Fixing Benefits Programs Increases Engagement

By Marcia Otto | HR Daily Advisor

Organizations continue to focus on helping employees improve their overall well-being, which in turn can positively impact productivity and costs. The key to realizing the value of this focus is an engaged population, yet despite best intentions and large investments, many employers still face low benefits utilization.

According to a recent Health Advocate survey of HR professionals, top approaches to maximize employee engagement in benefits include ongoing communications, events and meetings, and health savings account contributions, however mobile and social media usage is increasing. Despite the growing reliance on technology-based tools, 82 percent of respondents also indicated that incorporating high-touch support services helps employees more effectively navigate their health and wellness benefits.

The survey demonstrates organizations are prioritizing and expanding their efforts to engage employees. Yet while employers continue to seek new and innovative ways to drive participation in their benefits programs, this may create new challenges.

Fragmentation Creates Confusion

To try and move the needle, employers have added an increasing array of support programs as additional benefits. Many offer valuable resources, but the resulting program mix tends to only increase the complexity of health benefits as employees strive to be more savvy healthcare consumers. While the available offerings provide a wealth of assistance, employees may be unsure where to turn for their specific issue, leading to lackluster utilization.

According to survey respondents, the biggest hurdle to engagement is that a multitude of benefits programs is often disjointed, confusing, or difficult to access and navigate. Fifty-four percent of organizations offer employees access to a series of separate benefits tools or platforms, each requiring a separate login.

Additionally, 40 percent indicated that working with multiple benefits vendors led to a lack of utilization, with another 35 percent noting technology issues. These factors contribute to challenges for benefits managers trying to address employee’s confusion and streamline the experience. To mitigate this issue, a quarter of respondents report moving toward a single integrated platform where employees can access all of their benefits in one place, making it easier for employees to take advantage of available offerings.

The Value of Integration

The “missing link” is the connective tissue that blends benefits in a meaningful way, delivering the most relevant choices to each employee according to preference and frequency.  Solving this dilemma requires an intuitive approach, “high-touch” and “high-tech” – a single, unified platform that can successfully guide employees on their journey.

With a single platform, employees can easily access all of their benefits in one place, online or via a mobile app. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said that this model presents each employee with a single point of contact that is personalized, intuitive and interactive, with another 46 percent indicating that it improves employee engagement with benefits.

Breaking it down, there are five key attributes required to ensure that an integrated engagement platform is likely to succeed:

  1. Integrated

It’s critical that the benefits platform unify data from a myriad of sources and programs. That includes benefits information, essential phone numbers, healthcare expense and chronic disease management tools, and Health Savings Account (HSA) balance management from a single mobile engagement platform, for example.

  1. Relevant

Relevancy would include the option to create a personalized “to-do” list to meet each employee’s specific needs and preferences. Reminders like “Keep up the good work and become tobacco free!” or “Schedule your diabetic eye exam” are also important. Actionable items would offer claims history, gaps-in-care analytics, personal preferences and employer-provided benefits information.

  1. Consumer-like

If it’s not easy, it won’t be used. Much like shopping online, the platform must minimize the need to “hunt” for relevant information. Well-designed platforms mimic the online consumer experience, cleverly presenting the same information in multiple appropriate places to reinforce messages without seeming redundant.

  1. Smart

Real-time information access to things such as updates on pending support requests and appointment reminders are table stakes. Plus, feedback about progress towards employee health goals and customized information based on health status must be available.

  1. Connected

This means offering an open door to access all benefits seamlessly, using the communications channel that best serves each employee. It also means a platform backed by live support available via online chat, email or phone.

An effective benefits platform must eliminate confusion and anxiety. It should be the first option for all employees, but it might not be the last. By connecting to employees through multiple communication channels, employers can increase every employee’s engagement in their health journey, regardless of tech savvy.

The Human Touch Remains Critical

While technology plays an increasingly important role in employee benefits, survey participants also signaled the importance of balancing technology with the human touch when it comes to driving engagement. Seventy-eight percent currently offer employees access to live support to help with their health and benefits, with more than 80 percent confirming that having some level of high-touch support increases engagement. Technology is valuable, but employees often prefer speaking with a real person when it comes to navigating complex healthcare issues.

As digital tools continue to gain traction in employee benefits, considering how to tie available programs together in a cohesive, holistic way is critical. An integrated approach that incorporates data analytics, a seamless experience and high-touch, expert support can increase utilization, improving the health of the workforce while managing costs for employers. When programs are connected and personalized, it is more likely that employees’ needs will be met in the way that works best for them.

In order to address these issues and create an approach that will drive engagement, it is important to find an experienced benefits partner that understands how to effectively tailor benefits programs to best meet the needs of the organization and its employees.