Health

How to Bring Your Benefits Communication into the Digital Age

06 December, 2018
  • Marla Arnall

    Communications and branding leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits™

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“Today, employees want new ways of working and an experience that offers just–in-time, intuitive digital access, personalization, and wellness.”

The constant advancements in technology open up a wide variety of new choices for people, helping us build our own digital world. We can now do our weekly shopping in fully automated grocery stores that rely on cameras and sensors to track what shoppers remove from the shelves, and what they put back. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has personalized our homes by allowing devices to “talk” to each other. An example of this is a smart fridge with a built-in camera that displays the contents of the fridge on smartphones, which is another way technology makes shopping for groceries more convenient.

Businesses know that employees enjoy and make full use of computers and smartphones outside of work, so with change happening all around us, why is the way we communicate benefits not changing?

This is a topic I discussed at the recent 2018 Employee Benefits event in Singapore, and I’ll go into further detail about it here.

Today, employees want new ways of working and an experience that offers just–in-time, intuitive digital access, personalization, and wellness. But that isn’t easy. HR departments are under increasing pressure to not only design cost effective and attractive benefit programs, but also to deliver them in ways that demonstrate they truly care.

Fifty-three percent of employers communicate with their employees once a year about benefits. And the once a year communication is typically carried out in two standard ways: in person at the renewal session or by giving employees a handbook.1 Increasing the frequency of communication is one of the quickest ways for employers to boost employee engagement and appreciation of their benefits, and it’s worthwhile as employees who feel their needs are being met are 2x more likely to advocate.

What’s the best way to do this? For employers, making the experience digital is the future. However, this does not mean changes need to be made to the benefits design, there are many ways to enhance communication methods.

Four tips to make your benefit communication more like a consumer experience:

 

  1. 1. On brand: The names of brands are everywhere–on billboards, television, in shops, etc. showing that commodities and how we perceive them play a pivotal role in our lives. Therefore, branding your digital experience plays an important role in ensuring employees recognize the importance of benefits and it also helps to boost awareness.

  2. 2. Interactive: The days of encyclopedia-sized employee handbooks filled with pages of extensive benefit entitlements written in insurance jargon are a thing of a past. However, a more user-friendly employee handbook is still relevant, and employers are now advised to create responsive materials that function like an app or website instead of static ones, to help employees communicate effectively.

  3. 3. Personalized: Our research shows that by adding a personal touch to employees’ benefits information helps to develop an individual journey. An example of this is using personalized videos with individual names embedded in the clip to show employees their statements. This approach increases action, trust and appreciation among staff.

  4. 4. Social: Everyone (pretty much) is on one social media platform or another and employers need to take advantage of this by leveraging what their employees are saying on these channels. Sharing positive stories from employees about their benefits or their enjoyment working for the company is a fantastic way to attract talent and boost morale. It also reinforces your standing as a company.
     

Utilizing these four tips will help increase awareness of benefits, explain what employees get out of their benefits, help employees understand which plan is right for them, and, finally, the employees will share their experiences and speak positively about it.

 

