Employers of all types and sizes are asking themselves the same question: What more can we do to compete and win the war for talent?

News headlines and employment data are describing a job market as tight as many HR professionals have seen in their careers. Employers are responding with more pay and bonuses, flexible work arrangements, plus an array of other enhancements to their total rewards packages.

What role do benefits — and specifically health benefits — play in this increased competition? Navigation Insider® spoke with two experienced HR leaders to get their perspectives. They agreed that offering an enhanced benefits experience is essential if employers wish to stand out with choosy job candidates and show stepped-up caring and commitment to current employees.

Helping employees understand and use their benefits

Veronica Knuth, who recently joined Quantum Health as its chief people officer, said she sensed a war for talent coming before COVID-19 triggered historic workplace disruptions. Factors she saw merging to create a tightening labor force included:

  • The number of baby boomers reaching retirement.
  • A growing desire among younger workers to join employers that align with their values.
  • A trend in benefits administration toward primarily digital member services and engagement.

“Over the last several decades, many employers have tried to create savings within their benefits by focusing on self-service and digital solutions,” Knuth said. “I believe that’s had the effect of eroding connection with employees. It’s left them feeling like a number at a time when having them feel valued and connected has never been more important.”

Knuth noted that a Quantum Health survey last year found barely half of employees feel confident understanding and using their health benefits. That lack of confidence, and related difficulties dealing with benefits and claims issues during work hours, leaves many feeling confused, frustrated and unproductive. Meanwhile, among benefits decision-makers for self-insured employers, the survey found:

  • 88% agreed that health benefits play an important part in efforts to attract and retain employees.
  • 97% consider offering healthcare navigation important if an employer’s goal is to provide the best possible benefits.
  • 84% said offering a professional healthcare navigation service would enhance their talent recruiting and retention strategies.

“As employers, we want to offer comprehensive health benefits to keep our people well and manage the risks that drive costs,” Knuth said. “But that means our benefits can become increasingly complicated. That’s where navigation can be a differentiator. As the research suggests, it lets employers go from simply offering benefits, to being able to tell employees and job candidates they’ll receive expert help in understanding and using those benefits.”

Demonstrating compassion for employees

At Surgery Partners, time spent by employees wrestling with benefits and claims issues while at work can distract them from their shared mission: Providing exceptional healthcare to patients at its nearly 300 surgical facilities. Although the company’s 9,000 employees work in healthcare, they can feel as puzzled and distracted as any consumer might when struggling to interpret an explanation of benefits or sorting through details of a disputed medical bill.

Amanda Davenport, senior director of benefits, describes Surgery Partners’ approach to supporting employees as a “partnership of compassion,” where the care provided by staff to patients mirrors the compassion shown by employer to staff. “That’s one of our points of integrity,” Davenport said. “We know there’s stress. We know about the high burnout rate. We’re committed to bringing a high level of compassion to our employees.”

When asked whether she and her team distinguish between providing benefits and an enhanced benefits experience, Davenport said, “100%. Quantum Health’s navigation services are a huge part of that. They’ve helped us come a long way in educating employees on what’s available to them. And now employers aren’t spending time worrying about benefits and claims, making a ton of calls, breaking into their day.”

Davenport’s HR team has focused intensely on dialing up benefits education, both to employees and potential hires. Benchmarking shows that the company’s benefits are highly competitive. That message is being emphasized in training with leaders, HR recruiters and hiring managers. In conversations with recruits, “We used to almost apologize for our benefits,” she said. “Now we go in with a strong presentation. It’s not just, ‘These are the benefits.’ It’s, ‘Here’s how we can help you and how easy it can be.’”

A 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that better pay, work-life balance and benefits were the top three reasons workers are searching for new jobs. In that same survey, executives ranked better benefits the top reason they believe employees are seeking new career opportunities.

For Surgery Partners’ HR team, making benefits a more powerful tool for recruiting and retention started with recognizing the need to promote just how valuable its benefits and benefits experience are. “We offer great benefits — it’s just a matter of how we present them and make sure people know all the support they have,” Davenport said. “And I think there’s still great improvement we can make to bring that experience aspect forward.”

Relevant, actionable health benefits insights

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