monthly fee based directly on employee claims (healthcare usage).

While there are increased internal management responsibilities for benefits professionals on the HR team in self-funded scenarios, there are also significant gains, as organizations reduce administrative fees and take power back from carriers when it comes to dictating monthly costs. That kind of overspend reduction can help tighten up an employee compensation budget for HR departments looking to stay streamlined for company growth, even if headcount begins to rise.

Businesses don’t need to be large to benefit from self-funding, either. In the right scenarios, self-funding is possible at almost any scale, as long as the employer truly understands what their employees need and will use in terms of healthcare.

Why Variable Cost can be Preferable to Fixed Premiums
Many risk-averse planners might be tempted to stick with the predictability of fixed-rate, fully-insured plans because the number you know is much less daunting than a worst-case-scenario figure. However, stop-loss and excess-loss coverage are specifically available to limit the financial blow of catastrophic claims scenarios, which means that a month of coverage for a healthy workforce could, in many situations, be significantly cheaper than a month at the fully-insured rate.

Furthermore, if the employer maintains a healthy workforce where daily wellness and preventative medicine are values and priorities, expensive trips to the emergency room and invasive procedures are minimized through plan design and education. That means self-funded companies can exponentially increase their benefit if they establish a (or take advantage of an existing) meaningful culture of wellness.

Leveraging a self-funded plan might seem like a risky and costly expense, but it’s actually a long-term investment in the company’s ability to grow and work better. In the same way, the potentially increased cost of self-funded insurance is mitigated by the opportunity to reduce inefficiencies and overspend in most cases.

Providing Exactly What Your Employees Need
Of course, in any conversation about employee benefits, the benefit of the employees needs to be a central focus. Working for a company with self-funded insurance is beneficial to team members throughout the organization, as the savings from reduced administrated costs can be passed down from the employer to individual policy-holders.

Additionally, self-funding means the employer has more specific control over benefit offerings and, with a strong understanding of employee needs, can design plans in a more thoughtful, specific, and employee-focused way than ever before. Of course, businesses can only achieve that if they have a rich, detailed knowledge of their employees’ and their families’ medical needs, claims-related behaviors, and emerging trends and technology that connect employees with medicine and medical professionals in innovative and cost-effective ways.

Maximizing a self-funding transition requires incredible preparation and a robust base of knowledge about both plan design generally and each individual organization’s specific finance picture, needs, and goals.

Preparing to Self-Fund
Achieving self-funding is a journey unto itself that forces HR and finance to work together to establish the best-possible understanding of needs, possible solutions, and the impact of each on the bottom line.

The Importance of Preparation
In short, if a self-funded employee benefits program is not designed and scaled correctly, it can significantly harm the company’s ability to maximize profitability. On the other hand, though, getting self-funding right opens the door to a variety of gains for both the business and its employees. The difference between those two outcomes is good planning.

Altering a benefit funding model is a paradigm shift that no one professional or department can make happen on their own. Cross-department planning and collaboration must occur in order for all relevant decision-makers to get a full picture of current healthcare costs, the possible impact of transitioning toward self-funding, how benefit offerings will change, etc. That means input from HR, finance, the boardroom, and beyond is necessary to plan for a strong, positive transition.

When HR, finance, and senior leadership have a shared understanding of how self-funding will reduce overspend without tying the company’s hands in a way that impacts profitability, then the real design work starts.

Understanding and Planning for Risks
One of the reasons self-funding is such a cost-saver is because, in self-funding, a business assumes a great deal more variable risk. In a fully-funded scenario, a catastrophic accident or life-changing diagnosis to an employee impacts a company’s healthcare fees very minimally – that security is part of what businesses pay for. Once a business is self-funded, however, a major uptick in claims or a string of big-ticket claims can certainly eat into profitability for the month or quarter.

Minimizing those risks requires researching stop-loss and excess-loss coverage and determining how that coverage should be scaled to your workforce and its needs to provide the business with the profitability protection it requires. Reducing the risk of such high-cost events from occurring through employee health and wellness offerings (which are significantly cheaper than the cost of reactive medical care) is another crucial proactive planning measure.

Maximizing the Data Available to You
Designing a self-funded plan requires a rich understanding of the benefits and services employees absolutely need. By studying the healthcare utilization data available through their providers, HR leaders and CFOs can get a very clear, specific understanding of what kind of services employees are using regularly and what their actual costs are.

That data is incredibly valuable in planning what a standard “month” of real expenses in a self-funded scenario might look like compared to current fully-funded costs. Again, the transition toward self-funding cannot be made or even attempted until that data story is fully understood, or else the company is simply self-funding for the sake of self-funding, rather than making an educated, profit-minded decision to improve healthcare efficiency.

