Voluntary benefits are on the rise. According to the Aon Survey on Health 2021 and Beyond, 80 percent of organizations reported that they offer or are interested in offering plans that support financial wellness, including critical illness, accident and hospital indemnity, up from 73% in 2020. For many organizations, voluntary benefits are a valuable way to offer more comprehensive, thoughtful benefits for employees without a major impact to the bottom line. And after a challenging 2020 with a number of stressors for employees — mental health, financial wellness and more — these benefits have even more potential.
But if employers don’t think through the employee experience, employees are unlikely to realize the value of those benefits, leading to low utilization. The best way for employees to see how those benefits help them or contribute to their financial wellbeing, is to understand how they work together with their other benefits.
Employers also need communication strategies and tools that meet employees where they are — including their phones. There are several ways employers can enhance the employee experience, and many are moving in that direction. Aon’s research shows employers are interested in digital health apps (43 percent), virtual access to specialists (38 percent), self-management tools (36 percent) and navigation and consumer engagement platforms (42 percent). The good news is that tech companies are ready to respond, and solutions exist — the employers that get there first can gain a competitive edge with talent.
Below are guiding principles to help employers enhance the employee experience and maximize the value of voluntary benefits.
Focus on Better Tech
Clunky interfaces and slow connections are a thing of the past. Employees are used to a high-quality digital experience — and those promote confidence in their benefits and what they’re signing up for, making it more likely they’ll take an active approach to benefits enrollment each year. When evaluating platforms, employers should look at how agile vendors are, their product road maps and how often they’re releasing updates.
Provide Decision Support Tools
The value of voluntary benefits is often clearest to employees when they enroll in major medical benefits. Some enrollment platforms can show them the out-of-pocket exposure associated with the plans they select — and then they can see how a supplementary benefit can help guard against the out-of-pocket costs, ultimately helping them manage both finances and stressors. As the market moves toward more self-service platforms, it’s critical that employees are armed with that type of information — and decision support — to make the best decisions for themselves. According to Aon’s research, 81 percent of employers want decision support tools; these will help employees understand gaps between their individual needs and employers’ core offerings.
Decision support tools help employees look at their situations and profiles in a more targeted way. Physically active employees in their 20s are more likely to consider accident coverage over critical illness or hospitalization — but those who are older and who have experienced hospitalization and critical illness themselves or for a family member may be more likely to consider those benefits. Most important is having the decision-making tools that improve the employee experience and the long-term value of the benefits.
Hyper-personalized communication has become the norm in multiple areas of life — from retailers that recommend products based on a customer’s purchase history to targeted emails and advertisements from news outlets. The employee benefits experience is no different.
Employers and carriers should be moving toward hyper-personalization to help employees match their specific needs with benefits products. The personalization opportunities range from how to communicate with them on their devices of choice — say, getting information on a mobile phone, a laptop or in print — to sending specific information based on their age, geography and other demographic attributes. Employers can use their existing employee data to make hyper-personalization more seamless and even automate it.
Streamline the End-to-End Experience
When employees need to file a claim — particularly when they or a family member is dealing with a health issue — the ease of administration and streamlined communication will set the experience apart. Some insurers are adopting intuitive claim models, a form of auto-adjudication that makes the entire experience better. Say, for instance, an employee fractures a leg; the carrier knows the sequence of events that follows and where the employee’s benefits align. The carrier can automatically process that claim with little intervention from the employee.
In highly streamlined models like these, data, transparency and connectivity help the employer understand costs and utilization, and the employee experience becomes far better. The employee doesn’t have to give as much information to get paid because it’s all being uploaded and processed automatically; in some cases, the insurer reaches out to the employee only to finalize the coverage or pay the benefit. In others, it might be sending a notice to the employee that an event has triggered an eligible claim.
A wellness claim could include a $50 to $100 benefit should an employee get their annual checkup. That type of benefit can and should be adjudicated automatically in the future. More and more carriers are finding ways to connect to medical data to be able to do that — which can be a huge bonus to employees and help them realize, in highly tangible ways, the value of their voluntary benefits.
The employee experience plays a significant role in whether employers maximize the value of their benefits investments. When done well, both employers and employees reap the rewards.