How to make your employees even smarter (when it comes to benefits decisions)

rob_harkins_employee benefits_consulting

Melissa Halverson, Benefits & HRIS Manager for WAXIE Sanitary Supply shares how her company modernized their benefit delivery with Rob Harkins of Willis Towers Watson at the 9th Annual Employer Health Care and Benefits Congress.

In my experience interacting with innovative companies that have taken steps to improve their employee benefits system, I’ve come to understand one thing that many of them tend to overlook: Employees are smart. Why? Because when they’re given choices about benefits, they tend to make good decisions, largely because they know more about their individual needs than their employers.

This sentiment was reinforced during the 9th Annual Employer and Health Care Benefits Congress, which I attended earlier this month in Los Angeles. There, I heard directly from HR leaders from companies as varied as 1-800-FLOWERS and WAXIE Sanitary Supply, among others, which have observed higher satisfaction among employees since moving to a benefit marketplace model. In this model, employees choose from among a variety of options for products and plans, rather than have their employers dictate the plans to them.

Providing more choice is great, but companies also need to support employees’ decision-making – especially when it comes to health and welfare.

So what’s an employer to do?

Here are five tips to help your employees make smarter benefits decisions:

1. Consider a decision support system. Online benefit marketplaces typically include a recommendation engine, which not only suggests products and plans to employees based on their individual situations, but also explains the reasoning behind them, such as why you would need a health savings account if you purchased a high deductible health plan. Melissa Halverson, Benefits and HRIS Manager for WAXIE, said that decision support “actually helped employees understand how their benefits work. And in each case the system explained why something was recommended, so the employee could make their own decision based on the information.”

2. Provide phone support for your benefits enrollment system. This could mean connecting employees to a designated service center or using a benefit marketplace that offers these services built into the system. We’ve seen nearly 100% first-call resolution rates for our marketplace employee service center. “From the start of open enrollment through earlier this year,” Melissa said, “we saw almost 200 employee questions go to the employee service center with a 100% resolution rate. That saved me a lot of time on the phone answering questions. We especially appreciated the Spanish language support from the service center.”

3. Upgrade and differentiate your educational materials. What works for one group, may not work for another, and just as one benefits plan might not work for all employees, your communications need to vary based on your internal populations. For example, research from the Private Exchange Research Council (PERC) has shown  that Gen Xers tend to buy more products in our benefit marketplaces than Gen Yers or Boomers, so they’ll likely spend more time reading about the offerings and considering their decisions than other groups.

benefit marketplace products purchased

4. Make employee benefits education a year-round activity. Employees typically roll their eyes when the annual open enrollment brochure is handed out. Granted, many employers are distributing these online, but by the time employees are reviewing their plans, it’s already too late. Benefits education should be a year-round endeavor. Instead of focusing solely on the annual open enrollment campaign to explain benefits offerings, why not conduct email campaigns year-round, or have a designated section on your intranet that posts regular updates on benefits? Companies that use Willis Towers Watson’s Group Marketplace can also post regular notices to employees year-round through the marketplace.

5. Embrace consumerism in benefits.  A benefit marketplace puts employees in the driver’s seat, and over time, our research has shown that as more benefit products are being introduced, employees are responding by purchasing more. The latest study from the Private Exchange Research Council (PERC) found that the number of product categories offered increased 17% from 2014 to 2017, and as a result, the number of products purchased by employees went up by 35%, from 3.8 to 5.1. Employees are embracing the new types of benefits available to them – I’d say that’s pretty smart.


The bottom line: Benefits are part of a total compensation package and employees should know everything about how they are compensated. And a little knowledge goes a long way, especially in terms of benefits decisions.

For more from the Private Exchange Research Council (PERC) visit

About Rob Harkins

Rob Harkins is the Group Marketplace Leader, Brokerage and Advisory, for Health and Benefits, North America, at Wil…
Categories: Employee Wellbeing, Health Care Industry, Insurance and Risk Management | Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to How to make your employees even smarter (when it comes to benefits decisions)

  1. Rob Harkins says:

    Bryan, you should reach out to your benefit broker/consultant for guidance around your insurance carriers. Are you currently on a Private Exchange or interested in considering one. My professional email is if you would like to continue this conversation.

    Rob Harkins

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