Plan design, employee experience top of mind for benefits leaders

Plan design, employee experience top of mind for benefits leaders

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. — A recent gathering of benefits administration leaders and practitioners in a remote New Mexico desert resort was dominated by discussions of employee mental health, rising employee expectations, and finding ways to meet employees where they are while tackling rising health care costs that impact employer-provided benefits. 

Empyrean’s EVOLVE 2024 brought together over 150 attendees to discuss ways that technology and communications can change how companies support and engage their workforce, create more connected cultures, and elevate benefits in the employee experience. 

“We see a direct connection between benefits and employee wellbeing and,  ultimately, organizational health,” Empyrean CEO Rich Wolfe said during his opening remarks of the three-day conference. “Benefits administration is about more than plan design. It is about the holistic support of the employee experience.”

Several sessions, including the keynote address by best-selling author and CEO of Delivering Happiness, Jenn Lim, focused on treating people as a whole human being at work and beyond work.

“In the past, we’ve been all about purpose, values, and behaviors, and they are still relevant, but they are table stakes now,” she said in an interview before a book signing session. “There are already so many benefits and so much noise. If we want to help employees through this thing everyone is calling a funk, we need to be clearer with employees and simplify the message.” 

Lim also warned that employee wellbeing is at an all-time low and that companies need to rethink ROI as more of a “ripple of impact”. 

“As leaders in the room, we can’t fix everything, but we can be the mirrors for people to see a way forward,” she said. 

Other speakers shared tips on a variety of topics from mental health to meeting employee needs to improving communications. One strategic discussion centered around gathering employee feedback to inform and continuously improve benefits strategies. Another suggested reducing the number of apps that employees use to access company information around benefits (including supplemental benefits such as pet insurance or elder care) and other important company updates and information. 

Most attendees agreed one of their biggest challenges is communicating details about benefits in a way that can break through the noise.

Kassy Dewey, program manager benefits at Children’s Health, used a series of videos ahead of last year’s benefits enrollment featuring a variety of offerings in the coming year’s selections that sparked higher engagement than previous communications efforts. 

“Communicating is tough, and communicating well is even tougher,” she said in a panel titled “Meeting People Where They Are”.  “Believe it or not,  snail mail is making a comeback, because people are overwhelmed by too many emails.”

Luis Doffo, a managing director of sales at HSA Bank, said effective communication has to consider individual factors in each employee’s life that might help communication breakthrough. 

“Based on how your employees are evolving, you need to modify your communication strategies,” he said. 

Some discussions at the conference focused on innovation in benefits, such as self-funded benefits plans to reduce costs, reference-based pricing strategies, and certifications for mental health allies, especially for managers, to identify employees who may need to access appropriate benefits. 

Individual interviews with over a dozen benefits leaders revealed an overwhelming skepticism around reference-based pricing — an attempt by many states to make pricing more transparent at the point of care.

Benefits leaders say they have concerns about their employees’ understanding of how the approach would work, especially given the reluctance of health care providers to provide price estimates for care on the spot. They say health providers will want to wait for health insurance carriers to give exact pricing, which they said could leave patients without exact information in real-time and would undermine the spirit of reference-based pricing. 

Panelist Angel Seufert, executive vice president of HR at Empyrean, shared with conference attendees a program she launched to train and certify two employees as mental health allies to identify employee needs and help connect those individuals with the resources they may need. Other HR leaders say they want to replicate that program. 

“I really like the idea of the mental health ally certifications, especially if those people are managers, ” said Urvashi Saigal, director, head of benefits at Danone North America. “We look to lead from the top on removing any stigmas in mental health.”

“A lot of our employees are experiencing issues with social determinants of health and we’re sometimes having difficulty getting them the resources they need, so we’re turning to technology to create a more connected culture through benefits,” added Saigal, a co-panelists with Suefert in the sessions titled “Optimizing the Connection Between Individual Wellbeing and Workplace Wellness.”

One session, led by Empyrean’s Chief Strategy Officer, Jim Priebe, focused on the challenges that HR leaders have given remote and hybrid workforces and all the distractions that employees have in their lives at work and outside of work that make it harder for employers to communicate with their people. 

He cited a few alarming statistics about how people are feeling: 47% of employees are worried, 24% are lonely, and 51% are disconnected, according to recent research by 2022 research by Blueboard.

“It isn’t just a pandemic problem. It is a growing problem,” Priebe said. “We’re just in an age where we feel more comfortable talking about these things. We need to make connections with employees a priority.”

