Fridays (with Benefits) - Better benefits through data

Data is everywhere. This isn't exactly "news." Mostly about how Big Data is affecting large industries. But we haven't heard much about how localized data can help smaller companies leverage the same types of insights, scaled to their specific needs.

This week, we look at an article that highlights an HR professional who leveraged her own love of data analysis to better craft employee benefit plans at her company. What might be the most interesting is how much of the data she uses is qualitative, addressing the targeted needs of people.

How one HR pro uses data to increase benefit utilization - Nick Otto, Employee Benefit News

Misty Guinn, the director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus, calls herself a "data nerd." Yet, HR hasn't traditionally been a line of work that relied heavily on deeper metrics -- even at a company that provides benefits services to other organizations.

And what struck her the most was how it seemed that her company's employees knew more about other people's benefits than their own. So, she tore down the existing model and built a new internal benefits education plan that treated the company's own workers like the customers they serve.

The result? An Employee Benefit News' 2019 Judges' Choice Benny Award.

Guinn's new approach was people-focused, aiming to ensure an entire wellness strategy -- physical, mental, emotional, financial and purpose-driven needs. These plans and options were crafted by analyzing the data at hand.

We won't get too deep into the specifics, but the data was telling, giving Guinn the insights necessary to rework entire communications plans, increasing engagement before, during and after open enrollment. She knew that employees were often confused by the wealth of benefits options in front of them, never making the most of what was offered.

Even more telling, by analyzing her company's enrollment data, Guinn saw ways to optimize benefits offerings by life accomplishments and milestones -- having children, buying homes, paying for college, etc. Not only did she make it easier for employees to understand their options, but also continued education and communication through these life-changing events.

Even for employees who aren't undergoing these changes, Guinn's data allowed her to create a thematic approach to internal communications, centering her outreach on awareness months, national observances and the like.

With these overhauls, Benefitfocus saw a 72% adoption rate into its high deductible health plans during the 2019 open enrollment period, above the national average of 25 to 30%. Additionally, there was a 27% increase in employee contributions to health savings accounts.

Yeah, this is the type of data we like to hear. Check out the rest of the article to hear more about how Guinn and Benefitfocus leveraged data to transform benefits into a personal journey.

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Fridays (with Benefits) - Are you getting full value from your benefits?

It's hard to imagine anyone making benefits "mistakes." When open enrollment comes, you just choose the best possible plan for you and move on with your day, right? If only things were that easy…

As we've discussed several times in this column, choosing the right benefits plan can be more difficult than you think, and can even be costly to employees, especially if they're not properly trained on their options. In this week's headline, Bob Armour from BenefitsPRO gets into some communication problems that could be hurting employee benefits, and suggests concrete ways to fix them.

5 benefits mistakes that cost employees - Bob Armour, BenefitsPRO

It seems like once benefits are chosen, employees are largely left to their own devices from that point forward. One of the things that stood out about this piece is how the author goes beyond benefits selection, and points out ways that companies can expand employee education to include spending advice, retirement planning and even wellness program engagement.

We obviously can't cover all of the article's points (that's why we included the link!). But here are some key takeaways from Armour's piece:

It should be a two-way conversation

When it comes to first choosing benefits, Armour points out how jargon can intimidate employees before they even start the selection process. Instead, he suggests opening the discussion with definitions to level the playing field between the benefits professional and the employee.

After that, he mentions how selection works best when key messaging points are communicated appropriately for different employee groups. Not just by professional tiers, but also by life stages -- recent hires vs. long-tenured employees, single vs. married, etc.

While all employees will have equal opportunities (obviously), different groups will have different needs, and using the same communication strategies might not resonate across the board.

Employees need to learn how to use benefits, not just choose them

Whether it's budgeting strategies for HDHP enrollees, or making regular health care recommendations (e.g. telemedicine vs. office visits, urgent care centers vs. visiting the ER) employees can benefit from ongoing communications with their administrators.

The truth is, many benefits options go largely unused once open enrollment is over. Things like wellness rewards programs, retirement planning training, debt management advice, or other perks need to remain front and center for employees, or they may quickly be forgotten. By making benefits perks seem important -- maybe reminding them that payroll deductions are already paying for them -- employees are more likely to take advantage of things that can improve their overall wellness.

These are just a few of the many takeaways Armour included in the article. And what we appreciated most about the piece was that even though it's from a publication aimed at benefits professionals, employees stand to gain just as much from reading it, maybe taking a few tips into their own open enrollment conversations this fall.


Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


FSA Friday - 2/8/19 - Lessons learned from 2018 open enrollment

It seems a little late in the winter to still be talking about the previous year. But don't tell that to Employee Benefit News (EBN) which recently published an intriguing look at 2018's open enrollment, and how the we maybe shouldn't be looking at it as a specific time period, rather than a year-round cycle of phases and milestones.

"But isn't open enrollment just a bunch of people signing up for benefits? What's the big deal?" As it turns out, more than you'd think. Based on the most recent open enrollment "season" EBN experts found a few items of interest to anyone involved with employee benefits. Let's take a look.

What benefit pros can learn from the most recent open enrollment cycle - Peter Marcia, Employee Benefit News

According to author Peter Marcia, open enrollment is actually a year-round season (explained using a light football metaphor) that starts with a planning "pre-game" that involves pricing, comparing and selecting benefit plans.

This usually occurs no later than early Q2, because of the next "pre-game" phase, when HR teams need to communicate changes and prices to employees.

Once most companies reach Q3, the open enrollment game actually begins, giving employees a fairly short window to make benefit elections that closest fit their needs. In the scheme of 52 weeks, having less than a month to determine your entire upcoming year seems a little limiting. But if the pre-game portions go well, employees should be well-prepared to make these choices ahead of time.

At this point, it's safe to assume the game is over until next year. But in reality, the beginning of a new plan year is when the hardest work happens -- managing employee reactions, settling some confusion, and -- the highlight of the article -- garnering data from the enrollment period to see how to better prepare for the following year's "pre-game."

What kinds of data? For starters, how did employees choose to enroll (e.g. online, with a rep, through a mobile app, etc.)? And how long did it take them to make a decision? It might not seem important, but if there was more indecision and fewer prompt enrollments, that can help HR teams make changes for the following season.

Perhaps most importantly, this data can inform teams about the benefit plans they chose. For example, did one option stand above the rest? Were supplementary benefits more popular? Were employees more educated and confident trying new benefits (like FSAs, for example)?

The article goes into more depth about each step, and was an interesting piece, even for those not involved in administering benefits. If for no other reason than to shed some light onto just how much work is involved in making annual benefits plans possible for you.


FSA Friday is a weekly roundup of the latest topics, tips and headlines to keep you updated on all things flex spending. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.