Scaling Your Benefit Plans to Your Funding Goals
Once a commitment to self-funding has been made and HR and finance have worked together to understand how the transition will support company growth and translate to more efficient spending, the next step is to think about how the change in funding model will affect specific benefits offerings.

To be blunt, plan design is more important than ever for HR to ensure self-funding is efficient at scale and supports growth. Armed with utilization data and other measures of employee need such as surveys, internal leadership must work with a benefits broker who understands the transition plan and the importance of plan success in order to create benefits packages that are highly valuable to team members while remaining mindful of the bottom line.

To guarantee success, no HR leader or department should be working on their own during this period. Input from leadership, finance, and your benefits broker can be incredibly useful to ensure proper perspective is maintained and the transition plan is well-aligned with short- and long-term company goals.

Meeting in the Middle: What about Level Funding?
Some organizations looking to transition away from a fully-funded approach without completely losing their safety net may be interested in what is known as “level funding.” Level funding provides a middle ground between fully- and self-funded benefits programs, in which the carrier and the employer share responsibility.

What is Level Funding?
In a level funding scenario, an organization pays a set monthly fee to an insurance carrier, as in traditional fully-funded plans. However, the carrier tracks actual employee usage and claims throughout the year so that at year’s end, the difference between the actual claims and the monthly fees can be determined.

If the employer organization’s monthly spending equals more than the total of the claims at the end of the year, they are reimbursed the difference. However, if the value of the claims is greater than the amount the employer paid in, they must pay the carrier the difference.

Level funding can be highly beneficial for businesses who understand their utilization picture extremely well and can predict with great certainty that they will be will not stray an acceptable percentage from the projected payments. On the other hand, if an organization goes into a level funding situation without truly understanding their employees’ needs, it can lead to an additional payment at year’s end.

In short, level funding protects businesses from many of the administrative challenges of self-funding but doesn’t carry the same cost-saving benefits as a well-planned, well-executed self-funded approach.

Key Takeaways
The transition from fully-funded insurance offerings toward a self-funded program is one of the biggest and most important adjustments an HR department can oversee. Pulled off successfully, a self-funding initiative can streamline healthcare costs while keeping the entire team productive and well-supported. Scaled, planned for, or executed incorrectly, however, self-funding attempts can put a major strain on a business’ month-to-month profitability.

If you’re an HR professional or finance leader starting to consider whether your organization is ready to begin the journey toward self-funding, remember:
• Self-funding is a great way to reduce healthcare overspend by embracing variable fees month to month
• In a self-funded model, employer healthcare costs are based on actual usage, not projections
• Transitioning toward self-funding is a crucial shift that requires organization-wide commitment and extensive planning
o Healthcare utilization data can be valuable in this work
o Understanding risks and connecting with the coverage needed to mitigate them is crucial
• Partnership with finance is necessary to ensure benefits offerings are scaled with company capabilities and objectives
• Level funding offers a blend between self- and fully-funded approaches that eliminates both the best- and worst-case scenarios for self-funding failure/success
• Working with the right employee benefits broker can help your business smoothly transition to a self-funded strategy

How to Design Benefits for a Diverse Workforce

Addressing diversity and inclusion within your workplace is more than just giving trainings and seminars and sending informational emails. Only with true action will employees know that you’re addressing their concerns, and it can take time to show them just how committed your business is to diversity.

Updating your employee benefits package to ensure that your offerings are designed for the diverse workforce you’re looking to create and foster is a crucial step in your business’ diversity efforts.

Here’s what you need to know about the different ways your office can be inclusive, and how to design your benefits package for a truly diverse company.

Types of Workplace Diversity to Consider

The term “diversity” doesn’t just refer to one thing, and it takes many forms in the workplace and elsewhere. Types of workplace diversity to consider when taking a look at your company data and updating policies are:

  • Generational
  • Gender/gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Religious beliefs
  • Disability
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Lifestyle
  • Political views
  • And others

As you can see, diversity is more than ensuring half of your employees are women, or that people of color are represented, though those are of course important considerations. It’s also about avoiding any form of discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, or disability.

There are many factors to think about when creating your diversity plan and updating business elements like benefits packages and employee handbook policies.

What to Include in Your Workplace Policies

First of all, remember that some applicable workplace laws are made on a state-by-state basis, not on a federal level. Some attorneys recommend going with the most comprehensive protection plans out there, even if you’re not required to do so in your state. This means you should update your policies to be in compliance with these regulations.