The conference last week was interspersed with small moments of connection with the Tamayan people, who own the land operated by the Hyatt Regency. On day two of the event, about a dozen conference attendees watched the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. The brisk morning walk was led by Tamayan Alica Ortiz. She provided an oral, guided tour through the nearby bosque — a Spanish word meaning forest. But for the locals, it represents a description of the land and their relationship to everything clustered along a stretch of the Rio Grande River. 

Near the end of the conference, Navaho flutist William Clark performed native music for a 15-minute stretch on two wooden, hand-made flutes. On the agenda, his performance was billed as “A Moment of Afternoon Enchantment.” After playing, Clark asked the crowd: “Feel better?”

Tony Spangler is vice president of public and analyst relations at The Starr Conspiracy and spent 20 years as an award-winning journalist covering government, health care, and business.  

Creating a Connected Workplace Culture: How to Bridge the Physical & Digital Divide 

Creating a Connected Workplace Culture: How to Bridge the Physical & Digital Divide 

In the modern workplace, fostering a sense of connection among employees is more than a nicety — it’s a necessity. As many companies were forced to adopt remote and hybrid work models over the past few years, the challenge of building meaningful employee experiences and deep connections within teams has become even more complex. Yet, the stakes for ensuring these connections have never been higher. 

Shockingly, more than half of U.S. employees feel disconnected. This disconnection is more than a personal issue — it’s an organizational crisis, directly impacting employers’ ability to attract, develop and retain top talent. In fact, employees who say they feel connected to their workplace culture are:

  • Over 5x as likely to recommend their organization 
  • Nearly 4x as likely to be engaged at work 
  • 55% less likely to be looking for another job 

The Challenge of Distance & Distraction 

One of the primary hurdles in building a connected workplace culture is the physical separation of team members. With remote and hybrid work becoming increasingly prevalent, employees are no longer sharing the same physical space, making spontaneous interactions and informal conversations a rarity. This lack of face-to-face contact can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection among team members, hindering the development of a cohesive culture. 

Moreover, the proliferation and fragmentation of workplace apps pose significant challenges to building a connected workplace culture. With a seemingly ever-growing array of HR point solutions – from benefits to time and pay to learning and development – employees frequently encounter a disorganized maze of applications. This not only negatively impacts productivity, but also exacerbates cognitive overload and decision fatigue among employees, who often struggle to discern where to turn when in need. 

So, how can organizations navigate these challenges and cultivate a connected workplace culture in an era of distance and distraction? 

Developing a Connected Workplace Strategy  

Connection doesn’t happen by accident. Building better employee connections in the digital age requires an intentional act of commitment, being adaptive, and understanding the evolving dynamics of the workplace. 

To navigate this journey successfully, organizations must: 

  1. Act with deliberate intention in choosing strategies that resonate with your unique culture and workforce. This involves clearly defining what connection means to your organization and what the goals are, getting buy-in and participation from leadership, and measuring key success metrics that directly tie to the goals you’ve set. 
  1. Embrace tools and technologies that bridge distances, while being mindful of the human need for genuine connection. The important thing here is to not add to the noise employees already contend with, but to simplify their experience and fit naturally into their day-to-day. Ease of use and accessibility are paramount. 
  1. Cultivate clear and open communication so that every member of your team feels visible, heard, and important – wherever they are on their employee journey. One way to create this type of environment is to develop personalized, targeted messaging and touchpoints that will deliver the right information to the right employee at the right time. Technology can be a huge help here. 
  1. Soak up all the feedback you can. Good feedback practices not only light the way toward areas for growth and improvement but also reinforce the bonds that connect your teams together across digital divides. Establish your feedback channels, encourage employees to share and, most importantly, act on the input you receive. 
  1. Commit to continuous improvement, understanding that the path to deeper employee connections is a dynamic, never-ending process. In addition to analyzing and acting on feedback, be transparent and own up to the areas where you fall short, and, in equal measure, take time to celebrate where you’ve made strides. 

Want to learn more about building a connected culture in the era of distance and distraction? Check our our on-demand webinar and hear how other leading employers are rethinking the employee experience to drive greater engagement, productivity and satisfaction in the workplace. 

