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#029 – The Issue With Employee Benefits

Podcast Summary

On this show, we’re going to dive into the current state of employee benefits, the impact that they’re having on people and companies and how the industry is changing. Most importantly, we’ll look at what will need to happen to actually improve employee health, employee happiness engagement, and perform. I believe these plans are an excellent foundation for treating illness and helping prevent disease.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Working Well podcast. I’m Tim Boris, CEO of Fresh Wellness group. This show explores the diverse aspects of workplace health and personal performance on the working well podcast. We dive into the foundations of what makes wellness work in workplaces around the. We connect with corporate leaders, executives, and industry experts who are helping make life more awesome at work and home.

Join us to learn workplace wellness, best practices, personal performance tips, and access resources to jumpstart your personal and corporate programs.

Welcome to another episode of the Working Well podcast. Virtually every company with more than a few people offers an employee benefits plan. Well what’s included can widely vary. They all have serious flaws. When they’re looked at through an employee wellbeing lens today, we’re going to dive into the current state of employee benefits, the impact that they’re having on people and companies and how the industry is changing.

Most importantly, we’ll look at what will need to happen to actually improve employee health, employee happiness engagement, and perform. That’ll get me wrong. I’m not advocating for the removal of employee benefits. In fact, I believe these plans are an excellent foundation for treating illness and helping prevent disease.

It’s also true that more companies and benefits providers are beginning to place a greater emphasis on things like mental health counseling and financial resources. This is fantastic. However, one of the key issues with benefits plans is that the executive leaders tend to believe that their benefits plan solves the employee wellbeing equation at the company level, providing these benefits is generally equated to having a corporate wellness program.

The strongly held belief is that these benefits improve employee wellbeing when they don’t ask. This is particularly true with the expanded mental health coverage. Most companies are offering in the past couple of years now, of course, it’s true that benefits plans are essential tools for helping employees manage and treat existing conditions while also identifying the potential for severe injuries and illnesses.

I’m not discounting that fact. In fact, they’re critical for that. The issue is that employee benefits plans and workplace wellness programs are viewed as synonymous. And that’s the root of the many pain points and challenges that companies are facing today. It’s also why so many companies that advertise amazing wellness amenities and programs still struggle with skyrocketing employee, stress levels, high turnover rates, low productivity, and poor engagement.

You’ve probably experienced this yourself recently. I’ve had dozens of conversations with executives and corporate leaders that confirm these. We don’t have to look far these days to find companies that are struggling with a laundry list of people and organizational challenges, a huge percentage of these issues, stem from the decreasing health, happiness, and performance of their people, plain and simple.

Now the pandemic has definitely amplified these issues, but very few of them are unique to the pending. The tipping point is the volume and speed of this change. We’re experiencing leaders and organizations can no longer brush off or deny the issues facing their people and the company, despite these glaring human and organizational challenges.

Every single leader in executive I spoke with said their company had a workplace wellness program in place that was addressing these issues. When pressed for examples, the most common responses were something. Well, people are stressed these days. So we did a lunch and learn on mental health and we’ve opened up more access to psychology sessions.

Employees also have access to our benefits app, which provides information on mental health, fitness, and nutrition, or we now provide employees access to a mindfulness and meditation app. Well awareness and access to these helpful tools should be applauded. There are huge gaps and flaws in this. Simply providing access to information and services does not solve the problem.

Almost every piece of information we need can be found online and seconds yet people aren’t using. Benefits programs, including employee, family assistance plans and health spending accounts are useful tools in a wellbeing toolbox, but most of the time, these programs are reactionary. They’re self-serve, they’re severely underutilized and they provide lagging indicators of wellness.

In fact, utilization of employee and family assistance programs is commonly around 10% in organizations. Companies know this and benefits providers know this. I even had a couple of leaders say with pride that their usage had doubled in the past year as if 20% usage should be a source of celebration.

And this is at a time when stats showed that 80% or more of employees have had a mental health challenges in the past year and companies are celebrating 20% usage. This disconnect is a serious thing. Now the first step towards a solution is to step back and gain clarity on the words and definitions we’re using.