1 2017 Benefits Under The Lens Survey by Mercer Marsh Benefits

MORE IN HEALTH

Editorial Staff | 17 Aug 2019

There is a huge opportunity for blockchain to establish itself in the healthcare sector. Learn more about specific use cases that can help innovate how HR departments deliver healthcare & wellness benefits. Blockchain technology is one of the most disruptive technologies on the market today, with multiple industries adopting it to optimize processes and innovate the way companies function. It has proven to be a game changer in the business arena and the global blockchain technology market is estimated to amass US$20 billion in revenue by 2024. Meanwhile, SAP reports that 71% of business leaders who are actively using blockchain believe it plays a key role in advancing technology and reestablishing industry standards.  While blockchain has already been widely integrated in processes for supply chains, banking and cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin), the healthcare industry has also been identified as one of the top industries likely to be disrupted. Blockchain technology could offer solutions to some of  healthcare’s greatest challenges, from securely managing patients’ medical data to tracking large databases of drugs through the supply chain or extracting healthcare data from clinical trials. As the technology advances and becomes more readily available, more healthcare organizations across the industry will be adopting blockchain solutions to redesign the global healthcare ecosystem.  HR serves a critical function for the healthcare industry and is an intermediate between employees and one of the most valued aspects of life: their health. According to Bitfortune, 55% of healthcare applications will adopt blockchain platforms for commercial deployment by 2025. Meanwhile, adoption seems to be ramping up with multiple governments around the world announcing plans to invest in blockchain and encourage its implementation. For example, Singapore’s government has announced financial incentives to enterprises for adopting the technology. Amid an evolving industry, it is imperative HR professionals stay current with how blockchain’s ledger technology is disrupting the healthcare industry. They should especially keep a pulse on the implications blockchain holds for delivering the employee experience with improved healthcare and other benefits. Use cases: how blockchain can help HR transform in delivering healthcare & benefits   While the use of blockchain technology is still more commonly associated with payment functions, its disruption to HR will be profound and pervasive in coming years with many possible use cases across the functions of an HR department. To prepare for the coming blockchain revolution, HR departments should focus on identifying problem areas and inefficient processes that could be addressed by the transparency, accuracy and speed that blockchain provides. The processes most primed for blockchain disruption are those that are burdensome and expensive with substantial data collection and third-party verification. For this reason, healthcare and benefits could be the ideal match for an HR department looking to adopt blockchain technology. 1.  Enhancing fraud prevention & cybersecurity for sensitive data in HR. HR teams conduct some of the highest-volume financial transactions for an organization and handle sensitive employee data related to healthcare (as well as, banking, disciplinary records, performance records, expense reimbursement, and more). Unfortunately, all of the data an HR department maintains is at risk of being exploited and, as more companies face data breaches, it is becoming increasingly important that proper measures are in place to maintain security and prevent fraud. A company’s cyber risks largely emerge from an underlying lack of transparency and accuracy in its data systems. Because of its capacity for promoting transparency and accuracy, blockchain technology is being lauded as a solution for combating cybersecurity crime and protecting data. While blockchain’s popularity grows among large companies and companies that hold critical, sensitive data (for example, Lockheed Martin is trusting it to secure data), it is also being used by nonprofits to collect donations securely. It is important to consider that blockchain technology can mitigate both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records. Access to the blockchain is limited and controlled—even those who have access are not able to modify the records. This limits both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records. In the digital age, data is a major asset for a company. Blockchain essentially functions to decentralize data and places it across a large network of computer storage spaces to reduce the risk that a single hacking event could usurp all the data a company has. By using blockchain, HR departments can introduce a solid measure of security against cyber threats to protect their employees’ health information. 2.  Improving health insurance, health records & patient experience with ‘smart contracts.’ Much of blockchain’s power comes in the application of ‘smart contracts’, which many organizations are using to make payments to employees, contractors and vendors. In fact, it is reported that 45% of early adopters of blockchain are already implementing smart contracts within their organizations. A smart contract codes a set of parameters using statements in ‘if this, then that” (IFTTT) language. These contracts are designed so that, once executed, the entire process is dictated by these codes. It is also made irreversible unless of course terms of a contract need to be updated. While smart contracts have many applications for HR functions in terms of payroll, there are some very important considerations HR departments should be aware of in terms of healthcare. Smart contracts have the potential to be used for insurance, including how patients buy insurance. Through a smart contract, all details of an insuree’s policy could be stored in a patient profile. This profile would then be stored on the blockchain platform in a safe and secure ledger that is less prone to hacks than the databases currently used.  Smart contracts could also impact the insurance claim process by eliminating the need for lengthy forms and time lags. If an insuree undergoes a medical procedure covered by the policy, a smart contract would be automatically triggered to transfer money from the insurance company’s account straight to the hospital or medical provider. The automation cuts out delays and hassles, allowing for correct payment of the medical service. There are also numerous implications for electronic medical records, information and medical data sharing. Storing patient’s electronic health records (EHR) on secured ledgers, for example, would allow a patient to move easily from one hospital to another without having to fill out numerous forms. The blockchain network would safely store their records, allowing their new physician to access them without delay. While hospitals and healthcare providers currently rely on a number of databases filled with patient data, these can be too centralized and restrictive for sharing potentially life-saving insights around the globe. If health records were to be kept in a smart contract stored on the blockchain, the data analytics would be available to hospitals, providers and research institutions everywhere. With widespread adoption of this healthcare blockchain technology, an individual could essentially walk into any hospital in the world for treatment and, with their private key, their health data would be accessible instantly. 