Benefits Epiphany

Leaders are managing through one of the largest talent crises ever.
By Katie King Posted on February 14, 2022

Companies that wish to differentiate themselves need new ways to leverage the full value of total rewards. Leader’s Edge sat down with the CEO of ArmadaCare, Ed Walker, to hear what it’s been like to lead a benefits organization while employees around the world reorganize their work and life goals.

Organizations value their benefits for different reasons. For some it’s a critical tool for employee productivity and retention, and in others it’s more about finances. Are you seeing new trends in your clients’ benefits strategies right now?
Actually, what we’re seeing isn’t so much a trend as an epiphany. With the “Great Resignation,” forward-thinking employers are realizing that the traditional approach of keeping recruitment, compensation, and benefits separate/siloed just isn’t working anymore. They are seeing the strong connection between benefits, compensation, recruiting and retention. More and more companies are looking at acquiring and keeping talent from a more holistic perspective.

Before, it’s like employers would play the game of whack-a-mole where they’d drive down costs by cutting employee benefits, especially health benefits, but then have to spend what they saved or more with the ramifications that pop-up as a result. For instance, employers would increase the deductible, which in turn, would cause more employee financial stress or cause them to not be satisfied and leave the company. Then there’s the ripple effect of more retention issues, lost company knowledge, increased recruitment costs—all of which impact the bottom line.

Another aspect of this realization stems from the massive generational shift, with up to five generations co-existing in most workplaces today. And not all those generations care about the same things, especially when it comes to benefits. Employers are recognizing that their workforce is more multi-faceted and one-size-fits-all benefits just aren’t going to be enough. They need a more nuanced approach where they can address generational needs along with the pockets of high turnover in various subgroups of their employees, just like how companies approach compensation.

What are two types of benefits besides mental health and telehealth that have increased in employee demand over the last two years?
With the pandemic, flexible work arrangements are certainly at the top of what employees want. For many employees, it’s appealing to work flexible hours because of at-home demands, while others are using this as an opportunity to re-locate so they can have the freedom to work remotely.

What’s interesting is that even with all the new benefits out there, health insurance is still what employees want most. It’s not surprising, right? Some people have student loans to pay off, but we all have our health to take care of. Even the two benefits you mentioned, mental health and telehealth, these are two health benefits that have definitely received attention during the pandemic. Employees don’t separate benefits and compensation. They understand that if the health coverage isn’t there, then they’ll have to pay out of their own pocket. So, from an employee’s perspective, not having the health benefits they need and value will translate into less salary because they will have to pay for it out of their own pockets.

That’s why we’re passionate about making health insurance better with a non-traditional approach that thinks beyond just primary health insurance. We’re focused on delivering different types of supplemental health plans with coverage for not just the unexpected out-of-pocket costs, but also the everyday healthcare expenses you incur. In our view, health benefits shouldn’t be one-size fits-all because employees’ needs differ by their health and life stage.

The Harvard Business Review found that resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees. What benefits strategies target those workers in particular?
We are definitely seeing that workforce trend. That’s specifically why we developed our mid-level plans. We started out focused on those who are at the pinnacle of their career and our clients requested more solutions to support other levels of their organization, such as plan options that would be compatible with HSAs.

Clients love expanding their options, such as having a tax-efficient way to boost employee compensation or a new way to reward tenure.

Supplemental health insurance plans can help to build the flexibility employers need to tailor benefit packages to generational needs. Is there ever a point where too much personalization starts to divide the workforce and work against efforts to create a sense of community?
There are certainly different ways to look at it, but if an employer is tapping into a range of solutions to provide various employees with what they need, is that a bad thing? If you do not need or want the same thing as others, I don’t think you worry about them getting what they need. That is one of the strengths of complementing primary coverage with a range of supplemental solutions: you can tailor the benefits to specific sub-groups of the overall population such as young new hires, high turnover positions or experienced executives. We have thought hard about how to achieve benefit flexibility in a way that everyone wins with coverage that different groups of employees need and are asking for.
How have you navigated the need to provide more personalized benefits options to your own employees during a time when all workers are re-evaluating their work and life goals?
The pandemic has affected us all in so many ways. Like many companies, we had to relook at what we’ve been doing to accommodate talent, taking a holistic perspective. That meant looking at all aspects of employee health: physical, financial, emotional, and social. Supporting employee mental health is a business priority for us, which is why we added WellPak to our own employee benefit package. WellPak combines coverage and resources to combat workplace stressors, burnout, and anxiety, whether it’s coaching for minor stressors or counseling for more serious, clinical issues; plus, there’s other types of coverage for prescriptions, doctor appointments, and massage therapy. By investing in WellPak, we’re communicating to our employers that their mental health is as important as physical health, hopefully removing any stigma associated with seeking care. We want our employees to have the guidance and care they need to bring their best selves to work.
What advice have you given to your managers to help them support their teams right now?
I’m very fortunate to have a management team that knows the importance of empathy so it’s not as if we had to give that advice. But it’s still been challenging to navigate through this ongoing pandemic and its ripple effects. Thankfully, we established a business continuity team to focus on what’s best for our employees and our clients in these uncertain times. This cross-functional team has guided our efforts on various aspects of our business from technology needs to employee morale to hybrid work policies. I also advise our managers to keep open dialogue with all our employees. I want our employees to feel they can always ask for help, whether that’s help navigating a new work environment, new job functions, or understanding ever-changing COVID-19 protocols. These are unprecedented times, and we need all of us to work together to navigate toward a new normal. And we are confident we’ll be just fine.
Katie King Vice President, Health Policy & Strategy, The Council Read More

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