Evolving the benefit mindset: Aligning benefits with organizational purpose (Part 2 in series)

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With today’s unprecedented rate of change, low unemployment and continuous disruption, employees are looking for differentiated work experiences that offer personalization and choice, as well as stability. As organizations evolve their mindsets to this new way of thinking, they have a tremendous opportunity to place their employees at the center of the talent value proposition and talent experience. We believe that to be successful, organizations need to align their benefits with their purpose.

Part 2 in a 7-part series: Evolving the Benefit Mindset

In this series, experts from Willis Towers Watson identify areas of focus critical for the successful implementation of a benefits strategy in a time of increased automation, uncertainty and changing employee expectations.

From the need for agility as business-as-usual to the role of organizational purpose (including the attraction and sustainability of human capital through employee wellbeing and inclusion and diversity programs) and much more – these components are essential tools for any leader in today’s climate.

Why does purpose matter?

Research shows that companies with clearly articulated values and a sense of collective purpose deliver superior business results relative to their peers. A 2018 Conference Board Global Leadership Forecast indicates that purpose-driven companies outperform their markets by an average of 42%.

Purpose provides a sense of reason, clarity and direction in an ever-changing and complex world. Similarly, organizational purpose defines a company’s essence – articulating why it exists and its impact on investors, customers, and most importantly, employees. Organizations recognize their role in creating a more sustainable future. As such, they’re becoming more intentional about connecting their environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment factors – including corporate culture, harassment policies, inclusion and diversity, and equity initiatives – to human capital sustainability efforts. We recommend organizations measure their company’s efforts in accordance with metrics put forth by Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

In today’s workforce, organizational purpose (and belief in an organization) serves as a primary driver of employee engagement – espousing a healthy company culture and wellbeing, underpinning company values and practices and guiding overall behaviors. Equally important, albeit just emerging, is the opportunity to help employees identify their own individual purpose at work and the impact they can have on their organizations and their colleagues.

While research has proven that having an individual purpose promotes better health and can enhance and extend lives, it also promotes a sense of worth and value, which can lead to increased engagement and retention in the workplace. Knowing the organization itself cares about purpose enough to emphasize it through ESG efforts to shareholders serves to create a stronger emotional connection for the employee.

Connecting purpose to benefits

With the current U.S. unemployment rate less than 4%, many employers are focused on how to differentiate and evolve their organizations. In tandem, employees are looking for a differentiated work experience – one with personalization and choice that speaks to where they are and enables them to get to where they want to be. As organizations look to evolve their benefit programs to support these ever-changing needs, they can also align benefit programs, policies and the overall talent strategy with the desire for a more personalized employee experience.

Examples of personalized benefits include fertility treatments and support to help start families, flexible work arrangements to better balance both personal and professional endeavors, financial support to prioritize financial commitments and innovative decision support tools to guide employees to the right program or benefit.

As benefits become more personal, organizations are striving to appeal to their unique, diverse populations – and in doing so, connect to inclusion and diversity efforts across their companies. Similar to the success that evolved organizations (those that strive to outpace the external rate of change) are seeing, organizations that have high ratings for I&D are 70% more likely to have success in new markets and 45% more likely to improve their market share, according to The Center for Talent Innovation.

Examples of successful inclusion and diversity efforts include investing in technology to understand the diverse population and delivering targeted messages accordingly, developing internal networking opportunities, supporting employees’ participation in external initiatives and networks to showcase female role models and conducting analyses of changes in pay differentials between job levels over time.

Further, by aligning purpose and benefits (known as “purpose-driven benefits”), organizations can make strides in employee wellbeing efforts. Wellbeing has evolved from a focus on physical health and the benefit programs that support it, to include financial, emotional and social dimensions. In particular, including social and emotional components of wellbeing link directly to key areas of organizational purpose such as inclusion and diversity efforts, corporate social responsibility and safety.

How do you get started?

Employers with an evolved benefit mindset are asking themselves: “How can we make benefits as meaningful and relevant to employees as possible?” In our work with evolved organizations, we’ve developed a framework of key practices and approaches that you can take to align benefits programs with overall purpose. These include:

  • Articulating clear organizational purpose to shareholders and stakeholders through ESG commitments, thereby creating opportunities for employees to align their individual purpose with that of the organization, demonstrating corporate social responsibility and providing opportunities for employees to make positive contributions (e.g., volunteer days, PTO donations for co-workers, fundraising opportunities)
  • Taking a comprehensive look at employee needs and preferences and building an agile and differentiated employee experience to support it today and in the future
  • Integrating the four wellbeing dimensions into company culture, which include physically thriving, being emotionally balanced, financially secure and socially connected
  • Understanding where your organization is along the I&D spectrum and building a roadmap to link corporate I&D goals to HR programs and policies

To truly deliver a differentiated experience requires agility (the ability to respond to the pace of change) and a purpose-driven approach to benefits that encompasses a focus on integrated wellbeing and a more inclusive and diverse environment. Just as each organization’s employee needs are different, each organization’s approach, strategy and resulting purpose are unique.

Putting purpose into practice

As employers evolve their benefit mindset, they have a unique opportunity to use purpose-driven benefits to help their employees live full and meaningful lives. To do so, we suggest the following six steps:

  1. Determine whether your organization understands the current benefit wants and needs of the entire workforce, including part-time and contingent workers; if not, identify key segments and start there.
  2. Assess your current benefit strategies to determine whether they incorporate choice, personalization and an experience that meets employees where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow.
  3. Go beyond programs alone by aligning with the objectives of a purpose-driven organization including healthy company culture, integrated wellbeing and inclusion and diversity.
  4. Where applicable, look for opportunities to connect to and/or further enhance ESG commitments.
  5. Ensure that employees’ needs and wants are at the center of all strategy and design decisions related to your wellbeing programs (physical, financial, emotional, and social wellbeing).
  6. Ensure that your overall benefit strategy and programs put the employee at the center of the experience,, and that leadership behaviors, company policies and messaging are all aligned with the talent value proposition and the desired talent experience.

Aligning benefits and organizational purpose can help employers demonstrate to employees that they value them. Organizations that accomplish this are bringing tangible meaning and impact to today’s employee experience, demonstrating that what matters to their employees matters to them — not just where they are today, but where they want to be in the future. This approach not only sets up employees for success but also the organization as a whole.

Previous in series: Responding to the pace of change

Next in series: Human capital attraction and sustainability

This post was adapted from the Willis Towers Watson article, “Evolving the employee benefit mindset and strategy: The future arrived yesterday” by Randall K. Abbott, senior strategist emeritus for Willis Towers Watson’s Health and Benefits practice, John M. Bremen, managing director, Human Capital and Benefits, and Amy DeVylder Levanat, director Human Capital and Benefits. Read the full article.


Amy DeVylder Levant head shotAmy DeVylder Levanat is Director, Human Capital and Benefits, at Willis Towers Watson


Catherine O'Neill, Senior Director, Health & Benefits Willis Towers Watson

Catherine O’Neill is Senior Director, Health  Benefits, at Willis Towers Watson

Categories: Employee benefits, Employee Engagement, Employee Wellbeing | Tags: , , , ,

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