Perks: Are They The New Employee Benefit?

Perks: Are They The New Employee Benefit?

Every year I teach a group of graduate human resource students about employee benefits. I begin the first class by asking my students for examples of what they consider to be a “benefit” for employees. I never provide them a definition which allows them to rely on their own experience and background. My students are all adults, having worked for years in many different sectors and sizes of companies. They come from large established corporations, small tech start-ups, and non-profits so, of course, there are varied opinions.

We begin by noting the “benefits” on a wall-size white board. Within a short period of time, the entire board is covered with examples. They range from the more traditional benefits such as medical and life insurance to offerings that we generally think of as perks. Perks such as flexible work weeks, free food, fitness trainers, computer discounts, movie tickets, child care and the list goes on and on. As we continue our discussion, it becomes clear that the differentiating line between benefits and perks has begun to blur. Essentially the board, full of examples, all represent “benefits” that employees would appreciate. The 40 year old married, mother of 3, is thrilled with true flexible time where she can easily leave work mid-day to be with her children. The 25 year old, single guy is excited about the Blue Apron discount so he can improve his cooking skills and eat healthy.

Perks bring ease to our employees’ lives. And ease means, less stressed, healthier, happier, and certainly, more productive employees.Isn’t that the goal of our wellness strategy?Here’s what I found to be the 3 primary usages of perks in organizations that are known as Great Places To Work:

Alignment – The perks are aligned with the population. I’ve found that generally perks become an afterthought in an organization. They have been around for years and often do not align with the existing employee base. Alignment is key in making perks meaningful. Perks such as longer paternity leaves and support for child care will gain a lot of fans within an organization with young parents.

Organization – Generally perks are “all over the place.” They are managed by various groups and frankly, who even knows if most of them still apply. Meaningful perks are managed just like any other program. This allows an organization the ability to keep them fresh, valuable, and take advantage of available upgrades. A valuable by-product is that the perks are better communicated to the employees.

Reporting – I would bet that many of us have perks available and we are completely unsure how often or if the perk is being used. As an example, do we know how many people have taken advantage of that PC discount? Offering perks that allow for reporting and trackingare key. Tracking is a necessary step to ensure that your perks are what your employees care about.

As I’ve worked with organizations and surveyed employees in the design of their wellness strategies, I find that often the things employees remember most are the perks. It’s the “thing” that their employer provided that brought ease and happiness into their lives, often costing the employer very little. So reconsider your perks. They can be meaningful to the success of your organization and a great support to the infrastructure of any wellness program.

Insights from HLTH: Healthcare

Insights from HLTH: Healthcare

Last week I spent 4 days at the inaugural HLTH conference in Las Vegas. The goal of HLTH was to initiate a collaboration to “take the waste out of health care.” Intrigued with the goal, me and 3,499 people from many areas of healthcare, ventured into Las Vegas to focus on the problems with our existing health care system and share potential solutions.

Just to clarify the attendees, those represented were digital health care companies, health plans, health systems, employer health care consultants, employers, and venture capitalists. My primary interest was how all these interesting and innovative solutions can or will impact the employer community. More specifically, how these newer health solutions effectively impact employer health cost and deliver substantial results while bringing ease to employers and their employees. There were 3 specific areas that stood out to me. Areas that will continue to gain attention in the public health space and consequently influence employer offerings.

Genomics!!

The conference kicked off with lots of energy around population health, personalized medicine, big data, and genomics. We heard examples of how the state of Nevada, payer collaborations, and pharma partnerships are coming together to make genetic results relevant to managing our health. The potential impacts in this area are huge! There are employers who now are providing employees access to genetic tests. Tests that inform the employees how they can be healthier. As genomics expands and the opportunities to use the results grows, I see this becoming a much more desired health benefit.

Personalized Nutrition.

I listened to many speakers and panelists who often described the impact of nutrition on health. There is nothing new about this statement. What did surprise me was the lack of innovative nutrition solutions available. Surveys indicate that workplace wellness nutrition programs are on the down trend. That makes sense as there are plenty of options and information available directly to the consumer. However, with growth in the genetic and microbiome fields, personalized nutrition is a hot topic. We will have the ability to know exactly what we should or should not be eating to support our personal health. I still see that people will need personal coaching and support. In the end, it’s still about behavior change.

