Now’s the Time to Help Our Workforces Not Only Understand—But Value—Their Benefits

Two people talking reading a book together indoors

C-suite leaders, does it feel like we’re constantly being asked to tighten our belts lately?

In the thick of inflation and a potential recession, we’re facing the challenging realities of smaller budgets, reduced staffing, and limited resources. And yet, we’re also working harder than ever to change the dynamic of our relationships with employees, who are rightfully holding us to a higher standard when it comes to how we care for and value them. They expect to be treated as more than a cog in a machine: they’re humans first, and they’re asking us to recognize that—through our words, actions, and company policies. 

In other words, we’re between a rock and a hard place: how can we better connect with and support our workforce without spending more money?

At Jellyvision, we believe a solution is hiding in plain sight: your existing benefits package. But it’s not just the significant investment you’ve already made in employee benefits; it’s ensuring that team members internalize their intrinsic value. 

Our benefits packages offer an enormous untapped opportunity to finally earn our employees’ trust: by demonstrating that we understand their physical, mental, and financial needs and are committed to providing best-in-class care for them and their families. It’s a critical opportunity to achieving a stronger employee-employer relationship. 

But unfortunately, our people don’t yet fully appreciate or take advantage of the significant investment we’re making in their health. So, I hate to break it to you, but I’m adding one more thing to our ever-growing to-do list. Our job now is to bridge that gap, driving greater awareness and engagement with our current offerings. In doing so, we’ll foster stronger connections with our employees, better honor our workforce’s evolving needs, and increase loyalty—all without spending another dollar. 

Now is not the time to cut back on benefits

There’s no dancing around it. An economic downturn means that many of us are having difficult conversations about budget cuts, layoffs, and salary freezes. And despite our best efforts to slow spending, U.S. employers are bracing for an expected 5.4% increase in worker healthcare costs in 2024. That’s a stark contrast to the average annual 3-4% increase that’s been typical over the past decade. For a 1,000-employee company, that’s an additional $1.2 million in healthcare spending every year. Ouch. 

In times like these, it’s tempting to hone in on our biggest line items when we’re looking for ways to save. After all, more than 30% of our overall budget is spent on employee compensation and benefits. So, an instinct to cut back on total rewards makes sense. 

However, in this critical moment, it’s essential to maintain our investment in our people. A recession is perhaps the most important time to focus on supporting our talent—even more than in the good times. I can say confidently that the folks I work with at Jellyvision are the very reason we’ll get through this challenging time, and they’re the ones who will do the real work to carry us through a slow economy. As a fellow HR expert shared, we need them to survive:

"While we’re focusing on costs like many companies are, we’re doubling down on the areas where we know the business needs to go. Talent is never more critical to driving results than in times like now, when we need to hit our objectives and milestones for the year effectively. Now’s not the time to cut back on talent—I think that’s a mistake. There’s still high competition for great talent."
Shelley Colon
SVP, People + Culture Business Partners & Talent Acquisition, SiriusXM

The benefits we offer show employees how much (or how little) we value them. And when our people feel valued, they’re more committed to their work, are more likely to stay for the long haul, and will help us reach the end of the recession tunnel.

"Employers recognize that their benefits package is a signal to employees, showing them that they’re more than their direct contributions in the workplace. Employers want to take care of their broader set of needs, so employees can feel acknowledged and bring their best self to work."
Kristen Weeks
SVP, Strategy, Corporate Development & Partnerships, Accolade

Beware the disconnect: employees are out of the benefits loop

In the past few years, I’ve worked diligently with our leadership team to revisit and expand our benefits offerings, appeal to a more diverse set of health and wellness needs, and reach an increasingly multigenerational workforce. And I bet you’ve been doing similar work, too. So if you’re anything like us here at Jellyvision, you’re already confident that you’re providing your people with the resources they need to stay happy and healthy. 

But how do employees actually perceive those resources? What’s the value to them throughout the year? Unfortunately, as we all know too well, merely offering an enticing total rewards package doesn’t guarantee participation or satisfaction. 

Despite employers spending about $21,500 per person on benefits every year, almost 1 in 5 employees say they don’t have a firm understanding of their benefits package, and 1 in 3 have never taken action as a result of their employer’s benefits communications. 

It’s bad enough that employees aren’t accessing the healthcare resources they need to thrive. But there’s a larger issue at play here: if our employees don’t understand how much we’re spending to protect their health, then they don’t feel seen. And that’s mission critical: 82% of employees say it’s important for their organization to view them as a person, not just an employee—but only 45% of employees believe their organization actually sees them this way. Cue the alarm bells. 

"There’s really compelling data that shows that all of us feel motivated when we’re aligned to a mission, vision, and values. Employees are retained at higher levels, express more loyalty, and are more highly engaged when they feel affiliation with their employer’s value proposition."
Dana Hamerschlag
COO, Jellyvision

So why spend so much in the first place? Is it really worth it to allocate 30% of total compensation costs to benefits when employees aren’t taking full advantage of them? 

The data says yes. Recent research found that 43% of folks who left their jobs cited “the benefits weren’t good” as a top reason. Employees want to feel connected to our benefits, and they’re evaluating us based on the resources we provide. We’re simply not communicating the worth of our offerings effectively enough, leaving our employees detached and unmotivated.

The answer: benefits personalization that’s actually personal

What’s missing? Why is there a disconnect between how much we invest in benefits and how much value our employees gain from them? 

The fact is, there’s a perception gap. Even though we’re offering all of the benefits and sending all of the emails and text messages, employees still don’t perceive that we, as their employer, are doing enough for them. I know; it feels like we’re doing everything we possibly can. Trust me, I know. But even so, we have to do more. 

“Personalization” is thrown around a lot in HR and benefits. But are any of our current tactics actually personal? Does adding an employee’s name to an email greeting make it personal? You know the answer as well as I do: no. 

Instead, employees need real, actual personalization. They need a trusted advisor who gives them the warm fuzzies, helping them feel truly confident in their own unique healthcare decisions and making them feel secure, safe, and connected to us as their employer.

In a recent survey, a majority of respondents described their feelings about their healthcare benefit spending as confusing or frustrating, and 64% of employees told us they would alter their benefits decisions if they had insights into how they had been using their plan.

That means it’s time to move beyond personalized email greetings or even segmented messaging to specific employee populations. Yes, it’s a good foundation. But our workforces need truly individualized guidance that will help them personally interact with the benefits that are most relevant to them—and, in turn, forge a stronger relationship with us. 

It’s the future we’re envisioning here at Jellyvision, with technology that helps employees look back at their own past healthcare use, and look forward to what’s coming for them down the road. 

We’re striving to show employees how well they used their benefits last year, where they could’ve taken greater advantage of their plans, and where there are more opportunities for cost savings. We’re using predictive analytics to help employees anticipate upcoming healthcare needs and expenses, by comparing their unique situation to millions of similar employees and offering more accurate benefits enrollment and spending guidance. And we’re looking at ways to leverage claims data to offer employees individual health recommendations based on their previous behavior.  

Valued benefits lead to valued employers

It’s a snappy buzzword that we throw around in this industry too frequently, but when executed properly, personalization is how we’ll finally increase the perceived value of our benefits packages—without increasing our budgets. 

The result: we’ll finally earn our employees’ trust and appreciation as their employer, leading to a happier, healthier workforce and a greater return on our sizable benefits investment. 

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