EBLF Health+Benefits

Employee Benefits in the Digital Sphere

Q&A with Mike Simonds, Chief Operating Officer, Unum Group
Sponsored by Unum Group Posted on May 31, 2022

Q
What unique challenges do companies need to confront when it comes to maintaining employee health and wellness that maybe hadn’t been considered before?
A

It’s hard not to start with the pandemic. We’re still dealing with the direct impacts of COVID and long COVID as that emerges, but I would highlight the mental health challenges. I wouldn’t say they weren’t considered by employers prior, but the issue got exacerbated the past couple of years.

Unum recently completed a survey of over 1,200 working adults, and 57% of them reported feeling mentally unwell over the course of the previous year. Employers have to find ways to lower the stigma around mental health and get employees the help they need.

Q
What can companies do to address those needs?
A
In the two years we’ve been in the pandemic, you saw probably five to 10 years’ worth of adoption of digital tools. Now it’s about focusing on those digital assets that companies have in-house today. You want a balanced approach where your people are getting the resources that they need and can access their benefits across the spectrum—and can do it from home, on the road, or in the office.
Q
It can be difficult to get policyholders to try out new tools, but it sounds like you’ve had a lot of success with adoption.
A

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? One of the big trends with technology has been the move to cloud, and when you go into a cloud model, you need to change your processes to fit, because you’re one of many tenants on that application. That push toward changing business processes to leverage cloud-based capability and fully take advantage of your technology choices was accelerated by the pandemic.

People needed to be able to get to their employees on their mobile devices and needed to be able to get to them in their homes. Increasingly, firms are hiring people across the country and in some cases across the world. You have to be able to connect. That necessity has gotten companies further out on that change curve.

We can all schedule haircuts and get food and groceries delivered in a matter of seconds. Employee benefits has to rise to that same level.
Mike Simonds, Chief Operating Officer, Unum Group
Q
The “Great Resignation” phenomenon is a significant challenge for employers. What efforts can employers undertake in the realm of employee benefits to help retain key team members and boost retention?
A

Benefits has to be a big part of your value proposition. When we do our own research, we see there’s a much greater propensity for an employee to stick with an employer if they report positive orientation toward their benefits package.

There are the things you would normally think about—how rich is the benefit package, should you be adding additional benefits, and so on. But beyond the specifics of the package, it’s the experience with which that package is delivered. We can all schedule haircuts and get food and groceries delivered in a matter of seconds. Employee benefits has to rise to that same level.

Q
How can the role of the broker help in these situations?
A

The role of the broker has never been more important. There is all kinds of value a broker can add, but the bedrock of that value is informed expert and objective advice. And the more complex the challenge, the more valuable that expertise is.

Dealing with healthcare has always been a challenge for the benefits decision maker, and now they’ve got the challenge of understanding the technology ecosystem and which providers are going to be able to integrate most seamlessly. The challenge of the broker has never been bigger, but the opportunity to create value for the client and to differentiate themselves in the market has never been higher.

Q
What do you see in the future for EB services?
A

In the future, a strong employee benefits company is first and foremost a technology firm that is focused on employee benefits so they can harness data to help drive insight back to the employer and back to the consumer about how to make better choices.

As an industry, we exist to be there when people get sick or get hurt, and the last two years has brought that purpose to the fore and has really tested us. Unum and Colonial Life saw a 22% increase in the number of life insurance claims, a 37% increase in the people who missed work and went on disability, and a 55% increase in the number of employees who went out on leave. This is a moment for all of us—brokers, providers, HR decision makers, and benefits administrators—to pause and reflect on what’s next for us. How do we make sure more people have the coverage they need when they need it?

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