5 ways to make sure your wellness benefits are hitting the mark

Lee Hafner | March 19,2024 | Employee Benefits News

Employers build benefits packages with the best of intentions, but too many options or the wrong ones altogether can frustrate employees and drain company resources.

Nearly half of employees said they are confused by parts of their benefits plans in a recent survey by MetLife, while other studies place the number as high as 85%. An overwhelming amount of options is an issue for some, but 53% cite a lack of communication from employers, according to financial services company LIMRA. For others, the frustration lies in not having access to the benefits they need: The Employee Benefits Research Institute found that almost 20% of employees would go as far as taking a lower wage in exchange for more comprehensive healthcare offerings.

But before employers can change anything, they should first listen to what their employees actually want, says John Crable, SVP at insurance and employee benefits brokerage Corporate Synergies.

“List what you [as the employer] want to accomplish, list what’s important to your population, then find out what you have,” he says. “It may mean consolidating, it may mean eliminating or adding or replacing, but let’s make sure we’re delivering on that list.”

 1. Offer mental health benefits to kids, too

While mental health and wellness have been major focus areas for employers over the past few years, a gap still exists for working parents. In a recent survey from hybrid healthcare platform Amwell, more than four out of five parents said mental health coverage for their children was an even larger priority than coverage for themselves.

“There are a lot of families looking for mental health support for their children,” Crable says. Between social media and just growing up, [kids] feel stressed and under pressure. There’s a push to find one mental health provider who offers virtual support, provides in-person sessions when desired, and can support teens and adolescents.”

A study by Johns Hopkins found that more than 20% of kids ages 3-17 have been diagnosed with one or more common mental, emotional or behavioral health conditions. Over 50% of parents said they missed up to four work days dealing with their children’s mental health-related appointments or time away from school.

 2. Consolidate healthcare offerings

Too many benefits or health and wellness navigation platforms can severely limit employee engagement. In a survey by One Medical, 55% of employees said they felt overwhelmed when trying to navigate their mental health benefits, and another 50% said they were unclear about what exactly their employer offers. Offering a more unified platform shows employees that their company is investing in their well-being, says Crable.

“The more vendors you have, the more complex it gets,” says Crable. “We rolled out an app for our clients that consolidates all that information in one place. Employees can go there with their ID cards and see all the benefits available to them, vendor names and toll-free numbers. We’re not talking about huge dollars [for employers], either — it could be a couple thousand dollars a year depending on your population.”

 3. Be transparent with contributions

According to KFF, in 2023, employers paid 83% of employees’ self-only plans and 73% of employees’ family insurance plans. Being more transparent about the healthcare costs the company takes on can increase employees’ appreciation for their benefits and ease blowback when there is an increase in employee contributions, says Crable.

“Most employers avoid talking about this with employees, but there’s value to it,” he says. “I once worked with a client who, during open enrollment, let his employees know how much they were paying for healthcare and how much he was paying, and over the next month he received dozens of emails thanking him for how much he was spending on their healthcare. Employers would be surprised how far open communication can go.”

4. Collect feedback from across the company

One of the biggest factors in designing the right benefits package is to make sure every population throughout the organization is represented, says Crable. Not only will this allow employers to meet the needs of a diverse workforce, but also makes it easier to assess which benefits may no longer be necessary.

“Talk to your advisers, your leaders and also the boots on the ground,” he says. “Sometimes there’s a disconnect if the only feedback or input you’re getting on what type of resources are needed is coming from your six-figure earners. Listen to what your people need, and then revisit everything you’re already offering.”

 5. Create succinct communication

Employees being unaware of what benefits they have and not knowing how to access them were two of the main reasons 85% of Amwell’s survey respondents said they don’t use their mental health benefits. To fix this issue with any underutilized benefit, Crable emphasizes the need for intentional, consistent communication that emphasizes why the offerings exist in the first place.

“Make sure your message is that you care,” he says. “And you have to constantly remind employees of what they have, because six months from now when they need to talk to someone, they won’t remember.”

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