“How do we engage — truly engage — employees around their benefits and wellness, not just during open enrollment but throughout the year?” asked an attendee at the recent Agency Growth Mastermind Summit, a quarterly roundtable for some of my top agency clients. A fantastic question. Here’s my response.

First, the question of how really to engage employees is timely and highly important. Health care and, by extension, employee benefits, are becoming increasingly consumer-centric. In an influential 2014 whitepaper, my client Aon declared that we’ve entered “the era of the person” in health care, in which “individuals will own greater accountability for their health and well-being.” High-deductible health plans, HSAs, outcome-based wellness, defined contribution financing, private exchanges, and the trend from group to individual health plans are shifting more and more control and accountability to the employee.

As the employee becomes the benefits decision-maker, it’s critical that the other stakeholders — employers and insurers — engage the employee in an ongoing dialogue about health and health care.

Which brings me to my second point. Engagement of the employee must result in a meaningful, back-and-forth conversation, not merely an employer or insurer monologue. Regardless of how compelling the message or valuable the content, talking at employees is not engagement. True engagement produces a dialogue with the employee.

Proactive, guided engagement

Third, while engagement of the employee can occur both face-to-face in person or online virtually, to be effective, any engagement of the employee must be both proactive and guided. This means that engagement cannot rely on the employee’s initiative or interest; the stakes are simply too high to leave it up to the employee. The employer or insurer must proactively engage the employee and then guide that employee through the entire conversation.

An excellent example of proactive and guided engagement is mandatory one-on-one educational sessions with a benefits counselor at the workplace as part of a voluntary benefits enrollment. When optional, few employees attend the educational sessions and fewer participate in the voluntary offering. But, when the employer mandates the sessions and all employees are guided through a conversation about the voluntary benefits, participation usually exceeds 40%. Not only is this engagement model effective, but surveys from Colonial Life and other carriers reveal a very high level of employee satisfaction with this engagement process.

These lessons learned at the workplace apply equally to employee engagement online. Effective engagement of employees during online benefits enrollment — measured by participation in the voluntary benefits or employee migration to a HDHP — only happens with proactive and guided engagement. In this case, HR requires employees to go through the online enrollment process where they are guided by an avatar virtual benefit counselor through a mandatory interactive education on the benefits. These conditions have produced an increase in HDHP participation of greater than 10% and generated participation in the voluntary offering of 305 to more than 90 % — online!

To date, the most successful employee engagement — in both the workplace and online — has occurred with proactive and guided benefits enrollment. But just imagine how a proactive and guided employee engagement process could drive smarter health care consumerism and healthier lifestyle choices.

Griswold is an agency growth consultant and author of DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success. His Agency Growth Mastermind Network helps agency leaders reform-proof their firm. Reach him at (615) 656-5974, nelson@InsuranceBottomLine.com, or through 21stCenturyAgency.com.

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