The face of benefits has changed. As costs continue to rise, companies introduce new benefits, like consumer-driven health plans. Traditional PPOs or HMO’s enjoyed by our parents and grandparents are now prohibitively expensive. Terms like deductible, coinsurance and health spending accounts are part of the vernacular. All this represents a seismic shift in thinking for your employees.
Do you know what your employees think about this new world of benefits? How do their perceptions reflect on how they feel about you as an employer?
Employees may perceive benefits changes as the company not caring about what they think—or need. That’s a dangerous path that creates workers who are resistant to communications.
Remember WIIFM in New Benefits Introductions
How employees receive new benefits information depends on how well you communicate it. A solid communications plan puts “WIIFM” –What’s In It For Me— first. It can swing workers in the right direction and support them in making benefits decisions that offer them valuable coverage.
Communications that miss the mark, or worse yet, minimize employees’ pain risk falling on deaf ears. This decreases the level of appreciation for the benefits you do offer and your efforts to save employees money.
So, how can you manage everybody’s health care spending without alienating your workforce?
Make an effort to understand what employees think about new benefits. And that starts with listening.
Ways to Listen as You Introduce New Benefits to Employees
When you introduce new benefits to employees, there will be many questions. Be prepared to answer them through a variety of communications. Note commonly asked questions as cues where to focus your communications. Remember, delivery method matters. If you mail postcards to workers who’d rather get a text, your message could end up in the trash.
Here are four ways to get your message into the minds of employees and introduce new benefits successfully. They include both conventional and out-of-the box options. Chose one or a combination of two or more, whatever works best for your needs and audience.
1) Focus Groups and Surveys
There are a few conventional methods, like, focus groups and surveys to help you learn what employees think.
They’re best used to complement one another. Surveys and quick pulse polls are good at getting answers to broad surface questions. Focus groups are excellent for digging down deeper into a single issue.
2) Engage Employee “Listeners”
While there’s many ways to communicate these days, the most effective remains face to face. Non-verbal cues determine whether 93 percent of communications are effective. In-person conversations are an essential tool for reading employees thoughts about new benefits.
Appoint trustworthy, likeable, approachable, and influential employees as “Listeners.” Arm them with some questions and send them to “Listening Posts” in high-traffic areas. There, they can approach passing employees and ask them question or two about what they think about the introduction of new benefits.
You decide how in-depth you want the questions to be. Promise anonymity to encourage honesty. Potential questions to ask include:
- Which aspects of the new benefits plan are unclear to you ? Where do you have questions?
- How do you prefer to get your communications?
The “listening post” process shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes. You could even give a small gift to anyone who participates.
3) Create How Are We Doing? Cards
Create a comment card style survey and place stacks of them near comment boxes around the workspace. Craft the questions to be open-ended and offer anonymity as an option. If you get any workable suggestions—and you likely will—be sure to attribute them to the program.
4) Hold Q&A Sessions
Often, workers don’t take advantage of the benefits they’re offered because they don’t understand them . Provide employees with an opportunity to participate in an open forum where they can ask their questions and get answers.
You can even offer separate sessions for separate groups, to provide new benefits information targeted to their unique needs or concerns. For example, one session can be for millennials just off their parents’ plans, another can be for new or expecting parents, and another can be for employees with chronic conditions, like diabetes.
Focused attention shows it matters what employees think when you introduce new benefits. As a bonus, you may get ideas for improvement you hadn’t already considered.
It’s crucial to strike the right tone in your communications that introduce employees to new benefits. These listening methods will help you refine your approach, benefitting both workers and the bottom line.
Consumerism. I’m not a fan of the word. I’m also not a fan of being deemed a “good consumer.” It’s odd praise to me. However, I am a fan of making good decisions—which to me means those that affect me or those I love in a positive way. So when I think about this buzzword “consumerism,” I really just think about it as the power given when presented with a choice.
As a mother of two small children, it’s a careful balancing act for me to help my kids be independent while guiding them toward good decisions, and telling them what to do while creating opportunities for them to decide for themselves. Honestly, it can be exhausting – after all, choices are all around us, every day. Do you want milk or water? Are you going to wear your jacket or not? Do you want the applesauce or slices of apple today?
Yet guiding my children to make their own choices is important, so I do everything I can to set them up to be successful. I think about the information I need to share and, most importantly, how I need to share it so that they receive it in a way that will enable them to make good decisions.
