Effective Benefits Strategy for Large Employers
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7 Habits to Create a Highly Effective Benefits Strategy & Open Enrollment Experience: Part 2

Last week, I shared a post focusing on the first three habits from Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and how those habits can be translated to our role as HR and benefits leaders in creating a highly effective benefits strategy. In the spirit of sharing, I dive into how we’re specifically implementing those habits here at Benefitfocus to carry out our “Customer #1 Initiative” – where we treat our associates as top priority and give them the opportunity of being the first to experience the gold standard of benefits.

Now, I’d like to share the last four habits and how they relate to the benefits experience:

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

A common phrase that we hear in our professional and personal lives is: “it’s a win-win.” However, in many instances, that mutual benefit is not being fulfilled. A true win-win is not a compromise – it’s a solution that works for both parties.

In the world of employer-sponsored benefit packages and innovative plan designs, there are a variety of win-win strategies that can come into play. Even more, when genuine win-win principles are implemented, they can result in higher employee involvement, faster solutions to perceived problems and trust-building within an organization. Examples of these types of benefit strategies include: wellness incentives to fund health savings accounts (HSAs), providing free chronic disease management programs and offering premium discounts for not using nicotine products. These examples benefit both sides without anyone losing out as part of the agreement.

For this past open enrollment at Benefitfocus, we presented a couple of ‘win-wins’ for our associates and organization. Through BenefitsPlace, we’re able to partner with vendors across the voluntary space and, as such, we’re able to determine the right mix of products to offer our associates as part of the Customer #1 initiative. Here are two examples of how we put this into practice:

  1. Our approach: We launched a partnership with GoodRx Gold, a pharmacy discount program, and BrightDime, a financial wellness coaching application. Benefitfocus made the investment to provide these products at no cost to our associates through the end of 2019.
    Why it’s a win-win: It allows our associates to experience some of these great products before making the personal financial investment, and it allows us to learn the products so we can provide the best implementations to our clients and customers.
  2. Our approach: We also launched a new wellness program with another BenefitsPlace partner – Health Advocate. This program incentivizes our associates to improve their total health and well-being.
    Why it’s a win-win: In a self-funded plan arrangement, it benefits the organization’s bottom line when you have a healthier workforce.

Win-Win Tip: When creating a win-win, it’s extremely important to take a temperature read of the abundance versus scarcity mindset of the involved parties. In order to reach a true win-win, there must be mutual respect for the mutual benefit to be achieved.

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

You can work for months on an innovative benefit plan design and strategy; however, if it does not address the needs and wants of your employees, then valuable time has been wasted. So, in our role, it’s imperative that we take the time to diagnose before prescribing and devote resources to the habit of mutual understanding.

When I first started with Benefitfocus, I started diagnosing by spending a great deal of time looking at benefit enrollment and utilization reports along with claims data analysis, employee demographics and company culture.

Another way to diagnose and get direct feedback is by launching an annual comprehensive survey. Not only have I found it to be a best practice, but it also helps keep a pulse on what employees value in their benefits package and understand what total well-being means to them. At Benefitfocus, we released an annual total well-being survey asking our employees to rate their current benefits, share their well-being goals, provide feedback on our communication methods and give us recommendations for future offerings. In just 10 days, we achieved a 66 percent response rate and almost 3,300 written responses to the five open-ended questions.

Ultimately, we used this feedback to help create our communication campaigns and develop a multi-year approach to our wellness programming and voluntary product options. Our OE Pep Rally, which served as an onsite and virtual Benefits Fair, was a direct result from our associates sharing that they wanted to find out more about the voluntary benefit options available to them. We also made it an option to set communication preferences as part of their open enrollment profile after hearing that our employees wanted to receive text messaging through Benefitfocus Marketplace Message Center. Additionally, I shared some of the survey data directly with our carriers to identify any gaps in coverage or communications, and used that information to improve our benefits platform resource sections.

As an organization, we achieved increased participation rates in our voluntary and specialty products – including a 27 percent increase in employee contributions to their HSA funds.

Seek First to Understand Tip: Data analytics tools can be your best friend. I’ve used Benefitfocus Advanced Analytics to help understand the underlying gaps in our associates’ health literacy and launch communication campaigns that have increased telehealth participation, decreased low intensity ER visits and resulted in higher compliance in treating chronic conditions.

Habit 6: Synergize

Every time I hear the word “synergize” I immediately picture Jane Fonda in leg warmers; however, the habit of creative cooperation is just as exciting.

Our Customer #1 initiative meant that I had a goal to transform our open enrollment event into a world-class experience, and transformation can only occur when you bring highly effective people around the table. So, as I started to build out my open enrollment plan, I met with different teams – creative, video production, platform configuration and service center – and explored all of the differences of opinion, perspective and expertise. We established a regular bi-weekly meeting schedule where we updated the team on all of the Customer #1 projects underway and identified creative solutions to any barriers we encountered. Our synergy allowed us to create an intuitive enrollment experience for all associates because we had the right voices represented on our open enrollment team.

As you begin your journey to executing the most successful benefits strategy and OE experience, it’s essential to understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Synergize Tip: When trying to create synergy with your team, it’s important to have a mutually agreed-upon end in mind that’s results oriented so that differences of opinion can be celebrated for the value they add to the team’s overall common purpose.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

The last of Covey’s habits – Sharpen the Saw – is the habit of renewal. It emphasizes that to increase effectiveness, we must renew ourselves in body, heart, mind and soul.

From a benefits perspective, my focus on sharpening the saw is synonymous with our total well-being philosophy and strategy. At Benefitfocus, my role is to design a culture and environment that allows the total well-being of our associates to flourish through programs, products and policies. We must embrace all pillars of well-being including physical, mental/emotional, financial and social/purpose.

During open enrollment, there are so many options for employees to choose from in such a small window of time. So, it was important to launch our total well-being brand prior to kicking off our 2019 open enrollment experience. That way, I could foster the total well-being foundation while highlighting some of the great company-sponsored benefits we offer our employees.

I worked with our creative team and video production team to unveil our new total well-being brand. We designed a total well-being logo and created a library of photos that embodied the brand. Our team then produced a video that highlighted testimonial stories directly from our own associates revealing their positive experiences with some of our greatest company-sponsored benefits, including our employer contributions to HSAs, company-paid disability, employer match to 401k, paid maternity leave, and our tuition reimbursement program, to name a few. By releasing our video in the summer, our associates had time to watch, learn and digest the benefit information, so when they saw the product in their benefits enrollment workflow, they felt the support provided by their company.

I am now working to release a 2019 total well-being calendar that incorporates quarterly focus areas and product releases. For example, our first quarter in 2019 is dedicated to financial well-being. We’ll hold open enrollment for some of our specialty products in BenefitsPlace with short-term loans, student loan refinancing, college counseling services and more! We’ll also communicate with our associates year round and find more opportunities to better support their total well-being.

Sharpen the Saw Tip: Total well-being is not one size fits all, and when you are working with a multi-generational workforce, there are a variety of ways your employees might want to sharpen their saw. Keep an open mind and make sure you are also taking the time to renew yourself, too!


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