Let’s start with wellbeing and wellness. These are both used interchangeably, but they’re slightly different. Both refer to a multifaceted sort of big picture concept of healthy, vibrant, and fulfilling life. Most distinctions point to wellbeing as the quote, state of mind of being well, think of it as a synergy of health, happiness, and fulfilled.

Wellness on the other hand is described by many as the actions and habits that you take to improve health and wellbeing. In other words, a state of wellbeing is the outcome of practicing wellness in a number of areas that include physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, social, environmental, financial, and occupational.

Next let’s look at the definition of health. Now the world health organization defines health as quote, a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, which means illness. I like this progressive definition. It’s much more in line with the definition, definition of wellbeing we just discussed.

However, most people. Particularly the extremely influential mainstream medical community view health as the absence of illness or disease in the common description, someone could be physically healthy from a medical perspective, but still languishing in, in a number of ways that reduce health, happiness, and perform.

Therefore while technically healthy, they would not be considered. Well, we see this play out in traditional benefits programs and the mindset of most corporate leaders today. Employee benefits plans use the terms, health, wellness, and wellbeing, liberally, and tend to use them interchangeably. And this wouldn’t be an issue if benefits plans were structured.

However, almost all the plans are built around the traditional medical model, which focuses on treatment of disease and prevention of common diseases. And this is fundamentally different than focusing on improving wellbeing. It’s also at the heart of why. So few programs are effective at improving the wellbeing and personal performance of employees.

And as a result, the companies, they work. This is perfectly explained by Dr. Kevin Mullen he’s professor of medicine at case Western reserve university. He says disease prevention is defined as efforts aimed at reducing the occurrence and severity of disease. Well, wellness is described as attitudes and activities, which improve the quality of life and expand the potential for higher levels of.

Wellness efforts are not motivated by desire to avoid disease, but rather by a desire to enhance successful existence, health promotion is viewed as a combination of disease prevention and wellness efforts. Currently most programs, which labeled themselves as wellness or health promotion aimed solely at the prevention of disease.

Thus wellness will often use semantically as a marketing tool or. Is truly a missing component of many health promotion programs. This is such a great statement and a clear shot across the bow of those people in organizations stuck in an outdated mindset and system. Here’s how that plays out in traditional workplace wellness and benefits programs, medical, paramedical, and dental plans.

They formed the foundation of most benefits plans. Now these are extremely important and they should definitely be included. However, the cost associated with these services are rising dramatically and a major factor in these cost increases is due to the declining health of our population and the lack of focus on employee wellbeing and personal performance improves.

Now it’s also true that major benefits providers offer a range of wellness focused services, such as lunch and learns company challenges and workplace perks. However, well-meaning these companies are, the undeniable fact is that most of these initiatives are not working. In other words, they aren’t producing measurable results or increases in employee health, wellbeing, or performance.

That’s an issue. Now, there are a number of important reasons for this. At the heart of the results issue is that companies and senior leaders feel they’ve done their part by offering employee benefits plans with all the bells and whistles offering these plans is the beginning of the solution, not the end.

These leaders, as mentioned before erroneously believe that simply having these health and wellness pieces are going to automatically improve employee health and wellbeing. And there are lots of variations on this common quote. If you build it, they will come mindset. But this passive approach creates a situation where communication is poor engagement is low results.

Aren’t tracked and programs are grossly ineffective. Here’s what that looks like in practice. Most companies aren’t tracking strategic metrics outside of some basic engagement. Now. Communications or communication of the programs gets lost or ignored. Information is relegated to random text links buried in a sidebar on some page of the company.

Internet emails are sent at the last minute. When it’s harder for people to move meetings, leaders are rarely part of the planning or communication process and often view wellness and benefits programs as getting in the way of doing real work. I’ve personally witnessed countless examples of internal and external programs being dismissed or downplayed by leadership because it wasn’t something they were interested in, or it conflicted with a meeting or project they were involved in at the beginning or end of a meeting.