3.  Offering better access to healthcare & other benefits. Blockchain’s ‘smart contracts’ could also change how employees gain access to healthcare and benefits. Once the employer outlines the terms of employment prior to hiring, HR is charged with upholding the conditions in the contract. These terms include provisions that employees value in their employee experience, such as healthcare insurance, wellness programs or other benefits. The current model of manually delivering benefits runs risks of errors and could get in the way of properly servicing employees. With blockchain, HR could seamlessly deliver upon these benefits by implementing smart contracts that automate the process. For example, if a company outlines that an employee’s benefits packages begins after a specific waiting period, the smart contract would be written to automate these benefits at the right time and in the right fashion. Not only does blockchain have the potential to improve security and automation of benefits, it is possible for benefits to be more personalized to each individual employee. In today’s digital world, consumers are accustomed to enjoying personalized experiences and this trend of hyper-personalization is reaching the workplace. Through blockchain’s smart contracts, which could be integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT technology, companies would be able to empower employees with benefits packages and wellness programs that are tailored specifically for them and their evolving needs. These personalized packages could become a critical tool for enhancing the employee experience. Challenges HR faces in implementing blockchain to deliver benefits   Blockchain is a quickly evolving technology with new applications and trends regularly emerging. Though it is becoming more widely adopted across a variety of industries, it is inevitable that first-time users will run into issues and challenges in implementing it. For HR departments, it is imperative to consider these challenges as they explore which processes might be impacted by blockchain. 1.  Data standardization & integration with legacy systems. With blockchain being a new technology, protocols and standards for its application are not yet established. When the internet began to commercialize, it initially struggled without proper protocols. But over time, controls were implemented to allow for browser compatibility, cross-platform multimedia and better interconnectivity between servers. As more sectors adopt blockchain—especially healthcare which handles sensitive and personal data—ensuring that blockchains offer an industry-wide benefit will require widespread collaboration and standardization. For example, it will have to be determined when private, as opposed to public, if blockchains make sense. Otherwise, this could impact the security and functionality of blockchain technology. All industries will have to get over a major hurdle when it comes to integrating blockchain solutions with legacy systems—or replacing legacy systems altogether. But the hurdle is especially high for HR and healthcare, which are often bound to specific legal regulations and already have very specific HR or healthcare systems in place that incorporate these parameters. Synching these systems or replacing them with blockchain technology could prove to be difficult. 2.  Adoption & incentives for participation. Despite enthusiasm and a strong record of success, blockchain adoption has proven to be difficult for companies. Greenwich Associates surveyed companies that have implemented blockchain and 57% reported its integration has been harder than expected. In terms of scalability, 42% of respondents reported it as a major issue, 39% said it is a minor issue and 19% said it is no issue at all. Much of the challenges are culture or people-related, rather than technical. For example, most people resist change and, if they do tolerate it, they generally prefer it to happen gradually and incrementally. The oppositions to change could be even more pronounced for those in HR, especially with employees across an organization resisting how healthcare and employee benefits—which are very personal—is administered. Some of the proposed uses for blockchain would result in systemic changes that rapidly transform the entire system. Even if employees and management are open to change, HR still has work cut out in hiring, education and training. Blockchain will require companies to hire more research and analytical staff as well as offer training on how to properly implement it. But this is where HR thrives. By helping to cultivate a culture of digital transformation, HR departments can also guide companies on their blockchain journey. 3.  High costs of developing & operating blockchain technology. The adoption of blockchain technology is likely to offer long-term benefits in regard to productivity, efficiency, timeliness, and reduced costs. However, one of the greatest obstacles to widespread adoption of blockchain is the high cost to initially install it. The software required to implement blockchain within an organization must typically be developed specifically for each individual company. This makes it expensive to obtain, whether hiring in-house or buying from a developer. Moreover, even after the blockchain software is developed, the company would also have to purchase specialized hardware to be used with it.  In addition to the software development costs, companies must also find qualified personnel to operate the technology.  The blockchain space is new and growing so rapidly that the demand for professionals in the field outweighs the supply. This makes hiring qualified blockchain experts—either in-house or as consultants—quite costly. Currently, it appears that the world’s largest corporations are the only ones benefiting from blockchain because they have the money, resources and data to spare. Furthermore, the technology itself seems too new and not yet fully understood for SMEs to adopt in droves. However, this is all likely to change over time. The commercialization of the internet was gradual and in the early days it required companies who wanted to go online to put up a substantial amount of money upfront and invest in customized solutions. Eventually, as blockchain becomes more mainstream, it will also become much less expensive, more streamlined and more accessible to companies. Blockchain is already demonstrating its potential to disrupt business as we know it. Because the HR department guards and manages large amounts of sensitive data that are critical to employees’ lives and how a company operates, it is likely that blockchain technology will be infused directly into the HR function to add transparency and trust to various processes. Healthcare and benefits administration is one of the processes that blockchain technology is likely to directly transform. Though there are challenges in cost, scalability and perception to overcome, HR departments could potentially use blockchain technology to provide employees with greater access to more personalized benefits packages. Furthermore, as time is freed up by automated processing, HR departments will be able to turn their efforts to more value-adding activities such as building employee engagement and experience.

