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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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Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - Are employers offering millennials the right benefits?

We live in a society that's all about "bigger," "faster" and "more." But, as we're learning in the workplace benefits arena, "more" doesn't always equal "better." At least that's what we're getting from the new employee research covered in BenefitsPRO, which told us that workers -- specifically millennials -- want more help for all-around wellness. It seems their needs simply aren't being met, even after companies continue to blindly pile on other offerings.

Millennials want more employer support for well-being - Katie Kuehner-Hebert, Benefits PRO

Let's get right to the numbers here. In a recent Welltok report, "Millennials: Raising the Bar for Wellbeing," this much-maligned, often-misunderstood generation isn't asking for the moon. They just want benefits that provide holistic support for physical, mental and financial well-being. Yet, of the 1,000 employees surveyed, 78% think their companies can do more.

In turn, just 23% felt they knew where (and how) to access the well-being resources being offered by their employers. In other words, the answers might actually be there, but employees are having a hard time finding them.

Despite all this automation, millennials have also shown an affinity for personalized experiences. And health and wellness is no exception. More than 60% of surveyed felt that their benefits were uniform across the board, even though employee needs varied widely. And it seems this "one size fits all" approach is preventing them from taking part in company programs, too.

So, how do employers change the story? Well, according to the article, adding incentives that encourage participation would help. These benefits aren't AS surprising, but it makes sense as to why millennials would want them. Here's what respondents seemed to want the most:

  • Extra vacation time (64%)
  • Wellness benefits (56%)
  • Flexible work schedules (53%)

And though it wasn't part of the incentives list, millennials are also (unsurprisingly) very interested in financial stability… and maybe the training to make it happen.

All in all, this was an interesting read that aligns with what we've said about what motivates millennials in the workplace. But it also reintroduces the biggest point -- companies likely need to adapt and evolve their benefits programs to help retain this diverse generation of workers.


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.

Living Well

Fridays (with Benefits) - 5/3/19 - Will deep learning lead to the rise of Dr. Robot?

Mr. Robot is a popular TV show about a group of hackers who are trying to wipe out the world's debt problem through some digital anarchy. A novel idea, but probably not a realistic one. Maybe we won't see an effective Mr. Robot anytime soon, but what if health care providers started diving a little deeper into tech and data solutions?

Is DR. Robot on the way? Maybe not with an Oscar-winner leading the charge, but it looks like the health care world is ready to graduate from artificial intelligence (AI) into even stronger ways to revolutionize the industry. Let's dive in.

Deep learning offers lessons for healthcare - Bruce Shutan, Employee Benefit Adviser

Building off the tenets of AI and machine learning, deep learning tech processes gargantuan amounts of seemingly unrelated data and spots data patterns. Once identified, the platform then creates better prediction models for more proactive solutions.

What does this techno-babble have to do with health care? For starters, if deep learning platforms spot patterns in patient data, it could lead to earlier intervention of chronic diseases, potentially sparing them the physical and financial burden of a longer-term illness.

In other words, earlier treatments, fewer symptoms, lower costs for all involved.

Other potential health care benefits of deep learning include better medical imaging, more personalized treatment plans for specific patients, lowering the costs of drug discovery, and even improving the processing and paperwork routines.

According to the article, the health care industry is a perfect place to put deep learning tech to use. The author cites that a single hospital stay could potentially generate 100 pages of data. Multiply that by thousands of patients, and… well, you can see the need for a platform to make sense of it all to improve service on all levels of the experience.

The article goes on to discuss how data science isn't just going to help with the medical results and bottom lines, but also to make the entire experience, from diagnosis to final payment, more efficient, eliminating a lot of the friction and communication issues that can plague a lot of providers.

Of course, we can't cover the topic here. But if you're interested in doctors bringing a little science fiction into our health care reality, this is a must-read article that shows why Mr. Robot might be a little closer to real than we think.


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.


Fridays (with Benefits) - 4/26/19 - A digital revolution is underway in employee benefits

Employee Benefit News is a publication we reference a lot in this column, because of its ongoing coverage of the benefits industry (and how it might affect FSA and HSA owners). So, when the site's editors highlight the people and companies helping to change the employee benefits landscape, we take notice.

This year's Digital Innovators award recipients shine some light on all the different ways benefits are evolving through connected platforms. From things as simple as online video series and apps aimed at retirement planning, to more complex apps centered on employee accountability, it's clear that the world of benefits is taking a major leap to improve engagement in the workplace.

"Going digital" is hardly a new concept for modern business, but it's still great to see these platforms improve the way we work and live, in and out of the office. Let's take a closer look.

20 digital innovators transforming benefits, HR - Caroline Hroncich, Kathryn Mayer - Employee Benefit News

According to the article, EBN received dozens of nominations from readers, along with some choices from editors and industry experts, to create a comprehensive list of 20 deserving recipients. We obviously can't cover them all here, but let's check out a few of the standouts for 2019.

Rosario Avila and Andrew McNeil, founders of BenefitsTV
Avila and McNeil created BenefitsTV — a series of videos posted to social media —after they couldn't find any benefits content in video form. Since teaming up, the two benefits advisers have posted more than 50 short videos for YouTube and Instagram.

Mike Cardillo, co-founder and president, HandsFree Health
Cardillo's company created the new voice-activated device WellBe, which responds to voice commands like other virtual assistants, but targeted for answering questions based on the owner's individual healthcare and benefits information.

Brian Hamilton, vice president of SmartDollar
SmartDollar is an online and app-based financial program designed to educate employees to proactively take control of their money and get on track for retirement.

These three are really just the tip of the innovation iceberg highlighted in the article, so we strongly recommend taking a few minutes to see the list in full. Even if you're completely happy with your benefits (as an employer or employee) you might just find something to make them even better for everyone involved.


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.


Fridays (with Benefits) - 4/19/19 - Benefits education could lead to longer-tenured employees

One of the goals of our Learning Centers is to educate readers about their tax-free health care accounts, so they can make the right decisions about which accounts to open, and what opportunities they'll have for the upcoming year. But education about employee benefits needs to start a lot earlier, to make the choices clearer for workers, and to keep them happy long after they sign on the dotted line.

But, as we see in this article from BenefitsPRO, the level of benefits education plays a bigger role than we thought in employee happiness … and it might even affect retention. Let's see why.

Lack of benefits understanding brings low morale, high turnover - Marlene Satter, BenefitsPRO

According to a new Colonial Life study, employees who don't get a thorough picture of their benefits options during open enrollment don't typically understand their choices, even after they make their selections. This isn't that surprising. What caught our attention is that there seems to be a scary correlation between employee understanding and happiness.

Long story short? Data shows that employees who don't fully understand their benefits are more likely to quit within the coming year.

What's even more concerning is that there doesn't seem to be any urgency by employees to change this. Just look at these stats:

  • 33% of workers spend less than a half hour choosing benefits during enrollment.
  • 36% spend less than an hour even researching their options.

The article goes on to explain how this hastiness leads to lower morale, less confidence in their company, and even complete job dissatisfaction. It also highlights how different demographics had some markedly different approaches to selecting benefits.

Now, we can't speculate that the lack of benefits education is directly responsible for turnover. But having a company properly explain options and help employees select an ideal plan certainly seems like it would improve morale.

We're curious to see how the results of the Colonial Life study pan out, and if it will make a difference when open enrollment starts 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.