BY DENNIS HEALY
More companies are elevating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs to critical business strategies—and consider them vital to improving the culture and creating a sense of belonging for all employees. As such, that will be reflected in a company’s hiring practices, retention efforts, professional development and mentoring programs as well as its compensation and benefits.
There’s no question that DEI is high on the agenda of the C-suite and HR leaders. McKinsey reports that nine of ten CEOs surveyed say that “even with the pressures of the COVID-19 crisis, DEIremains a priority.” Similarly, ARAG’s 2020 customer survey found that 94% of HR respondents had “active DEI programs in place promoting or supporting employee diversity” in their organizations.
Along with their moral and social impact, there’s a strong business case for DEI. Studies show that a commitment to these initiatives can significantly improve employee engagement and satisfaction, productivity and business performance. According to Harvard Business Review, the most-diverse enterprises were also the most innovative, which in turn, drives competitive advantage. And McKinsey shows that gender and ethnic diversity in executive managementWith all its potential, however, executing on DEI programs can be challenging. As business leaders strive to move from discussions to action, a robust voluntary benefits portfolio can be a tangible way to demonstrate their commitment to building a more diverse and inclusive environment.
With all its potential, however, executing on DEI programs can be challenging. As business leaders strive to move from discussions to action, a robust voluntary benefits portfolio can be a tangible way to demonstrate their commitment to building a more diverse and inclusive environment.
Along with their moral and social impact, there’s a strong business case for DEI. Studies show that a commitment to these initiatives can significantly improve employee engagement and satisfaction, productivity and business performance.
EXPANDED ROLE OF VOLUNTARY BENEFITS
With the crises of 2020—the global pandemic, social unrest and economic downturn, voluntary benefits took on an expanded role to help employees facing financial insecurity, added caregiving responsibilities, and uncertainty around their physical and mental well-being. While these crises had global impact, not everyone was affected equally. Consider this:
- Slower recovery. Black women and men, Hispanic men, Asian Americans, mothers of school-age children, younger Americans, and those without college degrees are recovering more slowly than the nation overall.
- Women experience disproportionate stress. Female employees (age 35-44) struggle with stress and anxiety far more than other colleagues. More than a third say their productivity has been adversely affected by “an unmanageable workload and lack of workplace flexibility.”
- People of color face greater financial issues. Americans of color have lower savings, investments, and home equity than white Americans—suggesting a need to review pay practices and provide financial wellness resources.
- LGBTQ+ community members fear isolation. This community misses the social and work interactions with other LGBTQ colleagues as an important source of belonging. Two of three LGBTQ employees report challenges with mental health. Gaps like these have employers taking a hard look at their benefits and how they can better support their diverse workforce. Over the past year, we’ve seen some employers stepping up with enhanced benefits to help their teams recover and move forward. These range from greater workplace flexibility that promotes better work-life balance to more inclusive family leave policies that support families, “however they become parents” —recognizing adoption, surrogacy and same-sex parents.
One of employers’ biggest wellbeing challenges are rising stress and burnout, and higher mental-health-related claims. Willis Towers Watson (WTW) research finds that employers consider addressing behavioral health issues to be a major priority for their organizations over the next three years. Many are expanding mental health benefits to address this issue, one that’s been growing precipitously since well before 2020.
On the voluntary benefits side, financial wellness and caregiving support are much in demand. Clearly, providing financial literacy training, resources and tools can go a long way in helping the hardest hit segments in the workforce—women, people of color, and younger employees, to name a few—get back on the road to financial security.
While caregiving impacts one in five employees (most of them women) and is a major driver of mental health concerns, there’s still a gap between the benefits being offered and what’s needed. “Sandwich generation” employees, in particular, struggle to balance work with caring for their children as well as their parents or grandparents.
WTW also reports increased interest in insurance products that provide added protection and peace of mind for legal issues, identity theft, and family pets.
Legal insurance plans can often complement other benefits. As my colleague Brian Billings, Director of Client Management at ARAG points out, “There are clear synergies between legal insurance and other benefits in the mix. Looking at adoption, there could be significant legal engagement needed along the way. For example, a lawyer could secure second-parent adoption rights so both partners in a same-sex couple are recognized as parents.
“Similarly,” he continues, “legal counsel plus specialized services, like those provided to ARAG plan members through CareScout, help caregivers and their families navigate important issues like medical care, financial limitations, estate planning, assisted living and long-term care options.”
BETTER COMMUNICATIONS CAN HELP EMPLOYEE DECISION-MAKING
With so many options, how do you ensure that employees understand the breadth of your benefits offerings? To start, employers need to improve their benefits communications considerably. The goal: to better educate employees on what’s available so they can make well-informed decisions and get value from their plans. Today, over two-thirds of employers (68%) prioritize communication of benefits and wellbeing programs. Messaging needs to be employee-centric. In an effort to ‘meet them where they are,’ companies are using multiple formats and channels to reach the different generations in its workforce on their media of choice—whether that’s email, a self-serve web portal, events—live or on demand, text or social channels.
They’re also increasing the frequency of outreach, rather than concentrating the bulk of the efforts around open enrollment. The challenge is finding the right number of touchpoints to be informative but not intrusive.
Some organizations are also working with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to strengthen connections with members of those communities and provide communications that are customized to their needs. ERGs have a shared interest or common goal, or they center on identity characteristics, such as race, gender, or orientation. These affinity groups often serve as the voice of the community to the organization, sharing their specific needs, concerns, and experiences.
“Recently, at the request of one of their large LGBTQ+ ERGs, a pharmaceutical company client asked us to do a minute interactive session that explained the benefits of legal insurance and answered questions about how it can help with this group’s specific needs,” said Billings. “This really speaks to this employer being an advocate for the diverse needs of their team.”
Microsoft and the University of California system are also examples of organizations that actively assess their benefits, identifyingwhat their employees might need, and then driving strategic communications around benefits that address those needs. The result is participation rates that are well above the norm.
With social justice in the spotlight and calls for businesses to do more, chief human resource officers are stepping up efforts to create more diverse and inclusive cultures and empower employees to make a difference. Accent on “do more.” DEI initiatives are moving well beyond corporate social responsibility statements and rhetoric to effect real and positive change in policies, work practices and benefits. As providers, we’re equally challenged to ensure our offerings can be part of the solution.
DENNIS HEALY is a member of the ARAG executive team. Healy is a passionate advocate for legal insurance because he has seen firsthand how it helps people receive the protection and legal help they need. He has nearly 30 years of insurance industry experience, with a primary focus on the sale of group voluntary benefit products to employer groups of all sizes through the broker and consultant community. Contact: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dennishealylinkedin/