An individualized approach to health and well-being benefits can drive engagement in a multigenerational workforce.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Facing rising costs of living and significant transformation in the world of work, today’s employees are more stressed than ever. According to Welltok’s Well-being Wake-Up Report, 64 percent of all employees say they feel stressed at work—including 63 percent of baby boomers and 57 percent of millennials. In fact, 35 percent of all employees and 50 percent of millennials have seriously considered switching jobs due to stress.
And employees increasingly expect their employers to address the stress issue, with 60 percent of survey respondents reporting that they feel it is important for companies to offer health and well-being resources that encompass physical, emotional, financial, and social health.
But organizations are still lagging behind. “While employers are taking notice, only 33 percent of respondents say their employers offer stress management programs to them,” says Scott Rotermund, co-founder and chief growth officer at Welltok. “This underscores the importance of effectively providing the right support to the right individual when and where it is needed, or risk greater employee burnout and turnover.”
Benefits for All: Understanding Individual Goals
A benefits program that takes into consideration each employees’ biggest stressors and delivers a breadth of offerings to alleviate those concerns is key. While it may be tempting to group segments of the population into generational buckets, Emily Bailey, managing principal of OneDigital’s Hartford, Conn. operations, suggests that employers need to evaluate the needs of each individual when crafting their benefits approach.
“Both HR managers and businesses in general should stop thinking of the population in buckets of generations and start to see it as evaluating the needs of a human being,” Bailey explains. “It’s less about how old you are or what generation you fall into, and more about assessing what keeps people from being productive at work and what is weighing on them when they come in every day. For one person, it might be caring for an aging parent and for another, it might be caring for their newborn baby.”
Anne Gilson, regional managing director of HR consulting for OneDigital’s Mid-Atlantic operations, says that organizations should not attempt to rigidly define each generation’s needs, but it may be helpful to consider the lifecycles and major milestones that each employee is facing. These types of events include:
- saving money to buy a first home;
- getting married;
- having a child; and
- preparing for retirement.
These milestones will significantly impact employees’ needs and desires and can serve as a useful starting point. But in order to truly ensure that the entire workforce is considered, a data-based approach is essential.
A basic needs assessment can offer some insights into employees’ stress points and expectations. “When looking at how to identify needs or wants, asking is a very effective method,” Gilson says. “Whether you conduct a survey, use focus groups, or rely on internal or external partners, getting real and appropriate data is vital. Using vendors who have analyzed other organizations is also appropriate.”
Carla Pollard Stewart, head of HR for bswift, an Aetna and CVS Health company, suggests that HR leaders get creative in these surveys, including questions that force employees to think critically about potential trade-offs so they can better identify what is truly most important to them.
“Then, when you communicate your programs to your employees, be sure to point back to the feedback you received as a measure of inclusivity and so that they can see firsthand their feedback in action,” she adds.
According to Rotermund, predictive models and analytics can allow organizations to track how health priorities change over time and target relevant groups with the programs that appeal to them most.
“You need the right data, including social determinants of health and clinical data, to predict what employees need and will be most receptive to at an individual level… Combining employees’ clinical and claims data with a database of consumer data points can get employers the insights they need to target their employee population,” he explains.
For example, Rotermund says that one large national employer identified back pain as a high-cost area for its employees. Using both internal and external data, the organization was able to adopt a proven program and target the individuals at highest risk to drive higher participation.
The Value of Variety: Delivering Relevant Programming
Welltok’s survey indicates that the majority of employees (84 percent) say their company offers one-size-fits-all programs and 56 percent say these health and well-being programs are irrelevant, wasting time and money. Delivering more personalized programming would motivate over 80 percent of employees to participate more, revealing significant opportunity to drive higher engagement.
“Often, a lack of personalized benefits options means that all generations are going to be frustrated for a variety of reasons,” says Matt Jackson, vice president of client solutions for Thomsons Online Benefits. “For example, an older person may be stressed about whether or not they are contributing enough to a pension, whereas a younger person might be struggling to afford their first home.”