It’s common to hear statements such as oh, oh yeah. HR wants us to let you know, there’s a lunch and learn at noon today. All right. Let’s get back to. This business versus HR or nose to the grindstone mindset of leaders is seriously hurting people and business growth by managing the symptoms. Instead of targeting the root causes of poor health and performance companies are missing out on some of the largest employee and organizational benefits.

This is even true for those fortune 100 companies that loudly promote their wellness programs. Here are a few important points to consider offering a menu of programs and services does not mean you have a wellness program. Having these options available doesn’t mean people are going to use them. Even if programs and services are used, it doesn’t mean there’s going to be a net benefit to the people or the organization now.

Well, not everything is about ROI. There’s a Bulletproof business case for wellness programs. When done properly, they benefit the organization, the employee, the employees, families, and the community, and the pieces missing from the employee wellbeing equation are a company-wide strategic plan and a focus on facilitating behavior change at the individual and corporate levels.

Without these pieces, all the fancy benefits, programs and perks are going to be wasted. Here’s the same issue, uh, just positioned in an, um, in another common situation that you’ll probably be familiar with. So imagine that your goal, like many employees or people, you know, is to get fit and lose weight. So having a gym, membership, a treadmill in the basement and getting some vegetables delivered to your house, maybe a positive start, but these things are useless unless they get used in a strategic and consistently.

Using them sporadically incorrectly, or in a way that doesn’t align with your objectives is not going to produce the results you want. For example, it’s common for that treadmill to collect dust and become an expensive piece of furniture, the vegetables that you buy to right in the back of the fridge and eventually get thrown out and your gym membership totally get used a couple of times a month.

If that. Yet people in this situation are quick to mention that they have a plan or a strategy in place, but what they really have is a bunch of random puzzle pieces with no idea of what the big picture looks like. They also don’t have the accountability habits, the social support, or the encouragement from those around them to create consistency, change and measure measurable result.

As a company, you can also tick those boxes and promote all the features of your corporate wellness program. The marketing material might look awesome. And you can truthfully say that you have a robust health spending account that people actively use to buy fitness equipment, such as a treadmill that you subsidize gym memberships for all employees.

And that you partner with a local organic food delivery service that provides discounts to employees and encourages them to eat more fruits and vegetables. Yet when you dig below the surface of the wellness program, you’ll find the ugly truth. The percentage of people actually seeing positive results is minuscule that’s because virtually no companies focus on what matters most for the organization and its.

That is producing measurable improvements in employee health, wellbeing, and behavior change as a health and performance coach and consultant for over three decades. I see the followed of this serious issue from both the employee and the organizational side, despite the explosion of health and wellness options out there, what people and companies have in place is simply not.

People are more stressed than ever. People are working longer, but getting less done, health and wellness is decreasing preventable. Disease is skyrocketing and companies are facing a reckoning from new generations of employees that have different expectations from their employer and workplace. So what can companies do to improve their employee wellbeing and the workplace performance program?

The first step is to begin creating a new leadership mindset. One that understands the value of employee wellbeing to business and people, one that leans into the hard work of helping people be healthier, happier, and higher performing in all areas of their life. A mindset that sees traditional benefits as simply one piece of the wellbeing and performance plans.

One that views wellbeing as an active process of ongoing actions and engagement across eight or more specific areas of wellness. The next step is to create an organizational strategy. This requires meeting with your leadership team and key stakeholders at all levels to determine what’s most important for your organization since this is not likely to be your area of expertise, it may involve getting outside of.

To develop that strategy around employee wellbeing and performance. This is completely normal companies, hire management, leadership, sales, marketing, and financial consultants all the time. If for some reason, most C-level executives have never considered hiring an employee wellbeing consultant. Think of it as a performance coach for your people and your business in order to create this effective organizational wellbeing stress.

A few things need to be in place. First, you have to assess your current wellness landscape. Second, identify the red flags for your business and your people. They might be different than the business down the road. Lastly, put a realistic plan in place to create the change you envision. And again, this isn’t rocket science, but creating that strategy is.