Catherine Li | 25 Apr 2019

In China, as in many other countries with growing economies, employee health management is a relatively new concept. This presents an exciting opportunity to create something new — but also generous room for error. A superior benefits program meets the diverse needs of active employees and retirees while aligning with the company’s business development and talent strategies. Although these dual goals may seem straightforward, it’s easy for HR to get sidetracked along the way. Have you steered clear of these four pitfalls? Misunderstanding 1: Benefits are Just for Brand-Building   Benefits design commonly goes through three phases: foundation-laying, boasting and returning to fundamentals. Young technology companies have a tendency to get stuck in phase two, coming up with fun, innovative and even newsworthy benefits. These less-traditional benefits programs have several advantages, including supplementing basic benefits and enhancing the program’s overall appeal. They can also help tech companies with a predominately young workforce connect with Millennial talent. For example, some Chinese companies offer an online shopping platform similar to Amazon through which employees can order household goods and other items to be delivered straight to their homes. Others focus on tokens of appreciation at stressful or eventful times of year. An e-commerce company might buy movie tickets for their employees and families after the hectic November 11 shopping festival — an online shopping bonanza that keeps e-commerce employees busy around the clock — to show gratitude for their hard work. But although such niche benefits are attractive in the short term, they have little long-term effect when applied on their own. Be careful not to get swept up in creativity at the expense of sound basic benefits. You can organize a race for charity to show you’re committed to employee health as well as social good, but if you can’t help an employee through a serious illness, how can you claim to care about the well-being of your workforce? The biggest health management challenge for Chinese businesses is staff turnover. New programs take time to launch, so little effect will be seen if the turnover rate is high. Investing in core benefits design yields more consistent results and helps retain employees, whereas short-term benefits solutions rarely build the brand. Misunderstanding 2: We Don’t Need to Design our Own Benefits Program – We can Just Copy our Competitors   Thoughtful design is by far the most important aspect of a successful benefits program for both basic and innovative offerings. Many companies focus on copying competitors’ designs or best practices. After all, benefits design is time-consuming and complicated; why not save on resources by leveraging an existing program? This line of thinking is dangerous. A benefits plan that works for one company, no matter how similar it seems, may not work for yours. Employee needs, business development goals, budget and future plans (in terms of costs and talent retention) must all be taken into account. It’s up to HR to look deep within the organization and ask fundamental questions: How much budget is available? Whom is the benefits program aimed at? What are the needs of the target employees and the corresponding risks? Caring for employee welfare means taking the time to customize a benefits program while taking into account the firm’s resources and priorities. Organizations with limited budgets profit from analyzing employee health data from biomedical screenings, medical claims and health risk assessments to identify the primary health challenges of target employees and design an appropriate program. Note that mental health, including managing stress, is just as important as physical well-being. Misunderstanding 3: Our Benefits are so Great, They Speak for Themselves   According to Mercer’s 2015 Benefits Communication Trend Survey of HR managers in China, more than 70% of employers think benefits communication is important. Yet only 17% of organizations have a specific role for employee benefits communication, and nearly 70% have little or no budget for benefits communication. Assuming your benefits programs will self-promote is a mistake. Even if your benefits are good, busy employees may not have time to learn about them and may misunderstand or underutilize them — substantially lowering your returns. Effective communication of benefits programs can: •       Improve employee retention and engagement •       Boost morale •       Improve employees’ health conditions and productivity •       Enhance employee trust •       Build the employer brand   Note that the organizations with high employee benefits satisfaction are the ones that effectively communicate the value of their benefits. Misunderstanding 4: All Aspects of our Benefits Program Must Show Returns   Return on investment (ROI) is a key performance indicator for many businesses. And with good reason — why invest in a project before ensuring a sound return on the investment? Although ROI is an excellent indicator of performance, not all benefits programs can be evaluated with numbers. When paired with comprehensive core benefits, health management programs and nontraditional benefits can have an underlying effect that is even greater than their immediately measurable impact. For many people, the feeling that their employer cares about their well-being means more than the money in their paycheck. The ongoing effectiveness of any benefits program ultimately depends on corporate culture: how your organization measures the value of benefits management, how it treats employees and whether it’s willing to put employee feedback into practice. Health management and benefits program design are still relatively new to Chinese companies, which tend to attach little importance to their employees’ health. But employee health is the foundation of an organization’s long-term success, and it requires investment in kind. In addition, in a high-growth economy with booming businesses, companies need to identify ways of attracting and retaining top talent. By avoiding these four pitfalls and focusing on tying programs to their firms’ long-term strategies, Chinese companies are enjoying the benefits of healthier, more engaged employees.

