Experts Share How to Blend Tech and a Human Touch for a Vibrant Employee Experience

Are aliens invading the planet? Are robots taking over? Is AI coming for our jobs? 

These days, everything’s feeling…well, a little less human. And while the expansion of technology offers many benefits, there’s also reasonable cause for concern, especially when it comes to our world of HR. 

After all, our employees are still looking for human connections at work. No robot can substitute a hug from a coworker, a word of encouragement from a boss, or a fun happy hour after a long day. And especially when it comes to navigating those complicated benefits questions, employees still want guidance from a trusted expert. 

So how can we take the best of what technology offers and combine it with a human touch? During Camp Engage this year, we explored that question and heard from real-life experts about how they’re strengthening the employer-employee relationship. Here’s what they had to say.

Meet the Speakers

Kristen Weeks

SVP, Strategy, Corporate Development & Partnerships, Accolade

Dana Hamerschlag

COO, Jellyvision

Sam Kina

Moderator

SVP, Data Science, Jellyvision

How can we take a people-first approach to our employee relationships?

Our panelists highlighted that employees want to be seen as people first and foremost. While they’re here to perform a job, they want their employers to recognize that they’re not just a cog in a machine:

 
0 %
of employees say it’s important for their organization to see them as a person, not just an employee

So if it feels like your HR team has focused more on paperwork than people, it’s time to change. Fostering human-first interactions is crucial for any successful employer today. But what does that look like in the world of employee benefits?

"When you ask employees how their employer actually views them, only 45% say their company sees them as a person first. So there’s a huge gap between what employees want, and what their employer is actually doing. Listening and personalization go hand-in-hand to give employees a safe, confidential space to share what’s important to them from a health perspective, and then give them personalized guidance."
Dana Hamerschlag
COO, Jellyvision

Weeks echoed Hamerschlag, agreeing that benefits needs change drastically from one employee to the next. She added that employers today view their benefits packages as more than basic healthcare—it’s a way to attract and retain talent.

"At Accolade, we’re seeing 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

But with so many employees and so many different healthcare needs, is it really worth it to keep adding new resources that may only be used by a handful of individuals? Weeks says yes: in her experience, even if a given employee only uses a subset of their total benefits offerings, they appreciate that their employer offers a broad range of resources that help all of their coworkers. They want to work for an organization that values the needs of all employees, no matter their background.

How do benefits fit into the employer value proposition? 

As Weeks alluded to, employee benefits are about a lot more than ensuring employees stay healthy to perform their job. It’s about communicating your organization’s mission and values and tying your benefits package to your overall employer value proposition.

"Even the term ‘employer value proposition’ comes off as traditional and old-school. But as a concept, it still rings true. 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

In today’s world, it’s also important to recognize that benefits need to go beyond a few simple medical plans.

"COVID forced employers to acknowledge that employees need to be healthy in body and mind in order to do their best work, but they also need to be in a position to support their family. Being effectively supported by their employer goes beyond a paycheck, and expands into a benefits package that works for everyone they care for."
Kristen Weeks
SVP, Strategy, Corporate Development & Partnerships, Accolade

Accolade offers an expert medical opinion service, and many employers offer it not only to employees and their dependents but to elderly parents, in-laws, and other family members. Weeks says it’s a better way to support employees’ entire lives so that they can bring their best selves to work every day.

What role can technology play in personalizing the benefits experience? 

A people-first approach to benefits doesn’t mean we should rule out technology altogether. Our panelists shared how technology can help support stronger employee-employer relationships and that it’s an important tool in personalizing the benefits journey.

"We at Jellyvision believe that technology plays a key role, but not the only role. There’s contradicting data that shows that 60% of employees would rather use a self-service HR portal than talk to a human. But on the flip side, 40% of employees would rather talk to an HR rep about their benefits questions. Depending on the person and situation, people want different forms of interaction."
Dana Hamerschlag
COO, Jellyvision

But catering to both audiences can be difficult when you’re trying to build a singular benefits communication strategy. Helping one or five people choose their benefits via their preferred learning method is fairly straightforward. But providing white-glove service to hundreds or thousands of people can feel like an insurmountable task. So Hamerschlag points out that this is where technology can be most helpful: to achieve scalability and reach the right people, at the right time, with the right message. 

