1986 Called…It Wants its Benefits Plan Back

By Kevin Hawryluk

Most of us don’t need a hot tub time machine to recall the mid-80s: strolling down the street in acid-washed jeans, listening to Bon Jovi or the Footloose soundtrack on your Sony Walkman—while on your way to catch Top Gun or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at the two-dollar matinee.

Fast-forward to present, and almost everything has changed.

You don’t use fax machines, dot matrix printers, or brick-sized cell phones anymore—so why is your thinking around benefits plans stuck in the past?

Meet the New CEO: You
Reading this, you may be thinking, “wait a second, I love my benefits plan, and there’s nothing you can say that would change my mind.” While I get that for many of you that may be the case, let me illustrate my point; I invite you to play with me for a moment. Effective immediately, you have been promoted to the position of CEO.

As CEO, you have a lot on your mind. You recognize that nothing is more important to fulfilling your vision than building a winning team. You want to support your team to be at their best, and so you decide to invest in an employee benefits program.

Here’s the problem: even after investing valuable time and resources implementing a top notch plan, you look at the data on usage and see that about 50 per cent of your people are moderate to heavy users of the plan, while the other 50 per cent are low to nil users. This means that half of your people are either indifferent or think the plan is lousy.

Half Back Guarantee Not Enough
How you feel about this as CEO is, at least in part, grounded in your investment of four to six per cent of payroll cost on this program. That aside though, how many of you would say that you only value half of your people? It is not exactly an inspiring support of your vision statement. Who wouldn’t prefer to have 100 per cent of your people feel that the plan is valuable?

Eager for some perspective, you casually poll a few people around your lunchroom who aren’t making use of the plan. What you find out is rather interesting.

A (Real) World of Differing Expectation
You speak with Fatima, one of your star team members, and she mentions she has never used the plan for anything and doesn’t see a lot of value in it. However, when pressed on what would make a difference in her life today, she says that she is homesick, as her mom lives back home in Ethiopia. While certainly outside the box, it makes you wonder what kind of an impact it would make if her benefits plan could cover a flight home every year.

Next up is Darcy who has only used the plan a couple times over the past three years. He is pretty indifferent about it. When asked about what would be more exciting, he mentions that he always wanted to fix his teeth, but could never afford braces. Most benefit plans only cover a small portion of the cost, but stop short of allowing him to get the full work done, which would give him the experience of a winning smile. What if that was possible?

Then there’s Donna. Donna has a dream of owning a home, but as a Millennial trying to get into the white-hot Vancouver housing market, she wonders if that’s a hopeless exercise. What if your benefits plan could help her achieve that dream?

Updating the Power of Choice
In just three short conversations, you are left with an overarching question in your mind that inevitably leads to others: “Why can’t benefits plans accommodate such choices?”

Why are we so narrow-minded when it comes to what is offered within a benefits plan? And why are we letting insurance companies dictate such a limited view of what benefits we offer to our talent?

We live in an era where there is incredible choice in almost every aspect of our lives, and yet, today more than nine out of 10 benefit plans in the small to mid size market still fall into the “1986 called and wants its plan back” category.

In other words, they offer one static plan design, covering the things we’ve come to expect from benefit plans: life and accident insurance, extended healthcare, dental and disability coverage. These plans effectively tell people that “we know what’s best for you.”

Choice Empowers and Benefits All
To be clear, I’m not suggesting we scrap coverage completely to protect employees against catastrophic events like a disability, death, or high cost drug claims. However, it is possible to do move things forward in the world of benefit plans while allowing for a lot of flexibility and choice for each person.

Our definition of what is possible with a benefit plan needs to be re-thought. Gone are the days of plan designs that treat your employees as if they all have the same wants and needs. We all know they simply do not.

Instead, I invite you to join me in a new definition of benefits, which, as I see it, is to create joy in the lives of all your people, in a way that aligns with your company culture and that each of them chooses.

Imagine that—a plan that empowers and engages, a plan that gives your people the choice to spend more time with family, buy that first home, and to smile more openly. Truthfully, by applying such thinking, the opportunities are endless.

Being dedicated to what matters to your employees is powerful. Imagine how dedicated they will be to you in return.

Kevin Hawryluk is a consultant with Pointbreak Consulting Group Inc.

(PeopleTalk Summer 2016)

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