Last month the U.S. Senate came within one vote of repealing the Affordable Care Act, seemingly ending the seven-year effort to repeal the law but leaving insurance markets roiled by uncertainty likely to persist.
Many large enterprises — with well-staffed HR and benefits organizations — are controling what’s in their control: managing costs with best practices in employee engagement and education, practices that have an impact both on the brand and the bottom line. But you don’t have to be a member of the Fortune 500 to adopt these practices. Smaller businesses too can benefit by learning the five habits of well-managed benefit programs.
1. Fulfill your company’s ideals.
HR departments can always find ways in which the company could be a better place to work. Most HR pros would agree that stronger employee engagement is a key initiative in whatever form it takes. In fact, according to Pomello’s People Management in 2017 survey, employee engagement is the top priority for organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees. Other businesses might identify recruiting millennial employees as a goal, and identifying creative new benefits offerings could be a helpful step. A study from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation revealed that more than half of millennials say a compelling benefits package influences their choice of employer, while almost two-thirds of millennials say benefits packages are an important reason why they stay with an employer.
Take the time to lay out the top HR goals for the year, identify concrete steps to effect those goals, begin tracking metrics to measure progress toward those steps and goals, and meet quarterly to update leadership on what progress has been made and what may need to change moving forward.
2. Survey your workforce for unmet needs.
Poll your employees about the benefits you’re offering them today and ask if there are any needs they feel aren’t being covered. Then take that data and break it down according to various demographics to discover opportunities for improvement. Perhaps your team wants some additional opportunity to work remotely and commute less: according to Global Workplace Analytics, more than 80 percent of employees want some kind of flexible work accommodations.
If you don’t already have them in place, consider developing affinity groups within your organization to give like-minded employees an outlet to discuss their unique challenges.
3. Promote awareness of under-used ancillary benefits.
If your organization offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), do your employees know what it is and what it covers? Do they know how to go about using the program to solve challenges they have outside of the workplace? Conversely, do you know what your EAP doesn’t cover? Are there challenges your employees face (see suggestion 2 above) that your EAP can’t help with?
A report from the ESI Group suggests that one in five employees has a “distracting life problem” in a given year, but that only three to five percent of employees take advantage of an available EAP in a given year. The gap between the number of people who experience a challenge and the number of people who seek help dealing with it represents significant lost productivity for a business. Increasing awareness of solutions like EAPs can reclaim lost mindshare and productivity from employees with outside-the-workplace challenges.
For example, consider families of children with extraordinary needs. The CDC estimates that one in five children experience a mental disorder in any given year. Each child with extraordinary needs requires an average of $3,381 in additional healthcare spend per year according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Apply those numbers to a company like yours: if your company has 1,000 employees, 200 of them have children with extraordinary needs. That’s more than $676,000 in healthcare expenditures (and employee distractions) each year.
As you identify underutilized benefits across your offerings, consider a concerted outreach effort using both high- and low-tech strategies. The goal: ensuring that your employees know the full range of benefits available to them and how to access them.
4. Encourage employees to voice their concerns.
Consider developing an “office hours” program that’s held weekly or monthly for employees to drop by and express the challenges they’re facing. This program can be useful even beyond conversations about benefits—having greater HR openness and flexibility fosters an air of transparency that employees appreciate. For example, Zulily, an online clothing retailer, offers a program that gives employees access to informal chats with all executives.
For employees who might be reluctant to participate in such a forum, make sure there are mechanisms available so that people can provide anonymous feedback about sensitive issues without fear of reprisal. Knowing what’s troubling your employees enables you to address those issues which reduces their impact on your bottom line.
5. Assume the landscape will continue to change.
Taken together, the strategies outlined above can help a business change the way they think about benefits by considering employees’ outside-the-office needs as a priority. Decisions being made now will impact how we care for ourselves and loved ones in the future, and by extension, how businesses “care” about their employees.
The first half of 2017 has also shown us, though, that nothing is for certain. Acting now to ensure your business is well-positioned to care for your workforce will save you the trouble later of being forced to respond to new legislation or demands. The savvy businesses that start these conversations today will be ahead of caregiving challenges tomorrow.