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April 20, 2021

Roundtable Discussion: How Companies are Changing Goals, Motivations, and Measures of Benefits Success [Part 2]

Artemis Health

In February, Artemis Health and World at Work hosted a webinar featuring a panel of industry experts and leaders. We discussed new trends in employee benefits that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, how employers’ motivations are shifting, and how employees can get the most from their employee benefits.

The webinar was hosted by Haley Eckels, Content Director at Artemis Health, and featured three panelists: 

  • Emily Munroe, Senior Benefits Manager at Wayfair, one of the largest online retailers of home goods
  • Betsy Nota-Kirby, Vice President of National Health Management Consulting at Marsh & McLennan Agency 
  • Kelly Blue, Principal Data-Driven Insights Consultant from Mercer’s Data, Technology, and Analytics team

Now let’s dive into part two of our discussion. [Part one is available here if you missed it.]

Haley Eckels:

Let’s talk about telehealth. Kelly, I know you have had some discussions with clients about their telehealth offerings this year. What can you tell us about this trend? 

Kelly Blue:

I love to hear what Emily is saying about understanding what employees are looking for and what they need. And from my perspective, part of the issue is not always knowing what you need. So I think that employers have been thinking about virtual health and telemedicine as a “check the box.” They’re thinking, “Yes, we offer it so we're in good shape.” But I had a personal experience with telehealth this year where I called in, I got one diagnosis, and then I was still having issues, call back the next day, still ended up having to go to urgent care.

So by the end of it, I'm like, "Well, that's not where I should have started probably." I needed a “choose your own adventure map” that showed me here's the issues that you should be calling for telehealth for. And if you have this issue, telehealth may not be the best place to start. So how can you make sure that people are still getting the best path for care, and not just have an option out there? So my own personal experience hasn’t made me reconsider telehealth at all; I think it's still a fantastic option, but we can map for employees the right first step for everything that they might be experiencing. So my experience has completely rechanged my paradigm here.

Haley Eckels:

Oh yeah. Well, I've certainly experienced that myself. Betsy, from a clinical perspective what would you add on how to integrate telehealth?

Betsy Nota-Kirby:

So I love the responses from Emily and Kelly. I guess what I would add is that, knowing where to go, we actually worked with our communications team to create a behavioral health and a medical Know Where to Go document that outlines, if you have these symptoms, it's your answer to your request, Kelly, of what sort of symptoms would drive you to telehealth? What sort of symptoms would take you to urgent care, et cetera? So from a clinical perspective, educating the human resources team and helping them to educate their employees.

You can create these materials and these documents, but how do you communicate it? Where do you communicate it? Do you have an intranet site? Do you have a common app that everybody accesses like with Wayfair? Is there a Wayfair branded app that all of your benefits are located within that app? And you can click on telemedicine because you have a telemedicine benefit, and directly dial into telemedicine, or a link that takes you to where to go from an urgent care perspective.

I think it's about making sure you've got all the pieces and the parts organized in an easy to understand way so that it makes it easier for an employee to make a decision about where to go to seek care. And then secondly, when you put these programs into place, like Kelly talked about innovating and testing, get the data feed. If you're a client that uses the Artemis platform, or any other data warehouse platform, integrate the data, study cohorts of people who participate versus those that don't, and get the answers from the utilization in your population to find out what is working with your client base.

Haley Eckels:

I love it. Thank you. Very helpful. So another very interesting finding from our survey is that we think we might be seeing a caring revolution amongst our corporate and our self-insured larger employers. Employees and their families are under tremendous strain this year. And I think employers are responding by offering a lot more choice, better health benefits, well-being solutions, and just an understanding approach to the work from home situation. It was interesting to see alignment between the C-suite, all the way down to the on the ground benefits managers and field reps in the survey.

When we saw this data, we wondered if the caring revolution has come to corporate America because of COVID-19. I know a lot of human resources folks have gotten into this field because it is a caring profession, but this seems like more of a change on the organizational level. Do you feel like organizations are becoming more caring and less focused on the bottom line? And why do you think that might be the case? Kelly, let's start with you.

Kelly Blue:

Yeah, this goes hand in hand with my comments earlier about the rise in importance on well-being, that we certainly have seen a shift with the employers that we work with toward not just focusing on optimizing benefits, but truly trying to improve the quality of life for their employees because they believe that will produce some ROI, some increased productivity, maybe increased innovation, so forth.

I think COVID has certainly maybe accelerated some of that viewpoint because it made it more obvious what distractions that people were dealing with. If you can reduce some of that tunnel thinking, some of that scarcity mindset, there's more and more research coming out too that shows, well, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It doesn't have to be, “I can either have a caring to the culture, or I can have an ROI.” There really is support for bringing quality of life to your employees, and there will be an ROI to be shown from that.

It just might not be in the same way that you're used to measuring it, or you may have to measure slightly differently and look for what truly is the output. I do think that there's a shift, but I think that we've already been seeing a shift and partly it's because of the research that can support, this is a good direction to go in, not just because we care about our employees, but it makes good business sense as well.

Haley Eckels:

Great. Betsy, can you also weigh in on this?

Betsy Nota-Kirby:

Sure. I guess I would add on to what Kelly has mentioned with really getting the client to understand the difference between ROI and VOI. So value on investment. For example, do you survey your employees and are they telling you that they're feeling less stressed, more engaged, safer in the workplace, comfortable? Are you retaining the employees that you want to retain? Are you attracting the employees that you're looking to attract? So those all factor into the overall value along with, obviously, the financial return on investment.

