How many of your daily business activities have become virtual over the last few years? It’s one of the most exciting trends in the employee benefits industry as it can greatly improve communication efficiencies. From quoting, enrollment and benefits communication to the rapid adoption of private exchanges and benefit administration systems, much of the benefits business has definitely moved online. Workers are now as likely to hear about their benefit options from a video or avatar as they are from an actual person in an enrollment meeting.
At freshbenies, we’ve certainly jumped on the technology bandwagon. The services we offer allow members to visit with physicians without ever leaving their house; our broker and employer portals give clients on-demand access to employee utilization data; and our mobile app with built-in video tutorials lets people learn about and use their benefits right from their smart phones.
Through their mobile devices, an increasing percentage of the American public has internet access, so the rapid growth of benefits technology seems fitting. However, that doesn’t mean employers can sit on the sidelines and hope their workers will understand, use, and appreciate the benefits they’re offered. As I recently witnessed at a Fourth of July celebration for one of our clients, employee benefits is still a contact sport.
Lessons from a barbecue…
A couple weeks ago, a long-time friend of freshbenies asked me to help with an event one of his groups was planning. The Friday before Independence Day, the company was buying barbecue for the employees and giving them an extended lunch break to enjoy the meal and visit with their coworkers. It wasn’t really a party, but the company wanted to do something nice for the employees. Because everyone would be in the same place at roughly the same time, including the salespeople and drivers who aren’t always at the warehouse, the company’s managers thought it would be a good time to do a refresher on freshbenies.
I was happy to participate, and going into the meeting I expected to have a few minutes in front of the employees as a group, perhaps in a big cafeteria, to remind them about their benefits, answer their questions, and encourage them to download our mobile app. That’s not exactly the way it happened. Instead, the HR manager escorted me around the building, introduced me to a few people, took me upstairs to where the food was, and gave me directions to the breakroom downstairs. He then asked me to just “float around” and chat with the employees while they were eating.
Efficiency doesn’t trump personal interaction…
To be honest, this “float around” approach didn’t seem very well planned to me, but it turns out he knew his employees better than I did. If we had pulled them all together into one room for a presentation, the majority would have paid little attention and the 30 percent or so who speak only Spanish would have been completely lost (it’s been 20+ years since I took Spanish in school and I tend to mangle the language when I try to speak it).
As it was, I did as the manager asked and sort of circulated among the employees as they were having lunch, some upstairs near the food line (probably so they could get seconds), some in the breakroom, and some standing or seated in different areas around the warehouse. I talked with a few people individually but mostly spoke to groups of three to six employees at a time. I simply asked if I could interrupt them for a second, told them I was with freshbenies, and asked if they had had an opportunity to use their benefits yet.
The reaction was interesting. While some of the employees clearly would have preferred to keep eating their brisket, everyone was very polite and the majority truly seemed to appreciate the information. In a two hour period, I probably helped 30 or more workers download our mobile app and get logged in, shared login information with a couple dozen more, and gathered several email addresses from employees who weren’t yet receiving our monthly newsletter. There were even two workers who didn’t realize they had freshbenies since they aren’t on the company’s health plan, so they were excited to learn that they and their family members could call or email doctors and advocates at no cost and get help with their prescription costs. Oh, and the language difference wasn’t a barrier at all because for every Spanish-speaking employee there was someone else in the group who was happy to translate.
With benefits, offering ≠ using
At freshbenies, we recognize the value of collaborating with employers to engage employees with their benefits. That’s why, amidst all our awesome technology, we also have a terrific Engagement Coordinator dedicated to helping our groups maximize their benefits – plus, with a background in HR, she brings loads of personal experience and knowledge to the table.
In all, I’d say this was a successful event, and what I learned is that offering benefits is the easy part; getting the employees to understand and use the benefits requires a little more work, and it often takes more than a video or flyer on the company’s benefits portal to get their attention. For some employees—and possibly for the majority of employees—brokers and employers may need to visit with them one-on-one (maybe even while they’re eating a big plate of barbecue).
Now it’s your turn! How do you balance the efficiencies of technology with personal interaction to communicate benefits, and do you think it’s important? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.