Coaching the Workforce on Employee Benefits: A Tool for Behavioral Change

Coaching is a recognized hero in management circles. But is management its only use? I've begun looking at the value of coaching the workforce in a completely different arena - employee benefits. And it's not as far-fetched as you might think. Like any management-oriented imperative, employee benefits utilization and maximization is critical. Think about it. Employers invest a lot of time and money in providing employee benefits to support the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly Employer Cost on Employee Compensation report says benefits make up roughly a third of total compensation.

The Value of Employee Benefits

Employees and job seekers value HR benefits, and they remain important differentiators for organizations. The newly released report from UNUM makes this clear and highlights how important a successful benefits communication process is to higher levels of employee satisfaction. But the rising cost of healthcare has stagnated benefits offerings at many companies. According to the SHRM 2014 Benefits Report, less than a third of employers increased their HR benefits offerings last years; 63% stayed the same. "With many benefits costs rising, work-flex benefits represent a possible low-cost way to stand out from other potential employers,", says the report. In other words, it's key to have innovative approaches to maximizing the benefits you already have.

Where Coaching Fits with Employee Benefits

Let's take work/life balance benefits and resources that promote overall well-being. These benefits are important and most effective when the employee utilizes the service, and more importantly, successfully integrates the resource. Consider employees with an elder care responsibility. Some employers provide access to a Geriatric Care Manager, an expert in elder care and caregiving. GCM guidance "leads families to the actions and decisions that ensure quality care and an optimal life for those they love, thus reducing worry, stress and time off of work for family caregivers,", according to the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. But sometimes access to just the information and resources aren't enough. My hypothesis is that this employee benefit is most successful when the Geriatric Care Manager uses coaching techniques to help the employee get a clear approach to taking action. The result is an increased likelihood that the issue can be adequately resolved for the employee caregiver and the older relative.

Financial Worries and Job Performance

Employees' financial worries provide another example. According to the MetLife Benefits Survey 2014, 51% of employers strongly agree that "employees are less productive while at work at our company when they are worried about personal financial problems.". This means providing employees with financial benefits has great potential. But wouldn't these programs have better outcomes if employees were not just educated on the subjects but also coached on behavior to successfully meet a specific financial goal or need? In this case, acting differently to better manage their finances or save money for long-term goals or retirement benefits both employee and employer.

Getting the Most From Your Benefits Programs

No doubt, employee benefits have real and tangible value for employers. But they have to be effectively deployed. And the workforce needs to really use them effectively. I believe coaching employees can have an enormous impact on outcomes. Have you experienced a particularly effective employer-sponsored benefit that was not just resourceful, but delivered in a way that supported positive change? Are there vendors or benefit services that you believe provide "coaching like" approaches?

Share your thoughts, as I plan to continue to explore this interesting intersection of employer-sponsored resources and employee effectiveness.

Written by: Andrea Wicks Bowles

About the Author

Andrea Wicks Bowles at Bright Horizons

As Senior Consultant, Director Global Initiatives, Horizons Workforce Consulting, Andrea works with Bright Horizons clients to enhance the effectiveness of their employees and strengthen their position as an employer of choice. Her knowledge of global child care policies, organizational effectiveness, and work/life industry trends combined with analytical skills is used to help clients uncover their unique issues and challenges. Andrea, a frequent speaker at work/life conferences, is a key contributor to Bright Horizons' research investigations.