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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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.