Liana Attard | 21 Feb 2019

Office life can be extremely stressful, especially with the competitive nature of work and long hours that can lead to stress and sleep disorders for some employees. In fact, research by Mercer Marsh Benefits for our 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey showed that globally the top three risk factors for employees remain metabolic and cardiovascular risk, dietary risk and emotional/mental risk. To put the global mental health problems into perspective, 1 in 3 people in the UK have been recorded as suffering from mental health issues.     The emphasis is now on employers to help with the mental wellbeing of their employees by providing comprehensive wellbeing strategies for emotional and mental health. Adopting integrated health and wellbeing strategies underpinned by stronger digital and data capabilities will be a critical factor in managing the rising costs of workforce health benefit programs. Employers are encouraged to adopt a whole system approach to wellbeing, in which mental health is recognized alongside physical health, as one of the essential building blocks to help employees fulfill their potential. But unfortunately, employers are slow to realize the risks concerned with mental health, with less than 50 percent of insurers and respective employer medical plans providing access to personal counseling. In Asia, mental health tends to be a taboo subject as it has a stigma around it and employees are concerned about coming forward with their issues in a fiercely competitive workplace environment. The Hong Kong Mental Morbidity Survey, a three-year study launched in 2010, found fewer than a quarter of people with common mental disorders had sought medical support in the previous year, and only 3.9 percent had seen a psychologist for help, reported SCMP. When we asked insurers: What three risk factors do you think influence employer sponsored group medical costs the most? Globally, as I mentioned earlier, mental health was third with 43 percent. However, in Asia mental health ranked bottom, behind occupational risk (44 percent) and environmental risk (51 percent), with 31 percent.  But this doesn’t mean that mental health benefit programs in Asia should be ignored by companies, even with the increase in medical costs worldwide. According to the 2018 Medical Trends Around the World survey, the global medical cost in 2017 increased at 9.5 percent, almost three times the inflation rate of 3.4 percent. Hong Kong’s increment was below the average global level but higher than the other two developed Asian cities, namely Singapore (8.6 percent) and South Korea (7 percent). “Hong Kong’s medical costs significantly outpaced the local inflation rate and employer’s cost on health care continues to grow. Therefore, employers should review the existing design of health care plans, further invest in data analytics and adopt a whole system approach in order to effectively manage employee health care cost,” Billy Wong, Mercer’s Health & MPF Business Leader, Hong Kong said. Employers can tackle the risk of mental health problems by launching workplace health strategies. Check out my ideas on ways to keep your workforce mentally healthy and happy.  Mindfulness Training: By implementing mindfulness training at work, employees will be able to effectively deal with stress, increase productivity in the office, maintain greater focus and their overall health will improve. But what exactly is mindfulness training? It’s a meditation technique aimed at focusing the mind on the present moment, which enhances an employee’s ability to work on day-to-day tasks and find balance. Fitness programs: The physical health benefits of working out are well documented, but exercise is also an effective way to boost your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins which make people feel happy. Employees who are feeling stressed, depressed or suffering from anxiety are advised to workout for 30 minutes a few times a week.  Flexible work schedule: Working from home and flexible work schedules give employees the freedom they need to stay motivated. The flexibility allows employees to take a break and lowers the risk of burnout. Working from home can reduce parenting stress as employees are afforded the flexibility to meet the needs that come with having a family. These factors and more increase employee morale and help to reduce absenteeism.  