If, for example, I give the choice of wearing a jacket, I need to present the right information – what the weather is like, whether they will play outside in the afternoon, whether I think will they be too cold without one if they decide to leave it home (or should they play it safe and put it in their school bags).
I also think about how to share the information they need. If, for example, I tell them about the weather when they’re just waking up, or as I’m helping them get dressed, it’s too hard for them to process.
The same is true for our clients and their employees. Most people need time to consider what information has been shared, and then think about their options so they can make their choice and accept the outcome. It’s not enough to just toss benefits information at employees. Rather, employers need to paint the picture with the right context.
This morning, it was cool – not cold, but cool. So I told my son, “It’s a little cool and it’s raining, so you’ll need your umbrella, but you won’t have recess outside. It’s up to you if you want your jacket.” He emerged from his room wearing a long-sleeved shirt, fleece pants, socks and shoes, and got his umbrella from the spot where we keep them beside the door. I gave him the “are we all set?” look and he smiled and said, “No jacket, I’m not cold.”
Just to be certain, I opened the front door and said, “Want to double check?” He peeked his head out, decided he was all set, and off we went to school.
Whenever we present someone with a choice, context is critical. With enough information, making a good choice (remember my definition of “good” being relative to affecting the person in a positive way) becomes easier, and we’re more likely to accept the outcome of our decision.
Without enough information or the right context, well, let’s imagine what would happen if I hadn’t told my son it was cool and raining, and he just assumed that since it was light out, it was warm: a sad, wet, 5-year-old who blames his mommy for sending him out unprotected.
Instead, I gave him the pertinent details, in a way he could absorb the information. I let him choose, and then gave him a chance to confirm his decision. He got the power to choose, and made a choice that felt positive to him: he didn’t have to carry his jacket, he stayed dry, and got to show off his cartoon character-branded umbrella. A true kindergarten win!
So, the next time you have the ability to create choice for someone, ask yourself: Did you share enough information, in the right context? Or will someone blame you for sending them out uninformed?
Consumerism is a growing trend in healthcare and employee benefits. With respect to company-sponsored health plans, it most often refers to offering a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) that is accompanied by lower per-pay premium costs as well as a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), both of which may be augmented by employer contributions and can help defray deductibles and coinsurance.
The terms “consumerism” and “consumer-driven health plan” refer to the fact that employees in these plans often have a lot more choice when it comes to spending their healthcare dollar, thus putting the control back in their hands, rather than in the offices of some giant HMO.
In many cases, especially when the employee is young, single, and healthy, an HDHP can make a lot of sense-mostly because it can save both the employee and the company a great deal of money.
But unfortunately, many employers are finding that when they first offer an HDHP to their employees (alongside more traditional offerings), they are met with chirping crickets-and a very low adoption rate. When other employers have changed over completely to an HDHP, they are often met with confusion and sometimes outright hostility.
Why is this, if an HDHP can be a beneficial option if used correctly? There are a few reasons:
- First of all, HDHPs aren’t the right choice for every employee. Someone with a chronic condition, for example, who needs to visit the doctor often, and perhaps take a number of maintenance prescription medications, will likely end up paying much more out of pocket with an HDHP than with a more traditional HMO, POS, or PPO plan. For that reason among others, it’s probably not the best idea to offer ONLY an HDHP (at least to begin with).
- Lack of understanding. Many employees-and the public at large-have no idea how an HDHP works. If they’re not educated and don’t know how it applies to them, how can they be expected to adopt?
- Fear. Nothing can strike terror into the heart of an employee-especially, say, one with a pregnant wife or a special-needs child-than the thought that his or her medical benefits are being reduced or will cost more.
Fortunately, employers can help mitigate all of these obstacles. First, if at all possible, it makes sense to offer a more traditional HMO or POS plan to accompany a new HDHP-at least for the first few years. As time goes on and understanding among the workforce grows, so will your adoption rate.
Second, COMMUNICATE! Don’t spring the offering on employees, tell them when it’s coming and why. Educate them-send them emails, put booklets in their mailstops, mail postcards to their homes, hold Q&A sessions, and do all of it a lot, as much as your budget allows. Don’t think you’re over-communicating, because there is no such thing.
Here’s an example: Trion’s Communications Practice was able to double one client’s HDHP adoption rate in one year just by enhancing HDHP information in all Open Enrollment materials and holding targeted HDHP webinars.