Historically, employee benefits have been viewed as a routine piece of the HR process. However, the mentality of employees today has shifted, especially among the growing population of millennial employees. Today’s workforce expects more from their employers than the traditional healthcare and retirement options, in terms of both specific benefit offerings and communications about those offerings.

For companies, it’s critical they address the evolving needs of their workforce. With unemployment rates plunging to their lowest levels since before the financial crisis, the search for talent is heating up, and organizations need to work harder than ever to retain top talent in a competitive job market. To do this, I see three steps that organizations need to take when rethinking their benefits strategy and engaging with employees: embrace a proactive rather than reactive benefits strategy, think digital when it comes to employee communications and consider the next generation of employee benefits as a way to differentiate from the competition.

1. Reconsider your benefits evaluation process

The benefits process at most companies is reactive — executives and HR only look to evaluate current offerings when insurance contracts expire or a problem emerges. When the evaluation does happen, the two factors that often concern employers the most are product and price. Employers often gravitate toward well-known insurers that offer the schemes that appear familiar. However, this can often lead companies to choose providers who fall short on innovation and overall customer experience for employees.

This approach needs to be flipped on its head. Companies should be proactive in determining which benefit schemes best meet the needs of their workforce. The first step is going straight to the source: talk to employees. Employers can’t know what benefits would be most appealing to their employee base unless they ask. By turning the evaluation process to employees first, companies can better tailor new benefits to meet the needs of their workers, and also identify existing benefits that might be outdated or irrelevant, therefore saving resources on wasted offerings.

Data and analytics also are playing an increasing role across the HR function, and benefits is no exception. By leveraging technology solutions that allow HR to track benefits usage and engagement, teams can better determine what is resonating with employees and where benefits can be cut back or where they should be ramped up.

2. Put down the brochure and think digital engagement

Employee education is another area of benefits that can often perplex companies. According to a recent survey from Aflac, half of employees only spend 30 minutes or less making benefit selections during the open enrollment period each year. This means employers have a short window of time to educate employees and make sure they are armed with the right information to feel confident in their benefits selection.

To do this effectively, HR needs to move past flat communication like brochures, handouts and lengthy employee packets and look for ways to meet employees where they live — online. By testing out innovations that create a rich experience, while still being simple and intuitive, employers can grab the attention of their workforce and make sure key information is communicated. For example, exploring opportunities to create cross-device experiences for employees so they can interact on-the-go, including augmented reality applications or digital interactive magazines. Additionally, for large corporations, hosting a virtual benefits fair can provide a forum for employees to ask questions in a dynamic setting.

3. Embrace the next-generation of benefits

As organizations become more savvy and nimble, personalization will have a huge impact in encouraging employee engagement and driving satisfaction among today’s increasingly diverse workforce. We have already started to see some companies embrace this new approach to benefits, adding out-of-the-box items to normal offerings — from debt consolidation services and wearable health tracking technology to genome testing and wedding concierge services.

The fact is, the days of “status-quo” benefits are gone, and employees today want benefit options that match their current life circumstances. To best engage employees, organizations need to be proactive in evaluating benefits regularly and using analytics to track usage, identify opportunities to implement digital communication elements and look for ways to introduce new benefits to meet the needs of their employee base. By following these steps, organizations can gain a competitive edge when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

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