While Welltok reports that financial stability is the number one health goal for employees across the board, other health priorities can differ significantly. For example, Pollard Stewart says that employees just starting their careers are more concerned with building wealth rather than paying for extensive health insurance and are more likely to prioritize 401k plans and reimbursement benefits over health insurance options with expensive premiums.
“When it comes to medical offerings, we find that many workers who are newly entering the workforce do not enroll, as many are still eligible under their parents’ benefits. For those that do, they are more cost-focused buyers and will choose plans with lower premiums. While they want to have the safety net that a medical benefit provides, they are not interested in paying higher premiums,” she explains.
In contrast, she says that workers who are more senior want more robust health plans and are much more concerned with the coverage details of the plan, such as out-of-pocket expenses and in-network doctors. They are also more likely to utilize ancillary healthcare benefits like long-term care and critical care plans and other voluntary benefits that help them plan for their family’s future needs.
Pollard Stewart suggests that beyond offering traditional health, financial planning, and wellness benefits, organizations can appease all employees by introducing low-cost benefits that offer choice while remaining affordable to the organization. “Be creative in considering all benefit areas, including things like ongoing education opportunities and tuition reimbursement, to present a full and holistic picture of employee benefits. This helps with awareness and perceived value.”
Another alternative is offering a stipend or allowance that employees can spend on any activity that improves their overall wellness, Jackson says. This is a great option to provide employees with the freedom, flexibility, and personalization they crave.
Greater flexibility can take the pressure off employees, particularly those in the so-called “sandwich generation” that are required to simultaneously take care of their young children and aging parents. “Benefits like family medical leave or remote work abilities can provide significant relief to allow them to maintain their career path while juggling increased responsibilities at home,” says Pollard Stewart.
But according to Bailey, organizations have to make sure that these new benefits offerings are supplementing—not replacing—traditional benefits if they want to see positive results. “You want a good blend of all these things and not necessarily leave behind the traditional products or benefits like 401k and disability insurance,” she says.
Whatever they choose, HR leaders should make sure that their benefits offerings are aligned with the goals of the business. Organizations should ask themselves what their values are, what they really care about, and what they are willing to invest money into, Gilson says. The answer could be wellness, financial health, professional development, or any other number of initiatives—but all programs must be aligned with those values in order to organically grow and positively impact the organization. Otherwise, they will fall flat and fizzle out.
“Your benefits offerings should encourage the behavior you want your workforce to engage in,” agrees Pollard Stewart. “Think about things like wellness programs that provide discounts on certain activities and rewards incentive programs to recognize employees for engagement and performance milestones.”
Employee Awareness: The Power of User Experience
The right benefits technology can promote and enable greater personalization with minimum effort, making all the difference in benefits access and adoption.
“Despite increased investments in well-being programs, only 16 percent of employees strongly agree that they know where to find all the health and wellbeing resources available to them,” Rotermund says. Employers must address these challenges by making it easy for employees to find and use programs with an integration platform.”
According to Jackson, adopting tools that integrate into a single platform and deliver an end-to-end, seamless experience can help employers optimize each part of the benefits process, from reviewing the data and improving their initiatives to reducing the administrative burden on HR teams and creating a positive user experience for employees. However, organizations have to choose a technology that integrates with their existing tech suite and gives them flexibility, cost evaluations, and risk control from one single platform.
Such a platform can also improve the user experience, making benefits more accessible to employees. “As an employer, you need to be smart about making investments in platforms and tools that allow you to offer a breadth of choice while simplifying the administration and actual execution of it,” says Bailey. “In order to compete in today’s economic climate, it’s important not only to offer benefits choices but to communicate those benefits in a way that people see the value and perceive value in those offerings. Otherwise, you’ll have an issue with retention, and employees will leave and go somewhere where they perceive the value of the benefits to be better.”
In order to get the best return on investment, Pollard Stewart emphasizes that organizations clearly and consistently provide tailored communication to each employee to drive deeper engagement in the programs. Offering a variety of communication channels through in-person meetings, videos, phone calls, texts, and mobile apps can allow all employees to engage in a way that is comfortable for them.
Editor’s note: The views expressed by Carla Pollard Stewart are hers alone and not endorsed by nor necessarily reflect the views of bswift, its affiliates, or their employees.