One example is the protection of discrimination against sexual orientation, which is not one of the included categories of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, sex discrimination is protected under the act, and workers have been known to file lawsuits that argue their sexual orientation cases under these protections instead.

As such, it’s a good idea to include in your policies that discriminatory actions such as firing an employee because of his or her mannerisms, or not treating a female employee fairly because she isn’t “womanlike,” are prohibited, as they are forms of sex discrimination.

Other ways to update policies accordingly is to develop or include gender-transitioning resources for employees, or to include the most current, acceptable, and inclusive terminology in employee materials.

Designing Benefits For a Diverse Workforce

The most important aspect of updating your benefits package is making sure that the benefits offered are fair and equitable to all employees.

Let’s take a look at the ways in which you can revamp your benefits offerings, in addition to your company policies. Think through these areas to get started with building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Financial Benefits for Different Generations

Analyze the financial benefit offerings your company currently provides, such as retirement contributions, student loan debt assistance, and savings accounts. Are they more geared toward a younger audience, or an older audience?

For example, student loan debt is an affliction that impacts generations across the board, but research from Experian showed that Generation X, who are between 39 and 54, has the most student loan debt, with Baby Boomers in second (ages 55 to 73) and Millennials third (ages 23 to 38). Although it may seem like the younger generations would want benefits related to paying off their student loans, this is clearly an issue that all generation struggle with.

Another financial consideration here is retirement benefits. Baby Boomers are the closest to retiring, but research from the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) shows that 45% of people in this age group don’t have any retirement savings. As such, retirement savings assistance shouldn’t just be catered to the long-term. In addition, benefits like phased retirement plans and medical programs for retirees can help this generation better prepare for life after work.

Family Benefits

Another way to address diversity within benefits is what you offer for families. Important considerations in this category are:

  • Assistance with childcare
  • Parental leave
  • Adoption leave
  • Elder care services

Another benefit that can help support families through these matters is a dependent care flexible spending account, which helps employees pay for care services while they’re at work.

Benefits for Same-Sex Couples and Domestic Partners

Spousal healthcare coverage and other benefits have long been offered to heterosexual couples. It’s now important to offer these benefits for same-sex couples, in addition to couples who are in domestic partnerships. This also means that parental or family leave benefits should apply to these couples, even if they’re not legally married.

Flexibility Benefits

Because there are so many different perspectives, experiences, and abilities that exist within your workforce, a crucial benefit to provide is flexibility. Whether due to having children, a disability or illness, or caring for a sick family member, flexible work options allow employees to adapt their schedules and their location based on their personal needs. However, this means that the flexibility benefits must apply to all employees that require a different working arrangement, and cannot be implemented unfairly. Employees should feel comfortable and never feel guilty about using these benefits when they need them.

Holidays

A major part of your benefits package is time off for holidays. This has typically only included the major American holidays, both religious and political. However, think about the employees within your company that don’t celebrate the “mainstream” American holidays, who instead celebrate holidays from their own cultural background.

Implement benefits that allow employees to take off the holidays that are important to their culture or religion, and make it simple for them to request these days off. One effective way to implement these benefits is to offer “floating holidays” that employees can use however they wish.

Ask Your Employees

Even with the best intentions, you won’t completely satisfy your diverse workforce unless you allow them to speak up. An easy way for your company to gain invaluable information about what workers care about and what they want in their benefits packages is simply to ask them.

Send out surveys and ask for feedback. Ask them if they feel like their needs are being recognized and respected, whatever they may be. Companies often make a mistake when they assume that employees have certain wants, needs, and beliefs, so it’s important to avoid those dangerous assumptions when updating your benefits package. Instead, let employees tell you what’s most important to them.

Key Takeaways

As you’re strategizing to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, making tangible within your benefits package is one important way to keep your company on track. Remember:

  • There are many “types” of diversity within any workplace.
  • Create policies that offer the most protections possible against discrimination, regardless of whether your local laws require all of them.
  • Different generations have different financial priorities.
  • Offer family benefits like paid family leave and dependent care assistance.
  • Make sure health insurance and other applicable benefits are also offered for same-sex couples and domestic partners.
  • A range of flexibility options, like remote working or flexible schedules, can help employees with family, disability, or other concerns.
  • Not all employees celebrate the same holidays, religious or not. Floating holidays can ensure that they take time off when it’s applicable to their beliefs or culture.
  • Ask your employees directly what they want or what they feel they are missing from their current benefits package.

Remember that your employee benefits package will only be designed for a diverse workplace if the offerings are applicable to everyone on your team. Avoid making assumptions about what’s important to your employees, and you’ll quickly be on your way to an inclusive, satisfying benefits package.