Percolate The Perks

When it comes to the benefits that employers offer to their employees, the basic “perks” aren’t even perks anymore.

They’re essentials if an employer is to be competitive and attract and retain good employees.  This includes the medical, dental, life and disability, 401K and paid time off for example.

But what about the other perks?  The actual value-adds? The differentiators?  The creative products and services that benefits managers work hard to research, evaluate and implement?  And what about the ones that, if utilized regularly/properly, could save the employer money?  

If you’re a benefits manager (or finance person) at a self-funded employer, I do believe I’ve got your attention.

There are a number of challenges when it comes to employee benefit “perks”.  Evaluating vendors is one of them.  Let’s use wellness companies as an example.  And why not?  With HHS investing $750 million in wellness, I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about wellness.

Many companies look to their trusted broker to help evaluate vendors for services such as prevention and wellness.  But even that can get cloudy.  In my days I’ve seen a company’s health plan pitch their wellness solution and then the broker brings forth their wellness solution.  Many times neither is used and the employer asks their broker to go to market and get bids on a number of other vendors before making a decision. Whew!

After the challenge of choosing the “perks” vendors, how do you make your employees aware of these great employer-covered services? How do you educate your employees to know when and how to engage the perk vendors?

In short – how do you percolate the perks?

You can do what many do these days and put together a fancy benefits booklet complete with information and phone numbers. But keep in mind that only geeks like me are likely to read through each and every detail.

And if you have a large male population, it’s quite likely that they don’t even open the booklets – they just bring them home to their significant other.  I’ve attended many benefits meetings in my day and very often heard benefit managers say “make sure you bring this information home to your wife!” knowing that the Mrs. is the one making the decisions on this matter. 

Aside from that…what else can a benefits manager do?

A while back, I did a piece entitled “In Good Companies” which was about some of the cool vendors that sell value-added services to employers.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say that you are a benefits manager who has selected WhiteGlove House Call Health and Best Doctors as value-added services for your employees in addition to choosing U.S. Preventive Medicine for Prevention and Wellness. You put together a fancy employee benefits guide that gets mailed to each employee. You make it available online through your company’s intranet.

Now it’s 5 months later.

A show of hands as to how many employees recall that you have these cool value-added services – maybe a few.  Maybe your organization is a proponent of wellness so there is a wellness calendar full of events.  But what about the other services – an EAP program for adoption, stress management, or depression for example?

There are always some that take full advantage of every program their employer offers. But these days, that’s just not good enough. You need more engagement.  You need to get the word out about these great services that can help reduce costs and improve the general health and happiness of your employees.  As we all know, a happy employee works harder and its less likely to leave.

I’ve often wondered what could be done to further educate employees on the value-added services that exist.  And I’ve come up with a few ideas:

1)  Constant marketing – think of a drip marketing campaign where there is information presented to employees each month about the services the employer offers. Heck, check out this article on how some employees are getting creative and “stalling” their employees.  (Talk about a captive audience!)

2)  Make it worth their while – with many companies requiring employee actions to get employer dollars into their employer-funded HRAs (think biometric screenings), why not hold education sessions on each and every service available to an employee. I’m talking EAP, Wellness, etc. The more sessions they attend, the more money they get into their HRA. Perhaps you hold the training sessions after hours and invite spouses and family members to attend too.

Another approach would be to offer prizes/raffles at these training sessions.  Perhaps raffle off a gift card or an extra day off. Maybe a “come to work in jeans for a week” prize. Maybe free parking or a “benefits champ” parking spot.  Maybe a Wii with a fitness game to encourage activity. Get creative – but make sure it gets the employees and any family decision makers involved.

3)  Share success stories – it doesn’t have to be employee specific, but ask the vendors to share other employer success stories – about weight loss through a group challenge, about how convenient it is to utilize XYZ service, about walking clubs – get a buzz going and get folks interested.  Perhaps create a competition to increase employee involvement.

4) Create easy to use reference tools with phone numbers – I’ve seen magnets with the phone number for the 24-hour nurse line to encourage use rather than a trip to the ER for example.  Some employers laminate information (for durability) and ask their employees to hang them up at home or make them wallet-sized for employees to carry with them.  Simple, but effective.

5) Ask for help – talk to the vendors that you use including the health plans, the brokers and the other “perk” companies.  Many times they have swag that they’ll provide free-of-charge or educational pieces/sessions that they can provide or vendor portals that employees can use. It doesn’t come out of your budget and it helps with communication, education and engagement. Win-Win.

These are just a few of the ways that Benefits Managers can educate and engage their employees on the wonderful value-added programs that are available and that they’ve worked so hard to select and implement.  

Many of these ideas may sound a little bit like spoon-feeding, but my guess is that benefits managers are used to this – they know their employees and what works.

But look on the bright side – if these programs are utilized regularly/properly…heck, you might just see a flat trend next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go through a pile of papers to see if I can find my employee benefits guide from last year.  What’s the phone number for Jenny Craig again?

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