Are you considering diversity, equity and inclusion in your benefits program?
There has been a lot of progress made in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace over the last couple of decades. Many companies believe that they already are providing a diverse and inclusive culture, but that may not be the case when it comes to benefits. As the saying goes, "We've come a long way, baby." Just not far enough.
As the pandemic has forced us to rethink so much, and deal with a tight labor market, it becomes even more essential to recognize that benefits also need to be looked at through the lens of diversity, equality, and inclusion. Both benefits and diversity are critical components of recruiting and retaining top talent. According to Monster.com, 62% of job candidates would turn down a job if they felt the company culture didn't value workplace diversity.
Unfortunately, not all benefits programs are created equal, and it's not just what is offered, but how information is communicated and how employees are educated that can create a truly inclusive benefits plan. So, let's look at benefits through the DEI lens.
We need to think about an inclusive and holistic approach regarding DEI in benefit offerings. The key is to think about benefits not in a singular manner, but in terms of product solutions that work throughout the employee's life cycle and changing needs. Here are some examples:
- Remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the mental well-being of mothers more than fathers, according to Mckinsey & Company.1 So, what are solutions that can be provided for mothers? Consider implementing a mental health campaign for working moms, parental leave for both parents to eliminate the burden on the mother, flexibility to work from home, and childcare options.
- Minority employees are more likely to provide financial support and care for their extended family. Given the burden and stress of this, these employees require a solution that involves financial wellness education, savings account through payroll deductions for emergency situations, low-cost medical plans for the entire family, flexible work schedules, paid family leave, and dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA).
- According to the Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, about 9% of men and 11% of women of reproductive age in the US have experienced fertility problems.2 That's approximately one in eight couples that have trouble getting pregnant. In addition, same-sex couples are having babies or adopting at an increasing rate (according to the US census about 21%). Their needs would involve infertility coverage, adoption assistance, parental leave, and financial planning.
Think outside the box when deciding what solutions to include in your benefits packages and consider the diversity of needs for the modern workforce.
Identifying what benefits a diverse workforce needs is just the first step. Benefit providers and employers must take a multi-pronged approach to employee education and communications to make sure that their employees understand what is available to them and how to utilize the coverage.
The modern workforce includes five generations, all of whom have different communications and educational styles, as well as having language and cultural differences. It's important to consider who your employees are and offer them targeted information for their specific needs to help them build their health blueprint.
Education and communications need to be a continuous effort. Make a commitment to a year-round communications plan; including pre-open enrollment to generate excitement and increase engagement; open enrollment to educate; and post-open enrollment to conduct satisfaction surveys, offer continuing education, and drive utilization.
Open enrollment provides the best opportunity to educate and ensure that employees choose the right benefits to meet their individual needs. For that to happen, you need to provide different enrollment options: one-on-one in-person sessions, over the phone, video conferencing and pre-recorded sessions, or self-enrollment through an online portal or mobile app.
Employees also need to be able to access their benefit plan information where and how they want. A recent study reveals that 50% of employees preferred an online portal to receive their benefits education, meaning half of employees want other ways to access critical information.
It's important to provide options that will appeal to the needs and comforts of all employees. Older people may prefer the traditional telephone call or having a physical copy of their benefits guide, while Gen Z and millennials prefer texts. Employees with disabilities may need solutions compatible with assistive aides like a chatbot or email, and QR codes or a company intranet may be best for parents of young children who need quick access available 24 hours a day.
Also make sure to consider job function when planning outreach. Workers with all day access to a computer are more likely to be reached via email or an office messaging app. Employees working outside the office may be better served by letters mailed to their homes, fliers in their company vehicles or posters hung in warehouse bathrooms.
Communication channels are part of the equation. The other part is what is being communicated and how DEI is taken into consideration. Do you need to produce materials in different languages? Consider your employee's families when asking that question. If an employee is taking care of an elderly parent who only speaks Spanish, are you ensuring that the materials are accessible to them?
Another strategy is to tailor communications based on personalized benefit options, like offering a specific marketing pamphlet for couples trying to get pregnant who may need a quick summary of what the company provides for parental leave, health insurance, and fertility benefits. Have you edited your open enrollment materials to have gender-neutral and inclusive language to meet the needs of your LGBTQ?+ employees?
Centering DEI is essential to helping employees build the right benefits blueprint for their needs. In the end, a truly equitable workplace acknowledges the different needs of their employees and works to give them all equal access to benefits. As Alexis Herman so aptly stated: "Inclusion and fairness in the workplace… is not simply the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do."
1 McKinsey & Company "COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment," June 29, 2020
2 Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (www.nichd.nih.gov)