BenefitsEmployee Engagement

Of Health and Engagement

A value proposition for your workforce: Total Outsourcing Management.
By Jeff Miller
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the U.S. and elsewhere as the global recession eases. While many organizations get back on their feet, national economies struggle with debt and deficit. But there’s also no doubt that the months and years ahead are going to be uniquely challenging for employers. They must simultaneously grow, compete across geographies, and attract, retain, and develop the key talent and leadership they will need for the next phase of the 21st Century.
These are certainly critical times in a business landscape transformed by so many forces—not merely the economic downturn, but also the impact of a multigenerational employee base and legislative changes. It’s especially true in the U.S., where the health care reform bill is raising countless questions and concerns for employers about the impending costs and complexities of providing health insurance to their workforces.
Meanwhile, a tougher retirement reality will keep many older workers on the job longer than ever, while younger employees seek an employment value proposition that answers their need for career development, mobility, and flexibility, as well as the right benefits and retirement plans to meet their unique needs. Companies must be agile, nimble, and responsive to all of this, not weighed down by administrative process, runaway costs, and old ways of managing human capital.
Thus, the opportunities for the HR and benefits outsourcing industry are greater than ever, so long as we can focus our expertise, innovation, and technology. We’ve got to help firms administer and communicate programs that spur productivity, spark employee engagement, incentivize wellness, actively manage disease, and mitigate the drain of absence and presenteeism, freeing up talent and management to drive business results. It’s a tall order, and it was certainly made clear to me at Mercer’s 2010 Global Benefits Outsourcing Conference, where we discussed these pressing issues with more than 100 attendees, including HR leaders from many leading global companies and key industry thought leaders.   
As the conference began, economist Richard Stein, a senior analyst with The Economist Intelligence Unit, told us that while many indicators point to economic recovery gaining ground in the U.S. and globally, the recovery is moving at a different pace around the world, with much of the economic growth expected in the next two years in emerging markets such as China, India, and Latin America. While uneven growth rates will complicate corporate talent strategies, so will national differences in government regulations, health care, and retirement systems.
Stein cautioned that in the U.S., for example, we will be facing a significant gap in terms of unfunded retiree benefits, with great uncertainty about managing those benefits going forward—especially for HR executives. As for health care costs, he said that many developments—such as rising rates of diabetes, obesity, and other trends—help explain why U.S. organizations get so little return on health care dollars spent. Clearly, there’s a crucial role for benefits outsourcing providers and employers to play in ensuring that employees make the right investment decisions, engage in healthy lifestyles, and become more informed health care consumers. This requires thoughtful plan design, coupled with the most robust outsourced platforms, in terms of expertise and technology, and that means nothing less than optimal outsourced integrity and efficiency for organizations.
Ultimately, it’s all about creating real value for employees and employers, something addressed very directly by Mercer Health and Productivity Leader Howard Kraft and our Total Benefits Outsourcing Business Leader Rich VanThournout at a conference session entitled, “Creating Value with Your Health Care Program,” featuring case studies from benefits leaders at some of the world’s largest companies. One medical executive from a U.S.-based heavy equipment company described how recent efforts at disease management had led to million-dollar savings. Kraft then explained that it was urgent for organizations to address “the hidden costs of poor health with a comprehensive, integrated program”—in other words, a Total Healthcare Management approach. This integrates everything from wellness promotion to safety, absence management, chronic disease management, and more.
That’s a lot to provide, of course, and VanThournout stressed that the advantage of the total benefits outsourcing approach lies in providing it both seamlessly and holistically. “When you have an employee engaged with you on some benefit question,” he said, “can you get the message out to them, and let them know about all the programs and resources available to them, at that single point of contact?” 
Such levels of efficiency and service are not only linked to good outcomes for employees, though; they can go a long way toward generating that quality for which all employers strive and which can be so elusive in a global business environment: employee engagement.
Indeed, as the recession recedes and the war for key talent rages on with a renewed intensity, high levels of employee engagement inevitably will be linked to a firm’s competitive edge. And so engagement emerged as another key theme of our conference. It’s a differentiator that can keep an organization’s workforce committed, productive, innovative, on a developmental upswing—and, as more than one expert told us, it takes more than base salary and bonus to ensure optimal engagement. Whether for baby boomers for whom retirement benefit adequacy is now the most urgent issue or for Gen X and Y workers who seek career dynamism in a brave new networked world, providing total solutions—Total Rewards, Total Retirement Planning, Total Health Care Management—is the great opportunity for the outsourcing industry. We’ve come through some of the roughest seas, but in many ways our voyage is just beginning.
Jeff Miller is the president of Mercer’s Outsourcing business, based in Norwood, Mass. He may be reached at


Tags: Benefits, Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global

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