Future Proof Your Employee Benefits Program

Pop Quiz: Is Your Benefits Program Future-Ready?

We’ve all had that dream. The one where you’re late for school, you rush to get to class and then – SURPRISE – there’s a pop quiz on a subject you haven’t gone over yet. Right as you reach the peak of anxiety, you wake up in a cold sweat realizing it’s been many years since you’ve been in school and it’s the middle of the night.

As benefit leaders across companies of all shapes and sizes, you’re past the days of contending with pop quizzes. However, there is something valuable in recalling our school days. Here’s why…

We’re all guilty of it – focusing in on the day-to-day of work just to get through the many demands in the little time you have. But the problem with narrowing in on the task at hand is that we often forget to pull back and see the bigger picture. So what does the big picture of a successful benefits program look like? It's "future-ready," meaning it can withstand all of the complexity of the benefits industry, readily adjust to the changes of today and be prepared for the ones that lie ahead is a must.

And although you may not realize it, your benefits program is getting tested every day. Employees' needs shift, workforce diversity demands diverse engagement strategies and administrative complexity means more strain on your team. That’s just at the organizational level. At the industry level, there are broad changes including health care reform with major trends like consumerism that shift what employer-sponsored benefits look like and test your program’s flexibility and adaptability.

So, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate whether your benefits program is getting the highest marks on those tests to determine if it’s actually “future-ready”.

Grading Yourself on the Benefits Maturity Scale

In a previous post, we discussed the different stages of benefits maturity, and how technology has progressed to enable companies to maximize the value of its benefits investment.

The four stages range from low-efficiency, static programs marked primarily by burdensome paper-based processes to the optimal level of benefits management, an insight-driven approach. Reaching this level of benefits nirvana means that benefit leaders have the tools and technology needed to effectively design, administer and evaluate their benefits program while employees have the resources they need to extract the intended value from their benefits.


Now that you know the different stages of benefits maturity, how do you actually assess how your program stacks up?

The Determining Factors

Four determining factors make up the maturity model equation, and depending on how well an organization is addressing each of these factors influences where they fall within the four stages of benefits maturity.

Plan Fit has evolved over time. In the past, one to two options were offered to fit the total employee population. Today’s plan designs provide an increasing variety of benefits that fit the unique needs of the workforce, enabling employees to identify with the plans that fit them best. When you consider that benefits are a significant cost driver to your organization, the degree to which you successfully solve the employee/plan fit equation, can make a difference in the perception of benefits as a strategic asset versus a budget line item.

Where do you fall on the scale?

  • Low: Low plan fit, standardized benefit options.
  • Medium: Limited plan options with more information, but primarily focused on broad risk aversion.
  • High: Expanded options for “right-sizing” coverage including limited decision-support.
  • Very High: Variety of plan options supported by technology, enabling best plan match.

Team Efficiency is all about the benefits team and the amount of time they have to allocate toward different benefit activities. Are those activities primarily administrative heavy, or do you have time to follow through on more strategic initiatives? Health care compliance continues to present new, time-consuming tasks for the benefits function and complexity seems continuous. You’re being asked to take on more, find more cost savings, deliver more nuanced programs – all of which require greater efficiency. Many of your peers are dreaming about the things they could accomplish if they just had that extra time.

Where do you fall on the scale?

  • Low: Time spent mostly on manual data entry and administrative tasks.  
  • Medium: Majority of time spent cross referencing internal systems with information from carriers/vendors.
  • High: Focus on listening to employee needs and designing programs that meet those needs.  
  • Very High: Forward-looking approach with new initiatives being introduced that optimize employee satisfaction with their benefits.

Plan Efficiency is vitally important. Do you have visibility into your systems and the data transparency needed to control costs? Without those insights, the long-term viability of a benefits strategy is jeopardized. With data insights, you’re able to forecast costs, start an intervention plan if one is needed and put your organization in a better position for continuous improvement without adding more burden.

Where do you fall on the scale?

  • Low: Plan is in line with business rules and meets target budget.
  • Medium: Rely on external partners to monitor plan costs.  
  • High: Technology platform provides the tools needed to minor and adjust costs.
  • Very High: Benefits team is in complete control of plan costs and has a three- to five-year benefits strategy.

Employee Engagement, as many benefit leaders well know, covers a broad array of communication, awareness and education. Ultimately, it boils down to how well employees understand the value of their benefit offerings. Emphasize value using the following tactics: (1) brand employee benefits, (2) consider ways in which employees want to receive information such as via snail mail, video or corporate social media and (3) identify the channels that most effectively capture their attention. Generational dynamics may complicate the tools you use to create awareness, communicate and educate your workforce. When you also consider the rise of consumerism in health care, there’s an even greater expectation that you engage with employees using similar tools that their accustomed to using in their personal lives such as video, text, and chat.

Where do you fall on the scale?

  • Low: Employees do not understand their benefits and frequently ask questions. 
  • Medium: Employees are aware of their benefits, but have poor utilization rates.  
  • High: Employees understand their benefits and have access to information to make better decisions.  
  • Very High: Employees understand and appreciate the value of their benefits. 

Once you determine how well you're addressing each of the above areas, imagine what the future of your benefits program could be. Reaching benefits nirvana may seem hard to achieve, but the aspiration must remain not only because employee expectations demand this, but also because your expectations should demand this as well. Once you reach it, there’s no turning back--no surprise pop quizzes for which you're unprepared. This time you'll be ready and so will your benefits programs.

Get more clarity on where your benefits program is today and where you’d like it to be in our upcoming webinar, “4 Ways to Optimize Your Benefits Management Strategy”.