More from Voice on Growth

Editorial Staff | 19 Aug 2019

Learn about the latest employee financial wellness trends emerging in 2019. Employees and employers alike can agree on at least one value: financial security. Finances can affect every function of a company and, for the individual, their personal life. When employees face a difficult financial situation, it can impede on job satisfaction, attitude and performance. Financially stressed workers miss more work and incur higher healthcare costs than their peers. These factors inevitably take a toll on a company’s employee engagement levelsand eventually the bottom line—especially if financial hardship impacts multiple employees. At the same time, HR professionals know that people don’t just work for the paycheck and that increasing salary alone won’t necessarily boost job satisfaction. Workers also strive for positive company culture, flexible scheduling, recognition, L&D opportunities, retirement plans, and other benefits. Naturally, apart from the salary figure, employees want to work for a company that values them and offers a bright future. As global unemployment reaches its lowest point in 40 years and we enter an employment economy, employers are facing an increasingly competitive hiring landscape where the benefits package is an increasingly important tool for attracting and retaining top talent. One benefit that continues to gain traction is a structured financial wellness program. With financial wellness solutions, employees receive financial education through courses on goal planning, basic financial literacy, budgeting, debt management and alleviating financial stress. The aim of a financial wellness program is to guide employees towards actions that help them reach goals for every stage of their financial lives, such as saving for a house, a car, college, or retirement. Mercer’s Healthy Wealthy and Work-wise report found employees (as well as employers) report higher satisfaction with their benefit plans when financial wellness is offered. Furthermore, companies report up to a 3-to-1 return on their financial wellness investment. Employees are worried about their finances   For many employees, money is the number one source of stress. Mercer’s Inside Employees Minds report asked 3,000 workers questions about the extent to which financial stress affected their work, finding that 62% of those who are financially challenged identify being able to pay monthly expenses as their biggest financial concern—even among people with an annual household income of $100,000 or more. Financial stress varies among demographics. Young adults are burdened with high levels of debt, especially with educated-related expenses for university. Families can struggle to meet financial goals due to cash flow issues or unexpected expenses. Even older adults often carry financial stress from caring for aging parents or children who have moved back home. Single parents have their own set of financial stressors. Therefore, when designing a financial wellness program, it is important to consider the entire scope of your workforce and the various financial lives they may lead. Financial wellness trends to have on your radar   For all the struggles brought on by financial hardship, there is hope that financial wellness programs can remedy the situation to the benefit of both employees and employers. A Gallup poll found financial wellness is closely linked with positive behavioral changes and stronger relationships, regardless of income levels. By implementing financial wellness programs, employers also enjoy the benefit of having a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. A joint study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 75% of employees said a financial wellness program is an important benefit and 60% said they would be more inclined to stay at a company that offered financial wellness solutions. While employers are recognizing the importance of combating financial stress among employees, it appears they may need to improve these efforts to help employees. Cigna’s global well-being survey of employees in Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North America found that 87% of employees are stressed at work—with personal finances being the top stressor—and 38% claim no stress management support is provided at all. While 46% of employees report they receive support from their employer, only 28% feel this support is adequate. It’s time to raise the bar on financial wellness benefits. Here are some emerging trends and strategies companies are considering so they can maximize employee financial wellness solutions and stand out in the marketplace. 1.  Users are demanding technology-driven solutions for personalization. For financial planning solutions, users want a modern, simple interface that offers a comprehensive view of their financial situation and outlines a guided, personalized path to reaching their financial goals and staying accountable. According to a recent Forrester study, customers of wealth management firms are demanding more functionality and digitalization with financial planning solutions. This demand is making features like account aggregation, personalized content delivery and accountability triggers standard elements for a successful financial wellness program. “Help me help myself” tools are being personalized for the user with finance snapshots, budget planners and loan repayment calculators. Notably, a study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 42% of employees said they feel inadequately informed about the benefits and programs their employer offers. Of the employees who do not use all of the benefits, many said they would be more apt to use them if they were explained more clearly and made easier to access. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 70% of employees want mobile access to their benefits packages but only 51% of employers are offering it. These gaps mean there is an opportunity for companies to elevate their financial wellness programs and make them more usable and appealing to employees. Employers should consider informing employees about benefits through live webinars, social media or SMS alerts. The program should also be fully accessible by mobile and offer online tools that personalize the user experience. 2.  Data analytics & digital technology are personalizing financial wellness programs. Data analytics is shaping financial wellness programs to provide the level of personalization employees have come to expect in the digital age. These data analytics can help differentiate between types and categories of employees, allowing programs to be personalized for live events and stages. Just as online stores use aggregated consumer preference and demographic data to make recommendations and suggestions, financial wellness platforms are beginning to employ data analytics and algorithms to determine whether an employee is making progress or might need some extra assistance to stay on track. Some programs employ data analytics to frame an employees’ savings and spending habits and compare them to their peers. These programs can also analyze behaviors and provide scores to help employees see if they are improving on their savings or debt managements. Some programs can also offer employers the ability to create targeted marketing campaigns that focus on personal milestones for employees, such as buying a new car or getting married. These milestones can be used to inspire specific savings behaviors and spending habits, which might mean recommending homeowners insurance or opening an education savings account. Data analytics can also be used to build each employee a profile, which can then be supported by customized self-service tools to help employees get answers to specific questions and better plan for possible life changes. For example, with their profile input and all their financial information accounted for, employees can determine just how much additional life insurance they might need to purchase if they have a child. Without data analytics, the manual process of calculating this figure would be tedious, time consuming and require a potentially costly meeting with a financial advisor. On the employer side, data can be collected to determine how well the financial wellness program is performing. This data can help drive the program to offer new components and functions in ways that better meet the needs of employees. 3.  Employees want actual help not hype. As financial wellness programs continue to shape the benefits ecosystem, more employees are expecting that their employers will care about their financial security beyond just signing their paycheck. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 79% of employees trust their employers to deliver sound advice on planning, saving and investing. Employers are expected to deliver real, actionable ways to help employees improve upon their financial situation. A study from Merrill Lynch found a sharp disconnect in what employees want to have and what employers are offering in financial wellness programs. For example, employees generally want to work on meeting end goals, and they’d prefer to focus on one goal at a time. But employers are taking a heavy approach, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to controlling overall finances. While the comprehensive strategy of employers is certainly well-intentioned, it has a tendency to overwhelm users. Financial planning can be intimidating, especially for those in stressful situations. To counter this, companies in the wellness space are designing programs from the employee perspective to offer a holistic approach. Holistic programs, which integrate financial health with mental and physical health, can help employees open their financial “junk drawer” and make connections between the various elements of financial health and life—from saving for a wedding, buying a home, managing loan debt, etc. Well-designed programs will demystify the topic of financial wellness rather than scare employees away with an onslaught of complex information and suggestions for services and financial products they don’t understand. 4.  Building the business case for financial wellness programs: engagement, productivity & success. Whether management wants to admit it or not, employees are bringing financial stress to work and it’s impacting the company’s bottom line. In a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 83% of respondents reported that personal financial challenges had at least some effect on their overall performance at work in the past year. This disengagement means big losses for businesses. Workforce stress is potentially costing companies more than $5 million a year.  Because of the business losses incurred, supporting employees’ financial wellness is becoming a major priority for organizations and the trend is catching on. Research from GuideSpark found that financial wellness is the third most important type of wellness program to employees, at 82%, behind stress management (86%) and physical fitness (85%). The results of employee wellness programs are promising. According to Employee Benefit News, participants in financial wellness programs demonstrate progress in their finances. The percentage of participants feeling “highly stressed” about personal finances fell from 52.4% to 19.2% after the completion of a financial wellness program. Similarly, 56% of participants said they believe they’re in a better position to manage their monthly cash flow after the completion of a financial wellness program. 5.  An increased focus on student loan repayment & affordable education. In the HR industry, employee development has become an impetus for employee engagement. But the truth is that for many employees, their past continues to weigh them down. Higher education costs are contributing to unprecedented student loan debt challenges in both developed and developing countries. As university tuition costs continue to rise, student loan debts have reached concerning record levels for graduates. The World Bank reports that developing countries face greater higher-education challenges than developed countries. Enormous debt and high tuition costs are setting back many employees before they have the chance to get ahead, which is widening the talent gap and thinning talent pools for companies. Amid rising tuition and mounting debt, HR professionals owe it to companies and employees to offer solutions to the challenges they both face. This can be done through loan repayment education that helps employees strategize to pay off loans as quickly as possible. Taking it a step further, some HR departments may be able to convince companies to offer loan repayment and tuition reimbursement programs. When employees are worried about finances, they may have to switch jobs and find an employer willing to give them the tools and monetary compensation they need. Offering loan repayment advice or support offers employees a solution to a personal problem they face. They will likely become more invested in the company, which can translate to boosted morale and productivity across the company’s workforce. Tuition reimbursement and the encouragement of further education can also go a long way in helping companies thrive in the digital transformation and foster a culture of lifelong learning. Amid digitalization, the workforce is shifting from fixed job titles and detailed job descriptions to ever-revolving roles. At the current pace of technology growth, chances are that many of today’s prized technical skills will be obsolete within a few short years. As the skill gap grows, companies won’t have the luxury of easily recruiting new hires. They will instead need to focus on upskilling and recruiting lifelong learners who have a passion for integrating new technology into business operations. Offering tuition reimbursement or education planning advice will help attract and develop a talented workforce for the digital age. People around the world are experiencing record amounts of stress, according to Gallup’s Annual Global Emotions Report, and finances are certainly among the greatest stressors. As the stress escalates, more companies will find their employees’ personal bottom lines eroding the company’s bottom line. Without intervention, employees’ financial stress will rise, and companies will suffer drops in productivity, increased absenteeism, and low engagement levels. When implemented properly, financial wellness solutions can be a rising tide that lifts all boats—benefiting both employees and the company. The HR department is in a unique position to make this connection, sending the message that employees and companies are in this together.