Weeks also shared that technology can be helpful when it comes to anticipating upcoming healthcare needs.

"Data and technology also give us an opportunity to be more predictive about what employees would most benefit from. We spend a lot of effort analyzing claims data sets, demographic inputs, and propensity models, so that we can reach our members early in their healthcare journeys to predict what healthcare needs or expenses could arise down the line."
Kristen Weeks
SVP, Strategy, Corporate Development & Partnerships, Accolade

She also acknowledged that technological recommendations are only one piece of the puzzle. For example, technology might recognize that an individual is likely to be diagnosed with diabetes in the future. But for a variety of human reasons, they may choose not to change their behavior. Perhaps for cultural reasons, they’re not open to changing their diet, or they’ve experienced bias when seeking care. Or perhaps financial barriers or lack of access to transit are preventing them from visiting the doctor. 

That’s when human connections matter. We need those real-life relationships with employees so that they’ll open up to us about why they may not be seeking care.

How can we measure the impact of a personalized benefits experience? 

There comes a time in every HR leader’s life when the CEO or a board member asks them for the cold, hard numbers. “What’s the return on our (very expensive!) benefits investment? How do we know our communication strategies are working?”

According to Hamerschlag, strong metrics can be hard to pin down.

"To be honest, we struggle with this. Everyone’s so focused on building tools for controlling healthcare costs, which is super important. But the way Jellyvision focuses on the problem, we talk about helping people choose, use, and appreciate their benefits. So we have metrics that show how employees have higher awareness, understanding and appreciation for their benefits after using ALEX. But truthfully, the hard-dollar ROI is trickier—because [stronger benefits engagement] translates into things like higher retention or better talent attraction or higher employee engagement. So it’s harder for us to prove that throughline."
Dana Hamerschlag
COO, Jellyvision

For Accolade, many different indicators can prove the value of a benefits engagement tool—like cost savings, clinical outcomes, quality of life metrics like pain reduction, lower absenteeism, and employee NPS. But for Weeks, it’s all about choosing the metrics that best tell your organization’s story.

"I had a really interesting conversation with a customer who was telling me about a benefit they had in place that had hard dollar ROI commitments and a demonstrated track record of meeting them. But she felt like the vendor’s methodology was overly focused on surgery avoidance. What she was most interested in was, ‘Are my employees actually using this? Are they reporting any reduction in healthcare problems?’ I appreciate that she had her own success metrics about how valued the benefit was within her own workforce. At the end of the day it’s about what problem you’re trying to solve, and how well you’re solving it."
Kristen Weeks
SVP, Strategy, Corporate Development & Partnerships, Accolade

What are the most important things to consider before implementing benefits technology? 

When it comes to marrying a people-first approach with the right technology, any old platform won’t do. After all, adding another line item to your already maxed-out benefits budget is a big deal. So it’s important to make sure the technology you choose is worth the spend.

"When we vet new technology along data security dimensions and user experience. It’s important to check those boxes for any new tool. Most importantly, it’s important to answer the question of, ‘Is the tech serving a purpose?’ Is it making it easier for an intervention to be delivered? Is it making it easier for a family member to be engaged in the healthcare experience? Is the ease of use leading to better outcomes? If not, it might just be adding to costs and not worth your while."
Kristen Weeks
SVP, Strategy, Corporate Development & Partnerships, Accolade

There’s no need to jump to an enterprise solution right away, either. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race, and doing a few beta tests can help you learn before you scale.

"I encourage people to experiment with a really good solution for a small cohort of people, because there will be insight from that experimentation. Maybe you can’t replicate it in its entirety, but we can always listen harder and learn more deeply through small-scale trial and error."
Dana Hamerschlag
COO, Jellyvision

Human relationships 🤝 technology

No matter what shiny new technology emerges in the years to come, our first priority should always be to keep the employee experience front and center. If the latest platforms don’t support building stronger relationships with our workforce, then it’s not worth the effort (or the expensive bill). The right tools will mimic a one-on-one conversation with an HR rep, serving as a trusted resource that personalizes the benefits experience when we can’t be there in person to guide our people.

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