Benefits Pro: Harnessing the power of sensing for optimal health care benefits

By embracing employee sensing, organizations can enhance employee satisfaction and retention and drive better business outcomes in the long run.

By Kim Buckey

In the dynamic arena of human resources management, one aspect stands out as a constant: employees' wellbeing and satisfaction. Benefits, like health care and financial protection plans, are more impactful than ever in influencing employee happiness, and determining whether they stay with an employer or look for another job. As the cost of these benefits continues to soar and employers strive to maximize the value of their benefits packages, it becomes increasingly imperative for employers to delve deeper into assessing the sentiments and needs of their employees.

Traditionally, many HR teams have used annual post-mortems and surveys to gauge employee satisfaction and gather feedback on benefits offerings. While these methods provide some insights, they often fail to capture the nuanced needs and preferences of a diverse and ever evolving workforce and can cause budgets to be allocated toward benefits employees don't necessarily want or need. This is where the broader concept of employee sensing emerges as a game-changer.

What is employee sensing?
Employee sensing goes beyond the confines of periodic surveys and embraces a proactive approach to understanding employee feedback. At its core, it involves creating continuous feedback loops that enable HR teams to gather updated insights into employee preferences, concerns, and experiences with benefits.

Further, diving into overall and year-over-year utilization of plans, programs and point solutions can identify where offerings may not be resonating with employees—or point out areas where lack of awareness requires more, and more targeted, communications efforts.

Implementing an effective employee sensing program requires a multifaceted approach. One key aspect involves leveraging indirect sensing methods, such as analyzing click-through rates from websites or call center volume and topic analysis, which provide valuable quantitative data on employee interactions with benefits-related communications and platforms. By closely monitoring how employees interact with their benefits packages, HR teams can gain valuable insights into which offerings resonate with employees and which may require adjustment or enhancement.

Alongside this, direct sensing — which can include regular pulse surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one discussions — provides HR teams with rich qualitative data that can inform decision-making and drive continuous improvement. These interactions enable HR professionals to identify potential gaps or pain points in benefits offerings and foster a culture of transparency and trust within the organization.

Getting employee feedback to stay on top of needs and trends
One of the critical advantages of employee sensing is its ability to capture the diverse needs of today's multi-faceted workforce. With employees spanning several generations, each with unique preferences, requirements, and levels of benefits understanding and awareness, a one-size-fits-all approach to benefits is no longer viable. By actively soliciting feedback from individual employees across different demographic groups, HR teams can tailor benefits packages to meet the specific needs of each cohort while ensuring inclusivity and equity across the board.

Moreover, employee sensing enables organizations to stay ahead of emerging trends and anticipate future needs. Data and observations obtained by continuously monitoring employee feedback and market dynamics can be used to inform corporate benefit strategy and drive planning efforts for the following plan year, as well as provide direction for immediate and future communications efforts. This forward-thinking approach enhances employee satisfaction and positions organizations as leaders in providing cutting-edge benefits solutions.

Employee sensing best practices
For employee sensing to be effective, it is essential for organizations to demonstrate transparency and accountability in how they handle the employee feedback they gather. When soliciting feedback, HR teams should clearly communicate the purpose of the feedback-gathering process and reassure employees that their input will be taken seriously (and, where applicable, kept anonymous). After analyzing the feedback, organizations should circle back to employees to communicate the findings and outline any planned actions or changes based on the feedback received. Importantly, if certain requests or recommendations cannot be implemented for valid reasons, such as budget constraints or regulatory limitations, organizations should provide clear explanations to employees and communicate alternative courses of action. This ensures that employees feel heard, respected, and engaged in the benefits decision-making process, ultimately fostering a culture of trust and collaboration within the organization.

When it comes to implementing employee sensing initiatives, there are several best practices that HR teams can employ to maximize effectiveness. First, it's essential to establish clear communication channels through which employees can provide feedback and raise concerns about their health care benefits. Whether through dedicated feedback portals, town hall meetings, or regular check-ins with managers, creating an open and accessible feedback loop is crucial for fostering a culture of employee engagement and empowerment.

Secondly, HR teams should prioritize using technology-enabled sensing tools to streamline data collection and analysis processes. From automated survey platforms to sophisticated analytics dashboards, leveraging technology can help HR professionals gather, analyze, and act upon employee feedback more efficiently and effectively. By harnessing the power of data and analytics, organizations can uncover actionable insights that drive meaningful improvements in benefits offerings and utilization.

Finally, HR teams should ensure that the insights from employee sensing activities are intertwined into the broader benefits strategy and decision-making process. Rather than treating employee sensing as a standalone activity, it should be seamlessly integrated into the ongoing benefits planning and evaluation cycle.

Employee sensing represents an important enhancement in how organizations design and deliver health care benefits. By adopting a proactive and continuous approach to gathering employee feedback, HR teams can gain invaluable insights into employee preferences, identify areas for improvement, and drive meaningful change. From leveraging indirect sensing methods to soliciting direct feedback from employees, organizations have a wealth of tools to unlock employee satisfaction and deliver optimal benefits. By embracing employee sensing, organizations can enhance employee satisfaction and retention and drive better business outcomes in the long run.