Isabelle Hernu-Sfeir | 19 Aug 2019

In accordance with the ‘Professional Future’ law passed on September 5, 2018, French companies/subsidiaries with over 50 employees are now required to publish on their website their Gender Pay Equity Index on an annual basis. The deadline imposed by the law for the first publication of the index depends on the size of the French entities: - 1st March 2019 for entities with over 1,000 employees; - 1st September 2019 for entities with 250 to 1,000 employees; - 1st March 2020 for entities with 50 to 250 employees. The law sets out the five indicators that should be assessed to establish the index value. If the value of the index turns out to be less than 75 out of 100, the company then must implement actions to reach this threshold within a three-year timeframe. Should the threshold not be reached after three years or should the company not publish the index, then the company will incur a financial penalty of up to 1% of payroll. The French State intends to follow this very closely and is expected to review 7,000 companies in 2019. This is a wonderful opportunity to revisit your company action plan to reduce the gender pay gap. It is a call to take action to improve diversity and inclusion in organizations’ career, talent and performance management processes. The French pay equity index is a score out of 100 points defined as the total of 5 indicators: 1. The Gender Pay Gap, for identical positions and ages (up to 40 points) (0 points allocated if the gap is more than 20%); 2. The difference between the number of men and women given a pay increase during the year (up to 20 points); 3. The difference between the number of men and women promoted during the year (up to 15 points); 4. The percentage of employees given a pay rise on their return from maternity leave (up to 15 points). This catching-up pay rise has been mandatory since 2006. If only one employee did not get it over the year on return from maternity leave, then the company gets no points for this criteria; 5. The number of people from the under-represented gender (usually women) among the 10 highest earners (up to 10 points). Based on published indices to date, this last indicator is the one on which companies score the lowest. The average representation of the women in the 10 highest earners is two or three out of ten. The above indicators 2 and 3 are merged into one indicator over 35 points for French entities with less than 250 employees. Would you like to find out more?      Mercer France can help you ensure you are compliant with the gender pay equity law in France and can help you implement efficient actions to reduce your Gender Pay Gap and improve diversity and inclusion in your HR processes. Click here to get in touch.