Clinicians.

Despite all the conversation about changing the health care game, there were few clinicians present. Sure the place was full of doctors who were involved in health care technology or investments but where were the clinicians who work with the patients? I shared lunch one day with a physician and nurse practitioner who attended the conference completely due to their personal interest. They were “blown away” by the energy that is evolving around and impacting their profession. They were also in agreement with many of the solutions and the positive impact that these solutions can make to their work. I would like to have more practicing clinicians a part of this discussion and I’m sure there will be. We certainly need our clinicians and having a true patient centered solution would be great for all of us.

As the year progresses, we’ll be emerged in this digital health care evolution as well as other interesting happenings such as the CVS / Aetna merger and the Amazon/ JP Morgan Chase/Berkshire Hathaway partnerships. The changes will impact all of us and will certainly impact employer health strategy as it relates to their employees. I’m not sure how but, whether or not we’re ready, it’s definitely an exciting time.

What Workplace Wellness Data Doesn’t Tell You

What Workplace Wellness Data Doesn’t Tell You

Many of us in employee benefits have, at some point, found ourselves tasked with developing a workplace wellness program. Unlike a health or dental plan, workplace wellness can be a frustrating and costly program to provide to employees. We start out with an employee population that we think we know.  Actually, we do know a lot about them.

We know how many children they cover on our plans, the length of their daily commute, when they last saw a doctor and if they are struggling with a chronic disease or infertility. With all of this information, it should be easy to construct a wellness program that can yield some positive return on health. Yet we find that on average, only 35% of our employees participate and 50% generally don’t even know the program exists. How can that be possible given that we purchase options that are “tailored” to what we know about our employees and create mounds (yes! mounds!) of communication to announce its availability?

In my 20+ years of designing health and wellness programs, I’ve found that there are generally 2 cultures in an organization. The one that the employer knows about and the one that actually exists. This is why we find that some of the most successful programs employ a grassroots approach to wellness which taps into the culture that actually exists. These wellness programs provide access to what employees truly want and need and speak to them in a way that they can engage and remember. A Harvard Business survey of companies that offer a health, wellness, and fitness program, found that 75% of participants agreed that wellness programs need to incorporate a personalized and customized approach. 

Grassroots programs, in addition to activities that people actually care about, incorporate partnership and shared accountability which ultimately lead to engagement.

Engagement leads to the ultimate goal of healthy workforces that, in addition to lower healthcare costs, have been found to outperform their competition given their ability to be more focused at work, think quicker, have better ideas and pivot in industries where change comes quickly and often.

Sound easy? Admittedly, aligning a program to be completely in line with the employee culture is difficult. Even when we know what people would like, there can be conflicts with organizational business goals, legal requirements, money and time, all of which can derail our best intentions. However, building that one bridge within your wellness program that engages with the core culture of your employees can yield exciting and positive results. Although this may be a small piece of your larger program, the excitement around the program can in itself, grow the type of results that add value to the employees, their families and the organization.

So, do you believe a healthy workforce can impact your company’s bottom line? If so, I share with you one suggestion, Set aside a small amount from your wellness budget, Organize a few employees who really care about their health and others, and Support them in building something phenomenal.

Open Enrollment Sabotaged My Wellness Plan

Open Enrollment Sabotaged My Wellness Plan

When I received my Open Enrollment booklet that year there was a big change. There were new medical plans, actually high deductible plans. At first I ignored them until I noticed the monthly employee deductions. It was going to cost me triple to stay in my low cost, copay for my services, plan. The high deductible option required a lower monthly pay deduction however, I was going to be on the hook for the first $2,000 of my medical services.

That was years ago when my company moved 75% of its employees out of our comfortable 100% paid HMO plan to a consumer directed health plan option. As an account executive, what a great story I was able to tell to potential corporate clients who were interested in those plans for their own employees. They could save lots of money, still provide coverage to their employees and finally find a way to engage their employees in their own health.

