Personalize your benefits with better use of data

Careful benefits planning never goes out of fashion - says Bob Gaydos - but one thing HRDs could work on is using benefits data better:

Article main image
Aug 14, 2023

Having spent more than 30 years advising business leaders about the thinking behind their benefits, I can safely say that a lot of trends have come and gone.

And while technology have certainly made strategizing around benefits a lot easier, there’s one thing that’s never gone out of fashion – careful planning and clear objectives.

But there’s an element of this that I’ve long-felt companies have neglected – and this is the area of data.

Leverage big data

Data is king in today’s business world, and most companies are sitting on a massive amount of employee data.

This data can include everything from names and addresses to the number of dependents each employer has, to how much they make each year.

You can even find data on previous insurance claims, which can give you a good idea of each employee’s personal and financial position. And yet, very few companies ever use this data to create personalized benefits packages.

So why might this be?

Companies are often afraid to use this data because it’s deemed to be under HIPAA protection. [HIPAA laws are a series of federal regulatory standards outlining the lawful use and disclosure of protected health information in the United States].

But that’s not actually what the HIPAA says.

HIPAA says employers must protect this data and avoid sharing it with any third parties. But you can use it to make your benefits better and more personalized.

For example, you can go to your health insurance company and ask them ‘what percentage of your workforce used preventive care last year?’

Is the answer 6%? What should it be, 30%?

Depending on the answer, it’s then possible to tailor your benefits to achieve that goal.

Another example is to look at the demographics of your workforce.

Perhaps you’ll find that you have a lot more remote workers aged over 50 than the industry standard.

If so, then you should aim to create a health or dental plan that is aimed at 50+ workers.

In short, don’t be afraid of this data. Use it to better understand the needs and concerns of your workforce. That way, you can create personalized benefits that are based on the specific requirements of your employees, both remote and in-house.

Data creates other information

At its most basic, data is essential to establish the precise monetary allocation of benefits spend per employee.

Remarkably, most employers don’t have this, and therefore don’t have an idea of how much to spend per head. Instead, they have only a rough idea of how much they are spending on each employee.

That won’t do.

You need to have a defined allocation, say, $10,000. Then, you need to decide how much of that you’re going to spend on certain things.

For example, maybe you’ll dedicate $1,000 of that $10,000 to employees direct – to let them spend it on whatever benefits they want through lifestyle accounts.

This use of lifestyle accounts is something that’s only just starting to take off in the benefits landscape. But with this type of flexible spending account, employees can easily purchase whichever benefits they wish through an online platform, be it health and wellness, mental health counseling, yoga classes, or financial management courses. Lots of lifestyle companies are already offering these services, allowing employees to take full advantage of all the different benefits options out there.

But for this approach to work, it must be a habit within your company.

“Culture” is a nebulous word. A better word is “habits.”

Ask yourself – ‘What are our corporate habits?’ Because, as I always said in my coaching days, either you choose your habits or your habits choose you.

So if you’re not setting a budget, not allocating that budget, and not promoting the use of that money, then it’s not going to happen.

Make your data-driven approach to benefits a corporate habit, which means you do the above both deliberately and continuously.

One last thing… assess how you communicate your benefits

The metrics and uptake data around benefits can be directly linked to how successful HRDs are at communicating them, and something I’ve observed time and time again over the years, is that most employers are terrible at communication.

They think communication is telling someone something once.

That’s not communication. Communication is an ongoing dialogue.

As such, if you’re going to successfully educate your staff about the benefits you have – and get the sort of uptake you want – you need to have a continuous conversation with each of your employees.

At a minimum, these should be quarterly sessions in which you pull each employee into the office for an educational benefits meeting. When meeting in person isn’t practical, an online video call will more than suffice.

Also, and this is very important, you should invite their spouses. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at how much goodwill you’ll get from bringing their spouses into these sessions. They’ll probably thank you and give the employees the extra nudge they need to sign up for your benefits.

I even used to go so far as to say to employers they should compensate spouses for their attendance. You’re asking people for their time. The employee is still getting paid for their time, but the spouse is not. So, give the spouse a little incentive like a $20 Amazon gift card for joining the session. Believe me, it will be some of the best money you’ve ever spent.

In the meantime, when you’re holding these quarterly sessions, ensure that you communicate your benefits effectively, describing how they work, how to use them, and why they will be advantageous to the employee.

By implementing the above strategies, you can create a highly enticing and personalized benefits package for each employee.

Doing so will not only ensure their goodwill but also create a positive work environment that will be crucial to winning the talent war.