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Using Technology to Save Benefits a Seat at the Table

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It’s often said a company is only as good as its least happy employee, so it’s likely not a good sign that 64% of American workers believe that their employer and workplace are having a negative or very negative effect on their well-being, according to research from Thomsons Online Benefits.

In a competitive job market, this sentiment can be incredibly harmful because a company’s workplace reputation and culture are two of the most important points for prospective employees when they’re considering a job offer. When looking to boost employee happiness and overall wellness, the types of benefits employees receive can make a big difference. However, benefits leaders require a seat at the executive decision-making table to successfully shape — and then fully implement — a transformative benefits strategy.

Benefits teams in forward-thinking global organizations are moving away from focusing on purely operational, traditional rewards strategy and instead are creating the best possible experiences that enrich employees’ lives and bolster their well-being. Technology is aiding this transition and ensuring benefits, as a subset of HR, can quantify its value to the executive team with hard data. Having freed up time from the burden of manual administration, there are four key actions benefits teams can take to advocate for themselves to drive improved employee wellness and job satisfaction: taking on a strategic leadership role, putting data to work, driving employee engagement and demonstrating ROI.

Taking on a Strategic Leadership Role
HR must shift from an administrative function to having a strategic partnership with the rest of the organization, Harvard Professor Michael Beer wrote 21 years ago in The Transformation of the Human Resource Function.” While that process has long been under way for HR, it’s a more recent reality for benefits teams. Benefits leaders must begin asking the right questions to prove the ROI of benefits program in order for executives to fully see their value and be willing to further invest in them. For example, has a particular initiative improved the uptake of benefits by demography, business unit or location? Or, how is offering personalized benefits supporting the company's global recruitment and retention strategies?

Successful benefits professionals use sophisticated technology that provides detailed and accurate information about global benefits spend. The world is moving too quickly for laborious, manual data gathering from different brokers, consultants and systems in each country. Instead, the best benefits teams focus on leveraging technology that enables them to access and analyze data by region, country and demographic in real time, and is flexible enough to accommodate local nuances in each country. Once the data ar accurate, consistent and current, they can be leveraged to guide benefits spend decisions, such as investing more in preventive wellness initiatives in countries or demographics where medical claims are high or creating personalized and targeted campaigns to individual employees encouraging take-up of underutilized benefits.

Putting the Data to Work
Companies can leverage their benefits trend data to make better decisions and ultimately achieve business objectives — but only if that data are suitable for strategic analysis in the first place. To really harness the power of big data for business gain, global companies must ensure that any data used for decision making are accurate, accessible and secure. After that, the only thing missing is the right analyses.

To generate meaningful insights that drive performance, benefits leaders need data that properly mine and process the human capital data they have. Once global reporting technology is in place to aid in making these discoveries, benefits teams can better control budgets and build effective employee engagement plans across countries. Employers are able to analyze where they are spending their benefits budget and compare it against benefits take-up to measure their programs’ effectiveness. They can then tweak spend as appropriate or increase awareness campaigns for benefits with low take-up. Furthermore, employers are able to identify which benefits are most appreciated by which demographic and create a more personalized offering, driving employee engagement.

Using the Data to Drive Employee Engagement
Global benefits reporting also gives HR teams the ability to see the uptake of benefits across demographics or evaluate the cost of a particular benefits stream (e.g., well-being). Looking at benefits data trends empowers employers to identify the types of benefits that appeal most to the workforce.

Many of our assumptions about what benefits employees want don’t always hold true. Regional or generational stereotypes should not be used as the basis of a benefits strategy. For example, Thomsons’ annual Global Employee Benefits Watch report found specific regional discrepancies in benefits preferences. American employees displayed much lower expectations of employer support around certain life events:

  • 45% of Americans viewed traveling for more than one month a year as important, compared with 70% of employees in Asia Pacific
  • 28% of Americans placed a priority on cultural activities such as going to the theater or museums, in contrast to 59% in Latin America.

However, Americans have some of the highest expectations from employers when it came to support in achieving work-life balance (75%) and at 78% came second only to Latin America (90%) in the expectation of enjoying work. Designing a personalized benefits program that people really value is critical to maintaining a fulfilled, productive and successful workforce. 

Demonstrating ROI
Benefits data analysis also can lead to significant cost savings. By taking data from the different countries and regions an organization operates in, employers can identify their liabilities in different areas and look for opportunities to reduce them. For example, retirement plans and medical expenses in specific geographies can be costly, so being able to identify where employees are less interested in these benefits presents a significant cost savings opportunity.

To start taking on more of a leadership role within the wider company, benefits leaders should meet with the C-suite to map out how the benefits program can enhance the organization's strengths, provide a competitive hiring advantage and improve budgetary outcomes. The data analysis can then provide big picture insights on the progress of these goals throughout the year.

Ultimately, for benefits to get a seat at the table, benefits leaders need to advocate for themselves using a technology-enabled benefits strategy. By focusing on a technology-driven strategy that amasses employee data and uses analytics capabilities to identify and then develop the programs their employees really want, benefits leaders will be able to build incredible employee experiences and have their voices heard as important leaders in the organization.

About the Author

Matt Jackson is vice president at Thomsons Online Benefits. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn

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