January 09, 2024
Given the changing health care environment over the past few years, including a global pandemic and the explosion of virtual benefit solutions, employers have built a robust network of benefit offerings. Much of this was done by implementing several new vendor programs quickly to meet employee needs in a global environment that depressed health care utilization. Employers are now taking the opportunity to assess these offerings from a more holistic perspective to ensure a positive and seamless user experience.
Below is a summary of key themes and practices discussed during the call.
Employers are leveraging a variety of methods and metrics to create an integrated benefits experience.
Employers recognize that efforts to create an integrated benefits ecosystem must be centered around a positive, hassle-free experience for users. This requires an ongoing feedback loop among relevant stakeholders to identify and address potential pain points and eliminate obstacles. For example, one employer has committed to creating a more seamless benefits experience by implementing single sign-on capabilities between its benefit vendors, as well as aiming to have all benefits resources accessible in three clicks or less.
Feedback on the employee experience is collected and analyzed from a variety of sources, including internal social media channels, pulse surveys, listening sessions and collaboration with employee resource groups (ERGs). Another source employers turn toward are their internal Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) team members to ensure that integration efforts encompass a diverse set of perspectives. To gather candid employee feedback, many employers also solicit feedback and direct quotes from vendor partners (i.e., navigation and engagement platforms, EAP, health plan, medical carriers, etc.) for further insight into employee sentiments and potential areas for improvement.
Another approach a few employers deployed in their efforts to ensure a positive and seamless user experience involved testing the experience firsthand. In fact, one employer on the call shared that its Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) called in as a “secret shopper” to vet the employee experience with the navigation platform.
Vendor collaboration is key to creating an integrated benefits experience.
To ensure that all the point solutions in place work together seamlessly, employers are implementing a variety of approaches, such as hosting vendor summits and creating one-pagers to acclimate vendors to the others within the employer’s overall benefits ecosystem. Some employers on the call noted that vendor summits are a great opportunity to troubleshoot the various ways employees experience their benefits ecosystem and identify additional opportunities for vendor connection. Additionally, some employers have established a primary vendor partner to act as the “front door” navigator through which all other vendor referrals must flow. This approach comports with recent trends reported in the Business Group’s 2024 Large Employer Health Care Strategy Survey, which shows a growing number of employers contracting with engagement platforms to act as an aggregator across all vendor offerings. By the same token, another employer is attempting to ensure that any additional point solution vendors contract through the employer’s primary health plan when possible. This helps limit the burden of additional contract reviews, which is beneficial for HR teams when implementing something new. Employers noted, however, that a difficulty with this approach is that it can require a lot of data sharing and coordination between partners.
Employers are using a variety of communications strategies to increase engagement and streamline benefit offerings for employees and their families.
In pursuit of a seamless benefits experience, employers understand that education plays a vital role in promoting engagement. Several employers hold in-person benefits roadshow events to inform employees about available offerings, with the added benefit that these roadshows are effective in engaging on-site employees who may not use a computer as part of their primary work function. Other strategies to bolster engagement similarly focused on education. These approaches included targeted communication initiatives such as creating “moment in time” communication bundles (e.g., turning 26, mental health crisis, becoming a family caregiver, growing your family, turning 50, college planning, etc.), personalized one-page fact sheets and toolkits, a Benefits A-Z website listing vendor names and key words (e.g., infertility) for easy identification, hosting HR-led webinar series and promoting programs via internal social media channels. In addition, some employers are reframing how programs are named and communicated to employees by listing the condition first, followed by the vendor’s name (i.e., Cancer Care by Vendor Name). One employer even offers a $25 gift card to employees who participate in a monthly well-being champion meeting and score well on a quiz testing their understanding of the benefits information shared; another offers wellness incentives for attending a live well-being webinar.
Along with employee-centric communication initiatives, employers are working to educate vendor partners as well on their existing benefit ecosystems by conducting cultural trainings and hosting vendor summits and monthly collaboration calls. Some employers incentivize employee testimonials to drive visibility for lesser-known benefits. Taking it a step further, one employer shared it is leveraging the quotes received by employees on vendors and incorporating peer feedback, which will then inform their ongoing efforts to promote lesser-known benefit offerings. To foster a more consistent approach, one employer recently launched a virtual wellness center where their medical plan administrator, on-site/near-site clinic and wellness coaching vendor meet regularly to develop communications on the benefits of using the wellness center. Moreover, by promoting cross-referrals, employers are hoping to drive greater engagement, though it is important to note that referrals don’t necessarily reflect the actual level of engagement. Nonetheless, this approach can be successful as demonstrated by one employer on the call, who put in place a referral fee and saw a spike in utilization for its disability vendor’s program. Other strategies shared by employers included having their disability vendors send out personalized and timely communications leveraging claims data as well as compiling and sharing all the different vendor offerings available to support financial well-being.
Alongside the strategic partnerships employers are pursuing to foster a cohesive employee experience, employers discussed some additional levers available that can be harnessed to further these initiatives. For example, an existing area of opportunity for employers to also be aware of is that there are many point solutions already incorporating mental health-related resources within their offerings that employers can freely leverage. Vendors can also collaborate among themselves on communications; for example, one employer mentioned that it uses its disability vendor to ensure that all employees on disability also receive a communication highlighting other relevant benefits. Likewise, employers should also stay abreast of how some vendors are beginning to identify and roll out analytics and other support tools that utilize artificial intelligence (AI) technology to derive feedback and insights.
Throughout the call, employers shared their organizations’ strategies, successes and ongoing challenges in building an integrated benefit ecosystem. In summary, employers are actively strategizing and taking proactive steps to create a more integrated benefit ecosystem that prioritizes vendor coordination, streamlined communications and effective navigation platforms.