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Your employee benefits program helps saves lives and can change them too

Total Rewards|Wellbeing|Inclusion and Diversity
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By Laurie Boll | July 12, 2019

Managing employee benefit programs in a manner that demonstrates what it means to be inclusive and diverse will set new norms and influence social change.

Are you in a human resources role? Are you driven to instill a more inclusive culture in your workplace?

If you answered "yes" to these two questions, I suggest you are equipped to make a difference in our world.

Before getting to specifics on how you can change the world, let's step back and reminisce about major social changes that have occurred over the last century. Here are a few of the biggies, in chronological order:

  • 19th Amendment to the US Constitution: Women's Right to Vote (1920)
  • Social Security (1935)
  • Equal Pay Act (1963)
  • Civil Rights Act (1964)
  • Medicare and Medicaid (1965)
  • Voting Rights Act (1965)
  • Equal Opportunity Act (1972, expanded in 1973)
  • Americans With Disabilities Act (1990)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (1993)
  • U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that all states recognize same-sex marriages

I think most people believe these initiatives are positive and contributed to a society that is more inclusive, treating its citizens with dignity, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. They did not, however, happen organically; they either went through the legislative process or through the courts.

Major changes over the last 50 years

Clearly, there are opportunities to do more in this arena of equality, specifically in the workplace. The #metoo movement has enlightened us to the sexual harassment that still exists in our society. And there are still discriminatory practices against the LGBT+ community. In fact, it's legal in 29 states to be fired for one's sexual orientation and gender identity.

If we're not inclined to wait for the government to regulate social change, who can we expect to lead the change that will result in a more inclusive society? You! And your colleagues expect you to do so. A recent survey around "trust," conducted by Edelman, suggests that 67% of respondents expect prospective employers to take action on social issues. In addition, 76% of respondents expect CEOs to lead on change instead of waiting for the government to do so.

If we're not inclined to wait for the government to regulate social change, who can we expect to lead the change that will result in a more inclusive society? You! And your colleagues expect you to do so."

It's encouraging to see that a notable number of human resources professionals are instituting change at a grassroots level. Findings from Willis Towers Watson's 2019 Emerging Trends Survey suggest that just over half (51%) of employers have promoted inclusion and diversity endeavors aligned with their benefit programs over the last three years, and more than two-thirds (68%) plan to do so in the next three years.

51%
of employers have promoted inclusion and diversity endeavors aligned with their benefit programs over the last three years
68%
of employers plan to promote inclusion and diversity endeavors aligned with their benefit programs in the next three years.

What does an ‘inclusion and diversity-aligned benefits program’ look like?

There are two parts to this question.

First, we need to recognize the diversity of needs among the employee population, whether it's lifestyle-based or clinically-based. For example, should we look beyond the "medically necessary" criteria, when considering whether to include an allowance for a pregnant woman who chooses to hire a doula/birthing coach?

From a clinical perspective, there are a number of studies that suggest the prevalence of health risks differ by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and the like. One sobering statistic is the rate of suicide for men, which is three times higher than it is for women. Should we be reaching out to our male colleagues in a different manner when it comes to emotional wellbeing?

Second, in addition to recognizing and acting upon the diverse needs of a workforce, you may want to ensure your benefits program promotes inclusion.

For example, providing paid leave for new parents who adopt or foster versus those who have a biological child. It's been common practice that a woman who has a biological child has her partial salary restored via a disability plan after some period of time. As someone who has had two biological children, I can confirm this time spent on disability leave was really used to bond with my new child. Does an adoptive or foster parent receive the same level of income replacement in order to bond with a new member of the family? If not, I would posit that the employer's leave program does not meet the criteria of being “inclusive”.

Does an adoptive or foster parent receive the same level of income replacement in order to bond with a new member of the family? If not, I would posit that the employer's leave program does not meet the criteria of being “inclusive”.

If you wish to create an "inclusion and diversity-aligned benefits program", here are a few considerations before getting started (from my colleague's blog post earlier this year):

  • Assess your current programs: What programs are offered? At what cost vs. utilization? How does this compare to industry peers? Is program administration effective?
  • Get input from employees: Do the benefits offered provide value? Do they support employees throughout their life cycle? Do they feel psychological safety in accessing them? Employee Resource Groups can be helpful for accessing some of this information, but these are limited in who they reach. Anonymous employee input can yield more insightful results.
  • Evaluate whether your policies, perks and other programs support retention and recognize differences beyond the standard definitions of gender and LGBT+. Do the policies and the language used reflect unconscious bias?

Managing benefit programs in a manner that demonstrates what it means to be inclusive and diverse will set new norms and influence social change.

And that's how we change the world, one benefit provision at a time.

Laurie Boll

Laurie is a Director in Willis Towers Watson’s Health and Benefits practice with 20 years of experience as a trusted advisor to large, complex organizations. She specializes in improving engagement in and outcomes of employer benefit programs and in her current role creates and develops solutions that deliver world-class health care to US employees.

Author

Laurie Boll
Director, Health and Benefits
Willis Towers Watson

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