When the Affordable Care Act first was signed into law in 2010, many experts predicted it would break the decades-long and established connection between employment and health insurance. Yet, our study of more than 2,000 U.S. employees shows they remain strongly attached to company-sponsored health insurance.
How strongly? Very. Ninety percent would be less satisfied if their company dropped health insurance, and only five percent think they could get a better insurance deal on the open market. Nearly half said benefits play a major part in staying at their current employer while those who say benefits aren’t a major factor are 10 percent less likely to be engaged at work (high engagement is characterized by high ratings for their team, manager, senior leaders, workplace benefits and job satisfaction.)
Employers can strengthen that attachment — and improve their bottom-line results simultaneously — by providing valuable resources to help employees understand and use their health benefits most effectively. Our data points to three key ways companies can do that:
Make Wellness Promotion More Prominent
Just the existence of a workplace wellness program shows positive effects on individual behavior and employee engagement: 60 percent of workers with access to a workplace wellness program feel inspired by their company culture to make healthy choices, our survey shows. Without a workplace program, workers are four times less likely to be inspired by their company culture to make healthy choices, and only 44 percent are engaged.
Whatever kind of wellness program you have, promote it! A whopping 95 percent of employers have a wellness program, the National Business Group on Health finds. Health risk assessments and biometric screenings remain most popular, but wellness programs don’t have to be complicated and they don’t have to be tied to health insurance. Often, promotion can be as simple as creating some flyers or posters to share at locations or using existing newsletters to remind employees about wellness programs.
Be sure to also loop in managers; they can serve as ambassadors to help connect the dots between your wellness program and business results. We often work with our clients to create and distribute manager tip sheets that provide simple and focused information about what wellness programs are available, what they mean to employees and the business, where to direct employees with questions, and rules around participating in activities during “work hours.” That can mean more front-line contributors feeling empowered to bring their healthy habits to work.
Encourage Cost Conversations With Medical Providers
American workers are confident that they’re health-care savvy — perhaps too confident. Our survey found that across diverse demographics and income levels, 69 percent believe they have enough information to get the right health care for themselves and their family. But fewer than half say they always ask their medical providers how much their care will cost.
Consumers’ lack of cost-savvy is a serious problem given our nation’s already high rates of unnecessary care, low rates of treatment compliance, and wide cost disparities for the same service. Employers are in a prominent position to encourage smarter cost conversations between patients and providers. This conversation is a must for employers to be successful with “consumer-driven plans” and other strategies that put a higher burden for costs on employees.
Offer and effectively communicate tools that help employees compare prices, build health literacy, and boost consumer confidence. Many of these resources are available for free, like the Choosing Wisely employer toolkit, which provides tip sheets to help employees talk to doctors. You can promote these resources during your annual enrollment period, when employees are making benefits decisions, but don’t stop there. The most effective employers promote benefits and resource year-round.
Speak Plainly and Frequently to Maintain Trust
Good leaders know that openly sharing important information with employees leads to trust; it’s not surprising that our survey reveals that employees are more likely to trust leaders who frequently communicate about health and wellness issues. The same is true when leaders model healthy behaviors — employees are more likely to trust them to lead the company to future success. Further, manager trust and respect is also linked to a worker’s perception that their immediate supervisor supports their efforts to be healthy.
This doesn’t mean you should be talking about the nitty-gritty details of your health plan or sharing your exercise routines. But, you can identify authentic ways for senior leaders to talk about the value of programs and value especially that healthy and happy employees bring to the business. If you have group wellness activities, encourage the leaders to join in. And, as mentioned above, be sure your managers know they can — and should — encourage healthy habits among their team.
Even in times of great change or on contentious topics — perhaps especially in such instances — effective communication has an impact on engagement. The Affordable Care Act brought significant changes in health insurance for all Americans, including those covered by employer-sponsored plans. Yet, only 26 percent of employees say their workplace health benefits changed due to health care reform. Among them, employee engagement dropped significantly when ACA-related changes weren’t adequately explained.
Build out your communication channels now — before there’s a crisis. Give leaders a role in talking about health and benefits. Then, when business conditions shift, your workforce will be primed to hear and trust your messages.