Now the third step in the process is communication. Change happens more smoothly and quickly when communication and action are built into the daily workflow of your business. It’s crucial to set the tone from the top by demonstrating leadership, positive action and regular participation around wellbeing and health.

I’m not talking about trotting out the CEO for the launch of a new program and then never seeing him again. Cause it’s usually him, this participation isn’t just for show and it shouldn’t be participation by all senior leaders should be genuine and frequent because they believe in the power of the actions they’re taking and the programs, if they don’t don’t even offer them, it’s worse to offer them.

When senior leadership doesn’t participate. Consistent communication and promotion of the organizational wellbeing strategy. It works great when it’s inserted into regular daily business tasks and messaging. For example, it’s becoming more common to start meetings with a minute or two of mobility or mindfulness.

We’ve seen this with safety moments for years, so we know the model works. Doing this requires internal champions in each department, including leadership, HR wellness, committee members, finance operations, and these people facilitate access to employees for various service providers and programs. They provide permission to participate both philosophically and practically.

They help with tracking and reporting of key metrics assisting in program and event marketing and sharing information on results, wins, success stories, and areas of improvement. Consistently applying these behaviors at all levels of the organization is how corporate culture begins to change in a positive way.

The last step is programming and services. And this is where you install follow-up programs and services to increase behavior change and encourage habit development in the areas that are important to you in the organization. These areas of importance are going to be unique to you and your company. But the idea is that you target the actions and outcomes that you desire to change instead of randomly implementing programs and hoping that something changed.

Having a detailed annual plan that helps you accomplish your organizational strategy is going to ensure that you and your team focused on the right things at the right time, while still allowing flexibility to adapt, to changes in the market, the business, or the environment sounds remarkably like the annual projections and planning that companies already do on the business.

The process is the same. It’s simply requires a shift to thinking about the role that employee wellbeing has on company performance in the near, and the long-term. Then putting a plan in place to make it happen. Again. This may not be natural right now. That’s okay. Get help to make it happen. If you’re a senior leader, remember that you have an outsized impact on the ability to create change in your organization.

Use it wisely. As mentioned in the first point, doing these things requires leadership to shift their mindset about employee wellbeing, wellness initiatives, and company benefits plans. Employee wellbeing must be seen as an investment in the future performance of people and the organization. This investment goes well beyond providing nutrition, traditional benefits.

It has to encompass a wide range of organizational leadership and programming changes. Leaders must realize that strong returns on the investment in their people will happen by following a company-wide strategic plan to improve employee wellbeing and performance. It’s no different than athletes investing in professional training, coaching skill development, and self care to raise their performance.

Non-athletes and organizations must do this. However doing this requires a strong commitment from leadership to take responsibility for the health, wellbeing, and performance of each person in the organization, just as coaches, make sure their athletes are in good physical and mental shape and that they know how to run the plays in the team.

Playbook company leaders must set clear expectations and standard operating guidelines around wellbeing and performance while guiding your teams to greater result. These changes won’t happen tomorrow, but the change starts by reframing the standard workforce issues facing companies today, as opportunities for positive change by understanding that employee wellbeing and performance go far beyond your standard benefits plan leaders can be more open to seeing alternate solutions while expanding the scope of what’s considered workplace wellness program.

We know that individuals benefit from personalized wellness, coaching and accountability. We see this all the time, the same applies to employees and companies. Now, I have a question for you. Would your organization benefit from implementing a new workplace wellbeing strategy? Think about it. If you’re curious about what that might look like, reach out my team and I would love to connect.

You can reach me at and or message me on LinkedIn. Now, get out there and take action towards your improved health and wellbeing. Thank you for listening to the working well podcast. If you enjoyed the show, don’t forget to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts. We’d love to hear your experiences and how you’ve applied tips from the show to your daily life.

So please keep us posted on your progress to stay up to date. With new episode releases, make sure to subscribe to our mailing list by emailing And follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Thank you everyone for tuning in. And once again, I’m Tim Boris with the Fresh Wellness group.

We’ll see you on the next episode.

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