Employers team up to tackle one of their biggest issues: employee engagement in benefits

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There’s no question worker engagement in benefits remains a struggle for employers. As the market expands and options increase, employees are shutting down when it comes to benefit understanding and usage.

To help tackle those issues, the National Business Group on Health this week announced its collaboration with more than 20 major U.S. employers in the launch of the “Leadership Forum on Employee Experience,” an initiative striving to bolster employee engagement and improve workers’ experience with employer-provided health and well-being benefits and programs.

Employee engagement is a major pain point for employers — and it’s made worse by the disconnect between how employers think they’re doing and how employees feel they’re being engaged, explains Ellen Kelsay, chief strategy officer at NBGH, pointing to recent Aflac data noting that 83% of employers believe they do a good job in benefits education, whereas only 75% of workers agree.

“We’ve really got to solve for the experience part of the equation to really get at the underlying issue on engagement,” she says.

Additionally, there are too many benefits solutions, she says. While each and every solution might be very compelling and relevant, when an employer steps back and looks at the portfolio of solutions, “they realize they have dozens and dozens of these, and they’re coming at the employee or consumer in a very one-off, siloed fashion.”

“They’re not holistically integrated,” she adds. “So when we talk about personalization, we’re falling short and really missing the mark.”

That’s why NBGH is pulling together employers like AmeriGas and industry insiders like ROC Group, a boutique benefits communication firm, to help to find that spark. The group declined to release the names of the other employers, but said it will in the future.

“We’re getting together stakeholders who represent various aspects of that experience continuum — people who are very adept at benefit communication, consumer marketing and behavioral analytics — to really help understand the messaging around benefits,” Kelsay says.

Taking aim at employee engagement in benefits is a hugely important initiative, industry insiders say.

Brian Marcotte told EBN earlier this year that benefits engagement is employers’ biggest problem. “Engagement is their No. 1 challenge,” he said. “They offer great resources, but it’s a matter of getting employees to use them at a time when they need them.”

See also: Employee engagement in health benefits keeping employers up at night

Tracy Funk, vice president of carrier solutions at Hodges Mace, agrees.

“When [employees] don’t understand their benefits, they won’t be happy,” she says. “We’ve all seen hasty decisions during open enrollment lead to disgruntled employees in the ER when they don’t have the right benefits in place.”

Decision support during open enrollment — and year-round really, Funk says — can help workers feel they’re making the right choice.

More employers are embracing wellness and work-life balance perks for employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual benefits survey.
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“It is much more than technology and more than helping with medical decision choices,” she says, noting that decision support can be classified into three buckets: communication, tech tools and using a hands-on approach.

Those are all things NBGH plans to tackle with its new coalition.

“First, it will be a forum for sharing best practices, lessons learned, what’s working and what’s not,” Kelsay says. “[And we’ll ask] how do we leverage the knowledge and resources of this collective group if there really is a best practice model in the current state?”

There’s also the possibility that “we might just come back and say we don’t have the answer.”

“Maybe nobody has cracked the code,” she says. “Maybe we’re 80% there, and to reach nirvana, this is the 20% that’s missing.” And, really defining that 20%, and working collaboratively with the other industry leaders to solve for that, will be a priority, she says.

“Ultimately, in the end, the consumer at the center of all this is just overwhelmed in this world of information coming from so many directions,” she added. “They’re just shutting down because they can’t make sense of it all.”

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Benefit communication Benefit plan design Personalized benefits Benefit management Benefit strategies Employee engagement Employee communications NBGH