Despite all the studies that indicate improved health outcomes, worse health outcomes, or lower employer costs, there still is no “right” answer when it comes to how employees will react to being “pushed” to a consumer directed (high deductible) health plan. Although our organizations seek to foster a congruent culture, within it we have many types of employees each requiring a path to changing and adopting corporate strategies.

Not providing that path to change leaves us with unhappy and stressed employees and is completely counter to our desire for healthier employees.

The types of employees that I’ve encountered throughout the years include:

Missed the Communication – This employee somehow did not pay enough attention when making their selections and enrolled in a high deductible plan. Later in the plan year, they get an unexpected bill from their doctor and simply can’t understand what happened. They call the Benefits Call Center immediately to complain and broadly share with their co-workers how “crappy” the company benefits plan have become.

Unprepared – This employee understood what they signed up for and made the decision because they needed a small monthly employer deduction. Now that they’ve had medical services, they are in a payment plan with their medical group that will last a year. They are feeling the additional cost of their medical plan and don’t know how to seek lower cost services such as alternative labs and mail-order drugs. Financial stress is an added burden for this employee.

Uninformed – An example here would be Lois. Lois owned 10+ properties and was a wiz at financially managing millions of dollars in the real estate world. When it came to her benefits, she was paralyzed. She would pay a considerably higher monthly deduction just so she could continue paying a $25 copay when she went to the doctor. Lois understood nothing about how deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums or preventive care services work. Lois also would not think highly of her benefits and be angry about the costs.

Engaged – Yes, this employee can predict their health costs, determine the best plan, understand the out-of-pockets and deductibles, identifies the risks and generally makes the best decision for themselves. This employee “has it together” and is not distracted by the plan options. It’s what we all hoped all our employees would understand from the many communication and tools provided.

Obviously the engaged employees are less distracted and stressed and more capable of focusing on personal and corporate initiatives.

Before we finish up our open enrollments and completely wind down for the holidays, consider planning how we can support Missed the CommunicationUnprepared, and Uninformed in the new year. Depending on the significance of the changes to your plans this open enrollment, ongoing outreach and attention may be the difference between anyone paying attention to upcoming company initiatives including your wellness programs.

Why We Hate Going to the Gym

Why We Hate Going to the Gym

Designing workout programs can always lead to better outcomes when we pause and look around us and look at ourselves.  I was running errands today and passed by a local gym. The parking lot was full and people were in their exercise clothes heading into the gym to get a workout. This made me reflect on times that I’ve joined a new gym.

Joining a gym brings this wonderful feeling of hope…

  • I’m going to lose that extra 15-20 pounds.
  • My arms won’t be flabby anymore.
  • I’ll look awesome in that dress.
  • I’m finally getting my blood sugar balanced.
  • I’ll  look good, people will notice and say “Did you lose some weight?”

And at the same time, we can also tell ourselves a lot of stories…

  • I’m going to the gym 5 days a week, immediately following work.
  • 1 hour on the treadmill every day will do it!
  • And salads everyday for lunch and dinner to support my exercise.

The thing I find most interesting is the difference between the hopeful feeling we have before we join the gym and then what happens after we join the gym. We can be so inspired when we first sign up that we lose sight of how we’re going to make any of these things happen. Before we know it, it has been 6 months and we notice the monthly charge on our credit card statement, reminding us how often we DON’T go to the gym.

I’ve had this happen to me many a time. Sometimes I get real energized and decide that I’m going to try it again. Make some new pledges to myself and this time, make it happen. There have also been the times I simply got sick of wasting my money and decided to find another solution.

Those I know who are successful, have a plan that is customized for them.

Here are some examples:

Cheryl loves salsa dancing. She found a dance class with an energizing instructor.  Now she moves around everything on her schedule to make sure she can attend.

Daria significantly increased her amount of walking by walking to her errands. She walks to the grocery store and to get her morning coffee. She regularly gets 8,000 to 10,000 steps every day.

Teresa hired a nutritional consultant to help her enjoy her food choices while losing 15 pounds. She also has gotten her family to eat more vegetables which makes her feel good about how her children are eating.

The common thread is
Do things you like
Do things that you know will get the result you want
Do things that are sustainable

Does our programs give our users the flexibility they need to be successful?