Employee Engagement with a Side of Benefits

For some organizations, this is “open enrollment” season: time for employees to select their annual benefits coverage. Typically, there are numerous options to choose from, and the process can be a bit overwhelming. Some employees opt to have the basics pre-selected for them, and others spend hours examining everything and trying to determine the best fit.

I don’t know about you, but this process is far from engaging. Employees walk away feeling frustrated with higher annual premiums, less coverage, and, yes, too many options to make sense of what’s really the best bet for themselves and their families.

The thing is, benefits can be engaging…if the organization spends a bit more time educating employees on benefits options and making the process more meaningful.

Determining Options

Organizations make choices about benefits offerings based on pricing, need, and availability. But how often are they determining selection based on employee preference? If we don’t take preference into account and just lay out a long list of options that may work…well, that becomes the opposite of engagement. It lacks personal interest.

HR can help direct the benefits selection and administration through the use of employee surveys and regular conversations/training/website updates. The key here is to understand what your employees need and what’s important to them. If they’ve got some input – more like a personal voice in the mix of benefits administration – they will be more directly involved in the process and therefore, more engaged.

Talk to your employees. Find out what’s important to them and allow them to be part of the decision making process.

À La Carte

From gym memberships to smoking cessation programs, having the ability to go “à la carte” and choose based on preference can be a great way to help employees feel empowered in making benefits selections.

Think of it this way: your favorite fast food restaurant typically has “value selections” that you can order right off the menu, without having to look at the entire menu board. These selections are grouped together in meals that “make sense,” such as a sandwich, fries and a drink. You pay one price and get all three. It’s easy if you want the whole meal, but sometimes you don’t want the drink or want to substitute a salad for the fries. In this case, buying à la carte off the menu might be cheaper, and you get exactly what you want – without the extra items thrown in.

À la carte benefits work the same way. Tailoring benefit election to specific needs or wants makes the selection process more meaningful and can get employees excited about “shopping” for coverage.

The most common benefit packages include things like health and dental insurance, life and disability insurance…but how about egg freezing, extended parental leave, or pet care? Many organizations now offer a wide variety of options that appeal to employees, giving them the flexibility to choose what works for them. Don’t box them into something that just doesn’t make sense.

Choice=Incentive

In the technology field, gender bias is still very much at play, and this places a burden on those women trying to blend career and family. There is a strong need for women in technology, but there are a large number of women who feel they can’t continue a career in this industry and have a family at the same time.

In fact, the Center for Talent Innovation, a global think tank, found that “32 percent of female SET (science, engineering and technology) employees in the U.S., 22 percent in Brazil, 30 percent in China and 20 percent in India were considering leaving their fields within a year, according to the report. Among SET senior leaders, 31 percent of women in the U.S., 22 percent in Brazil, 51 percent in China and 57 percent in India reported that a woman would never get a top position at their company, no matter how capable or high-performing.” Unfortunately, this is the reality at some organizations.

In an effort to support the recruiting and retention of women in technology, Apple and Facebook are determined to provide choices that support a woman’s effort to balance work and family. In addition to egg freezing, they also offer flexible day care options, nursing rooms, and extended family leave.

Not only are Apple and Facebook offering choices but they are strengthening their culture as well. Rewarding skill and talent by demonstrating how much employees are valued to the overall success of the organization-realizing that if they don’t provide choice, employees will go elsewhere to find it.

While many organizations may not have the resources to offer these specific benefits, especially at scale, there are plenty of ways for companies to create and offer interesting choices and incentives. Everything from monthly on-site massages to outplacement options can help companies stand out among potential candidates, while also keeping employees engaged through the entire lifecycle.

When we have choices, we often perceive this as an incentive to become more engaged in what we’re working on…whether that’s a team project, reporting deadlines or yes, choosing benefits coverage. Having the right mix of plans and options that reflect employee needs goes a long way to increasing retention and creating loyalty.

Engage your employees by allowing them to add their voice by choosing what works for them.

Based in the Washington, DC area and with 15 years of industry experience, Rachelle Falls provides client service solutions in the areas of HR, Social Media, Marketing, and Brand Management. Rachelle holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business from West Virginia University and a Master’s of HR degree in Strategic Human Capital Management from Georgetown University. She’s an HR pro, blogger, and conference speaker. Follow her on Twitter @CorporateHRGirl and on LinkedIn.

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