Empyrean’s Evolve24 : Unveiling the Secrets Behind Product and Technology Evolution 

Empyrean’s Evolve24 : Unveiling the Secrets Behind Product and Technology Evolution 

As businesses continuously evolve, the need for innovative technology solutions that can keep pace with dynamic workplace demands becomes crucial. Most companies are dedicated to enhancing and expanding the technology and services that support and engage diverse workforces. At the upcoming Empyrean’s Evolve24, Session 5 will offer an exclusive look into how technology and products are crafted to foster a connected and thriving workplace culture. 

Led by Jen Peery, Sr. Director of Product Strategy, and Kelly Clark, Chief Information & Technology Officer at Empyrean, this session promises to peel back the curtain on the intricate processes behind product development. Attendees will gain insights into the strategy, planning, and cutting-edge innovation that transform ideas from roadmap to reality. This behind-the-scenes exploration will highlight Empyrean’s commitment to not just meeting, but exceeding, the expectations of our clients with technology that enhances user experiences and empowers employees. 

Our experts will delve into real life examples that demonstrate the tangible impacts of our solutions on real-world business operations. This session is an invaluable opportunity for attendees to see firsthand how strategic product development can result in robust technology solutions that are both scalable and adaptable to a variety of workplace environments. 

Learn more about Evolve24 and how thoughtful technology can revolutionize the way companies support and engage their workforce, paving the way for a more connected and productive future. 

Empyrean’s Evolve24: Crafting Communications for Enhanced Employee Engagement 

Empyrean’s Evolve24: Crafting Communications for Enhanced Employee Engagement 

In the world of corporate communication, creating a seamless experience for employees is crucial for their engagement and satisfaction. Empyrean’s Evolve24 is set to host an enlightening session that delves into the intricacies of effective communication both on and off digital platforms. Led by Misty Guinn, Sr Manager of Communication Strategy, this session will showcase the art of synchronizing various communication channels to deliver a unified and impactful employee experience. 

This workshop titled “From Design to Delivery: Creating a Seamless Experience for Maximum Engagement & Employee Satisfaction” will explore the entire spectrum of content creation and deployment. Attendees will learn about crafting compelling content, launching targeted campaigns, and the alignment required to develop a comprehensive communications strategy. Through detailed analysis and sharing of best practices, the session will offer a roadmap for effectively executing across diverse channels. 

Misty will delve into creating meaningful educational touchpoints and custom communications that inform, connect, and resonate with employees. The discussion will cover the essential elements that make communications impactful, focusing on how to enhance a benefits strategy’s effectiveness through clear, consistent messaging. Attendees will walk away with actionable insights and practical tips to transform the way they communicate with their teams, aiming to boost engagement and achieve measurable results in employee satisfaction.  

Learn more about Empyrean’s Experience Lab and how you can create custom communications for your employees. 

Empyrean’s Evolve24: Exploring the Future of Work with AI 

Empyrean’s Evolve24: Exploring the Future of Work with AI 

The future of work is unfolding before our eyes, and at the heart of this transformation is Artificial Intelligence (AI). As we gear up for Empyrean’s Evolve24, we will explore how HR professionals can integrate technology seamlessly into their strategies. The session, Amplifying the Human Element of AI: Bringing a Personal Touch to Technology, will dive into the world of virtual assistants, chatbots, facial recognition, and more, illustrating just how relevant AI has become in our daily professional lives. 

During this session, attendees will gain a deeper understanding of the different types of AI currently shaping industries. The discussion will focus on: 

Algorithms that enhance decision-making. 

Systems designed to streamline operations. 

Specific examples and case studies that illustrate the practical application of AI. 

This isn’t just about acknowledging AI’s presence but understanding its capacity to transform traditional business models and workflows. 

Moreover, the spotlight will also be on Empyrean’s unique approach to integrating AI. Rather than seeing technology as a substitute for human roles, Empyrean leverages AI to augment the capabilities of our team, enhancing both expertise and empathy. This session lead by Katie Carroll, Director of Product Marketing, Stephen Higgins, Director of Automation, and Freddie Berberena, Vice President, Member Service + Service Center Strategy, will explore how AI can support and extend the skills of human employees, ensuring that technology adds a personal touch to interactions and services. It’s an opportunity to see how Empyrean not only adapts to the AI revolution but also sets a precedent for others by championing a synergy between human ingenuity and machine precision. 

As we navigate this peak era of AI, Empyrean’s Evolve24 is set to be a beacon for all looking to understand and implement AI in a way that truly complements and enhances the human aspects of work. Learn more about Evolve24 and all the topics we will explore.