Benefit blunders can provide professional moments of learning

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From successful business strategies to the best communications plans for open enrollment to vital lessons from corporate board rooms, we often pay the most attention to the case studies of what went right or what strategies have worked best.

A tougher assignment is getting HR and benefits pros to talk about mistakes they made — and what they learned from those experiences. It’s not easy to track down professionals who are willing to share those stories, but that’s what contributing writer Richard Stolz tackled for our feature “Benefits Blunders.” Why learn the hard way, when Employee Benefit News’ editors and writers have done the heavy lifting for you?

The landscape is littered with misconceptions, strategy fails and just plain bad decisions, providing fertile ground for those seeking an education on what not to do. Stolz wondered what lessons our readers might be able to ascertain from some pros who may have under- or overestimated the cost of a benefit, for instance, or possibly picked the wrong vendor, or countless other mistakes one may not always talk about. Among his interviews, he talked with Sarah Sardella, senior director of global benefits and HR operations for Akamai, and J. Brian Coleman, vice president of total rewards at Dawn Foods, a baking ingredient company with distribution centers throughout the U.S. and Canada. From both he learned that overreliance on technology does have its downfalls.

Despite the upside that various technologies and apps may provide, Stolz reports that many employers found that relying on email blasts, website updates and other impersonal methods to inform employees about major benefit initiatives doesn’t always cut it.

“I’ve learned that you just have got to get out there and get in front of people to drive home essential messages about the potential value of particular benefits,” Coleman said. That turns him into a road warrior around the annual open enrollment season, but the travel and face-to-face meetings are worth the effort, he said.

As Akamai’s Sardella put it: “The minute you walk in the door [of a satellite office], you become a human being,” she said. “It builds credibility.” Read also about how Barry Schilmeister, a senior health consultant for Mercer, warns against the trap of overestimating company savings from employees choosing less-expensive health plan options, and how Willis Towers Watson’s Cecile Chang handled one client whose CFO questioned a new co-pay formula in the company’s pharmacy benefit plan.

Our cover feature highlights some of the top companies that boosted benefits so far this year. From fertility benefits to parental leave and new options for gig workers and student loan benefits, companies made significant changes to their packages in 2019, which senior editor Caroline Hroncich compiled in a comprehensive list of employers that sharpened their offerings. A host of companies including Bloomberg, Diageo, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and J.M. Smucker improved their parental leave benefits offerings, for example, and others — including Advance Financial and Travelers — added student loan repayment benefits.

Take a look here at 42 companies that made big changes and all the right moves to their benefits packages in 2019.

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