Editorial Staff | 17 Aug 2019

There is a huge opportunity for blockchain to establish itself in the healthcare sector. Learn more about specific use cases that can help innovate how HR departments deliver healthcare & wellness benefits. Blockchain technology is one of the most disruptive technologies on the market today, with multiple industries adopting it to optimize processes and innovate the way companies function. It has proven to be a game changer in the business arena and the global blockchain technology market is estimated to amass US$20 billion in revenue by 2024. Meanwhile, SAP reports that 71% of business leaders who are actively using blockchain believe it plays a key role in advancing technology and reestablishing industry standards.  While blockchain has already been widely integrated in processes for supply chains, banking and cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin), the healthcare industry has also been identified as one of the top industries likely to be disrupted. Blockchain technology could offer solutions to some of  healthcare’s greatest challenges, from securely managing patients’ medical data to tracking large databases of drugs through the supply chain or extracting healthcare data from clinical trials. As the technology advances and becomes more readily available, more healthcare organizations across the industry will be adopting blockchain solutions to redesign the global healthcare ecosystem.  HR serves a critical function for the healthcare industry and is an intermediate between employees and one of the most valued aspects of life: their health. According to Bitfortune, 55% of healthcare applications will adopt blockchain platforms for commercial deployment by 2025. Meanwhile, adoption seems to be ramping up with multiple governments around the world announcing plans to invest in blockchain and encourage its implementation. For example, Singapore’s government has announced financial incentives to enterprises for adopting the technology. Amid an evolving industry, it is imperative HR professionals stay current with how blockchain’s ledger technology is disrupting the healthcare industry. They should especially keep a pulse on the implications blockchain holds for delivering the employee experience with improved healthcare and other benefits. Use cases: how blockchain can help HR transform in delivering healthcare & benefits   While the use of blockchain technology is still more commonly associated with payment functions, its disruption to HR will be profound and pervasive in coming years with many possible use cases across the functions of an HR department. To prepare for the coming blockchain revolution, HR departments should focus on identifying problem areas and inefficient processes that could be addressed by the transparency, accuracy and speed that blockchain provides. The processes most primed for blockchain disruption are those that are burdensome and expensive with substantial data collection and third-party verification. For this reason, healthcare and benefits could be the ideal match for an HR department looking to adopt blockchain technology. 1.  Enhancing fraud prevention & cybersecurity for sensitive data in HR. HR teams conduct some of the highest-volume financial transactions for an organization and handle sensitive employee data related to healthcare (as well as, banking, disciplinary records, performance records, expense reimbursement, and more). Unfortunately, all of the data an HR department maintains is at risk of being exploited and, as more companies face data breaches, it is becoming increasingly important that proper measures are in place to maintain security and prevent fraud. A company’s cyber risks largely emerge from an underlying lack of transparency and accuracy in its data systems. Because of its capacity for promoting transparency and accuracy, blockchain technology is being lauded as a solution for combating cybersecurity crime and protecting data. While blockchain’s popularity grows among large companies and companies that hold critical, sensitive data (for example, Lockheed Martin is trusting it to secure data), it is also being used by nonprofits to collect donations securely. It is important to consider that blockchain technology can mitigate both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records. Access to the blockchain is limited and controlled—even those who have access are not able to modify the records. This limits both internal fraud and external hacks of sensitive employee records. In the digital age, data is a major asset for a company. Blockchain essentially functions to decentralize data and places it across a large network of computer storage spaces to reduce the risk that a single hacking event could usurp all the data a company has. By using blockchain, HR departments can introduce a solid measure of security against cyber threats to protect their employees’ health information. 2.  Improving health insurance, health records & patient experience with ‘smart contracts.’ Much of blockchain’s power comes in the application of ‘smart contracts’, which many organizations are using to make payments to employees, contractors and vendors. In fact, it is reported that 45% of early adopters of blockchain are already implementing smart contracts within their organizations. A smart contract codes a set of parameters using statements in ‘if this, then that” (IFTTT) language. These contracts are designed so that, once executed, the entire process is dictated by these codes. It is also made irreversible unless of course terms of a contract need to be updated. While smart contracts have many applications for HR functions in terms of payroll, there are some very important considerations HR departments should be aware of in terms of healthcare. Smart contracts have the potential to be used for insurance, including how patients buy insurance. Through a smart contract, all details of an insuree’s policy could be stored in a patient profile. This profile would then be stored on the blockchain platform in a safe and secure ledger that is less prone to hacks than the databases currently used.  Smart contracts could also impact the insurance claim process by eliminating the need for lengthy forms and time lags. If an insuree undergoes a medical procedure covered by the policy, a smart contract would be automatically triggered to transfer money from the insurance company’s account straight to the hospital or medical provider. The automation cuts out delays and hassles, allowing for correct payment of the medical service. There are also numerous implications for electronic medical records, information and medical data sharing. Storing patient’s electronic health records (EHR) on secured ledgers, for example, would allow a patient to move easily from one hospital to another without having to fill out numerous forms. The blockchain network would safely store their records, allowing their new physician to access them without delay. While hospitals and healthcare providers currently rely on a number of databases filled with patient data, these can be too centralized and restrictive for sharing potentially life-saving insights around the globe. If health records were to be kept in a smart contract stored on the blockchain, the data analytics would be available to hospitals, providers and research institutions everywhere. With widespread adoption of this healthcare blockchain technology, an individual could essentially walk into any hospital in the world for treatment and, with their private key, their health data would be accessible instantly. 3.  Offering better access to healthcare & other benefits. Blockchain’s ‘smart contracts’ could also change how employees gain access to healthcare and benefits. Once the employer outlines the terms of employment prior to hiring, HR is charged with upholding the conditions in the contract. These terms include provisions that employees value in their employee experience, such as healthcare insurance, wellness programs or other benefits. The current model of manually delivering benefits runs risks of errors and could get in the way of properly servicing employees. With blockchain, HR could seamlessly deliver upon these benefits by implementing smart contracts that automate the process. For example, if a company outlines that an employee’s benefits packages begins after a specific waiting period, the smart contract would be written to automate these benefits at the right time and in the right fashion. Not only does blockchain have the potential to improve security and automation of benefits, it is possible for benefits to be more personalized to each individual employee. In today’s digital world, consumers are accustomed to enjoying personalized experiences and this trend of hyper-personalization is reaching the workplace. Through blockchain’s smart contracts, which could be integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT technology, companies would be able to empower employees with benefits packages and wellness programs that are tailored specifically for them and their evolving needs. These personalized packages could become a critical tool for enhancing the employee experience. Challenges HR faces in implementing blockchain to deliver benefits   Blockchain is a quickly evolving technology with new applications and trends regularly emerging. Though it is becoming more widely adopted across a variety of industries, it is inevitable that first-time users will run into issues and challenges in implementing it. For HR departments, it is imperative to consider these challenges as they explore which processes might be impacted by blockchain. 1.  Data standardization & integration with legacy systems. With blockchain being a new technology, protocols and standards for its application are not yet established. When the internet began to commercialize, it initially struggled without proper protocols. But over time, controls were implemented to allow for browser compatibility, cross-platform multimedia and better interconnectivity between servers. As more sectors adopt blockchain—especially healthcare which handles sensitive and personal data—ensuring that blockchains offer an industry-wide benefit will require widespread collaboration and standardization. For example, it will have to be determined when private, as opposed to public, if blockchains make sense. Otherwise, this could impact the security and functionality of blockchain technology. All industries will have to get over a major hurdle when it comes to integrating blockchain solutions with legacy systems—or replacing legacy systems altogether. But the hurdle is especially high for HR and healthcare, which are often bound to specific legal regulations and already have very specific HR or healthcare systems in place that incorporate these parameters. Synching these systems or replacing them with blockchain technology could prove to be difficult. 2.  Adoption & incentives for participation. Despite enthusiasm and a strong record of success, blockchain adoption has proven to be difficult for companies. Greenwich Associates surveyed companies that have implemented blockchain and 57% reported its integration has been harder than expected. In terms of scalability, 42% of respondents reported it as a major issue, 39% said it is a minor issue and 19% said it is no issue at all. Much of the challenges are culture or people-related, rather than technical. For example, most people resist change and, if they do tolerate it, they generally prefer it to happen gradually and incrementally. The oppositions to change could be even more pronounced for those in HR, especially with employees across an organization resisting how healthcare and employee benefits—which are very personal—is administered. Some of the proposed uses for blockchain would result in systemic changes that rapidly transform the entire system. Even if employees and management are open to change, HR still has work cut out in hiring, education and training. Blockchain will require companies to hire more research and analytical staff as well as offer training on how to properly implement it. But this is where HR thrives. By helping to cultivate a culture of digital transformation, HR departments can also guide companies on their blockchain journey. 3.  High costs of developing & operating blockchain technology. The adoption of blockchain technology is likely to offer long-term benefits in regard to productivity, efficiency, timeliness, and reduced costs. However, one of the greatest obstacles to widespread adoption of blockchain is the high cost to initially install it. The software required to implement blockchain within an organization must typically be developed specifically for each individual company. This makes it expensive to obtain, whether hiring in-house or buying from a developer. Moreover, even after the blockchain software is developed, the company would also have to purchase specialized hardware to be used with it.  In addition to the software development costs, companies must also find qualified personnel to operate the technology.  The blockchain space is new and growing so rapidly that the demand for professionals in the field outweighs the supply. This makes hiring qualified blockchain experts—either in-house or as consultants—quite costly. Currently, it appears that the world’s largest corporations are the only ones benefiting from blockchain because they have the money, resources and data to spare. Furthermore, the technology itself seems too new and not yet fully understood for SMEs to adopt in droves. However, this is all likely to change over time. The commercialization of the internet was gradual and in the early days it required companies who wanted to go online to put up a substantial amount of money upfront and invest in customized solutions. Eventually, as blockchain becomes more mainstream, it will also become much less expensive, more streamlined and more accessible to companies. Blockchain is already demonstrating its potential to disrupt business as we know it. Because the HR department guards and manages large amounts of sensitive data that are critical to employees’ lives and how a company operates, it is likely that blockchain technology will be infused directly into the HR function to add transparency and trust to various processes. Healthcare and benefits administration is one of the processes that blockchain technology is likely to directly transform. Though there are challenges in cost, scalability and perception to overcome, HR departments could potentially use blockchain technology to provide employees with greater access to more personalized benefits packages. Furthermore, as time is freed up by automated processing, HR departments will be able to turn their efforts to more value-adding activities such as building employee engagement and experience.

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