And I agree with Kelly. We've seen caring culture activities going on at maybe a slower pace, and it's just accelerated because of the COVID situation. But I think it's something that is a revolution that we need to have happened within the work environments to address decreasing stigma at the workplace, and making employees feel comfortable in acknowledging that they have behavioral health, mental health issues, and your employer understands that, and wants to work with you, and partner with you to help you bring your best self to the workplace.

Haley Eckels:

Great. Thank you. Emily, as the on-the-ground person here, have you seen a caring revolution play out at your organization this year?

Emily Munroe:

Yeah. And I really liked this slide and this question because it's talking about what my motivation is to do what I do. And I appreciate that. And I think I'm in the 52% of this why I do what I do. I care about my population, but I think that the caring revolution is coming actually from inside the community. I don't know that I'm really driving at all. I think that employees are starting to care about each other more. And even though they're distant in a lot of them, they are able to talk to each other more candidly about what's going on in each other's lives.

So I wouldn't say that I'm driving at all. I would say that I'm just there if they need resources. In the past, I would present our EAP and I would talk about resources available, but now leaders want to do it themselves in their own standup meetings and things like that. So they're really doing it themselves. I think at Wayfair, the caring culture is coming from within and I'm just helping. Yeah, previously I probably was driving.

Haley Eckels:

Oh, I love that. It's one of the silver linings of 2020 that we are checking in on each other and supporting each other more than ever before. So another thing that really stood out in the open-ended responses that we had to our survey was the need to figure out new ways to support employees. Behavioral health came up again and again, and I'd love for you all to weigh in on how these concerns are playing out in your experiences. So we'll go straight back to you, Emily, how has your behavioral health strategy changed this year? And what are your plans moving forward?

Emily Munroe:

Yeah, I think this is one that I don't feel like I'm behind the curve, but I can't feel like I'm catching up to what our employees need right now. The resources are limited, especially for my corporate population in Boston. It could take maybe three months to find a good therapist. And then even now when you're calling the EAP, they're strapped for resources too. And you might not get the call back as quickly as I'd like my employees to be able to get.

So I feel like we're making do with the resources that we have. But again, it's turning into more of a conversation between the employee and the manager too. Like what does burnout look like, and how can we support you at work? And then at home things, we've got that telemedicine option for you and your family. We encourage a lot of things like taking time off during the day. If you need to have an appointment during the day and you’re talking to your manager about that, we're just removing that stigma. I think this is a challenge that it's hard for an employer to tackle other than providing the resources and trying to get people to talk about it openly.

Haley Eckels:

Certainly. Yeah. Betsy, let's have you weigh in on that. How has your clients' behavioral health strategy changed this year?

Betsy Nota-Kirby:

So our clients' strategies now involves mental health as being pretty much the number one recommendation that they have decided to work on from a clinical perspective. The “usual suspects of diabetes” and pre-diabetes and hypertension, they're still there, but mental health has just catapulted to the number one position as far as seeing behavioral health diagnosis within their claims. We see in our book of business that before COVID, depression was the most frequent diagnosis, and now we've seen the flip with anxiety taking the number one position. In our book about 47% of those that have a mental health diagnosis have anxiety as a diagnosis.

So our clients are all pretty much working on a mental health strategy with elements that were mentioned by Emily. They also include mental health first aid training, or the creating a caring culture ICU training programs to really help leaders and supervisors understand and become aware of folks that may be experiencing problems, and to build their confidence in approaching their coworkers. And I loved it, Emily, that you mentioned that your leaders are taking it on in their own department meetings and talking about behavioral health resources and bringing the stigma down. So those are really important things that all of our clients want to work on, and some are doing a better job of moving forward in that area than others.

Haley Eckels:

That's a really good example of the culture of health that evolves at organizations, particularly during times of crisis like this. Kelly, I would love to know how your clients are getting employees to buy into the importance of their own health and well-being.

Kelly Blue:

Yes. So we talked a lot about disrupting behaviors, and so some of the things that Emily and Betsy just mentioned about making a conversation, especially with leaders or managers doing some of that manager training so they can have some of those conversations and making it just a more prevalent topic, is certainly one way to more information, more clarification, and more comfort level. 

But in addition to that, we've seen lots of research over time that shows that if you can connect to your future self, you might make changes a little bit differently in your life, or decision-making habits might change. So I've seen, for example, a retirement record keeper, a number of years ago, did an age progression visualization. You could see yourself aged 20, 30, 50 years, whatever on the screen. And if they did that right before you made a decision about retirement savings, it impacted how you thought about that and your ability to make that decision in a more optimal way, thinking about that future self.

So a more pragmatic example might be, especially this past year with all of the dynamics of people's families suffering different ways from COVID and thinking, for example, if you have an uncle that has a heart attack, that certainly makes you reassess your own life and say, "Well, what can I do to avoid that kind of issue for myself in the future?" 

So all of that is about reconnecting to your own personal values, and then also connecting to your future self for those decisions that you're making aren't just those immediate, short-term gratification, but thinking about those longer-term implications as well. The more that we can infuse some of that into the communication engagement, the way that our vendor partners and the environment approaches our employees, I think the better off we will be in getting them to change and improve some of their habits.

Stay tuned for our next part of this series to learn what the panel has to say about the importance of data analytics in benefits decision making. 

Want to learn how a data partner can help you choose the right programs for your members? Watch our 2-minute demo video. 

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