Leading Benefits Trends EAPs Need to Know - Journal of Employee Assistance Vol. 48 no. 1 - 1st Quarter 2018

By Timothy Mutrie

Most of us are well aware of the impact that technology, work-life flexibility, and diversity are having on the new workforce. In light of these forces, the following are a few of the benefits trends we are seeing at ACI Specialty Benefits, as well as questions that EAPs and their client companies need to ask themselves in order to drive utilization and cultivate inspired and engaged employees.   

Benefit Trend #1: Total, On-Demand Support
Today’s EAPs must provide immediate support for any employee need. We support today’s “always-on” workforce by providing convenient, 24/7 program access through HIPAA-compliant video conferencing, telephonic, chat and text services, as well as resource-rich websites and mobile apps.

Because we offer easily accessible comprehensive work-life and well-being resources, we consistently see double-digit utilization, twice the industry average, which means more employees are engaging program services and getting the help they need. 

EAP/employer questions: Does the EAP offer a full suite of well-being services that are valued by employees in uncertain times, and that many have come to expect from their employer? Is the EAP making its services accessible to all employees, no matter where, when or how they work? Does it meet the needs of multiple generations? Is it keeping pace with updates in digital technologies?

Benefit Trend #2: Convenience Services
The pace of commerce is increasing and employees’ time is increasingly not their own. To complicate matters, few employees have a stay-at-home partner who can take care of personal responsibilities. As a result, many EAPs are embracing a full suite of personal service offerings that align with the needs of modern families, from pet sitting to multigenerational caregivers.

ACI offers both virtual and on-site corporate concierge and errand-running programs that support employees through professional assistance, taking both day-to-day and more unusual tasks off their hands, both directly and through a network of vetted service providers.

The range of activities addressed by concierge and errand-running services is often limited only by the employee’s imagination (within certain practical and legal boundaries) and can include everything from prescription pick-ups to grocery shopping, pet sitting, and home maintenance. These benefits have helped ACI clients boost employee loyalty and productivity, improve employers’ recruitment and retention efforts, and help companies achieve best place-to-work recognition. 

ACI frequently fulfills unusual requests as part of its concierge services. Errand runners have scoured New York City to find duck eggs for a client whose son is allergic to chicken eggs, and moved a client’s car back and forth between two states. Concierge specialists have also purchased ski socks and googles for a family of five going on their very first ski trip, and a special stroller and toothpaste for a client’s dog. 

EAP/employer question: Does the EAP provide the types of comprehensive convenience services that address the needs of employees in a wide variety of life situations? Do available services offer something for every kind of employee, from parents to pet owners, Gen Z to nevertirees? Are convenience services easy to understand and access, no matter where or when they are needed?

Benefit Trend #3: Crisis Management
Tragedy can impact the workforce at any time regardless of where the incident occurs. Today’s EAPs need to be prepared to respond to a range of critical incidents, from natural disasters to violence in the workplace. In addition to being immediately on-hand with crisis outreach messaging and emergency resources, EAPs must be able to provide critical incident response (CIR) services to a variety of regional and global locations, virtual employees, and employees working non-traditional hours.

In the event of a major critical incident or natural disaster, ACI posts an immediate outreach message on social media channels to reach customers, which they can receive on any mobile device with social media access, and immediately connect with us to receive assistance, including emergency resource referrals.

When multiple clients are impacted, as was the case with last fall’s Las Vegas tragedy and California wildfires, ACI compiled emergency resources on its mobile-optimized blog, and sent an email out to all customers with relevant resources and information. 

For natural disasters and crises, having mobile-optimized blogs allows users to easily access services from any mobile device. For example, ACI created a blog post for the 2017 Northern California wildfires, providing emergency resource numbers, evacuation shelter information, and other local resources for all affected areas. The blog post also included a list of EAP support and referral services, from emotional support to charitable giving opportunities. Clients and employees could access this post from a mobile phone and call any of the numbers with just a click. Accessibility like this makes it easy for individuals to get help.

EAP/employer question: Have organizational leaders been trained in crisis preparedness? Did this training include dealing with off-site or otherwise non-traditional employees? Is the EAP prepared to provide immediate on-site and phone responses in the event of a workplace crisis? Does the EAP have the communications capability to reach all affected employees? What plans are in place to address a natural disaster when normal means of communication are interrupted?

Benefit Trend #4: Strategic Partnerships
In today’s complex employer environment, EAPs need to integrate services into existing payroll, benefits, and other human resources functions, as well as partner with other benefits providers to offer seamless communication and comprehensive workforce solutions. ACI strategically partners with clients and other providers, utilizing best practices in program promotion and benefits communication to deliver the most value to employers and employees.

Monthly e-newsletters with links to mobile-optimized blog articles and benefits portals, in addition to short, informational training and orientation videos, and cross-referral to other benefits and resources, are highly effective in driving  EAP awareness and utilization. For example, ACI promotional campaigns typically increase employee engagement by 20-25%. 

ACI partners with clients on targeted campaigns throughout the year to increase utilization and address specific issues that may be impacting the client’s population. In one case, ACI Specialty Benefits worked with a client with over 100 locations nationwide that wanted to reinvigorate their benefit program following two years of moderately successful utilization rates. The goal was to ensure that users who could benefit from the support services knew what was available and could access services instantly. To achieve this goal, ACI Specialty Benefits formed a steering committee with client stakeholders across management, marketing, brand, training, and legal to create a three-month implementation plan that covered new materials creation, online tools development, and visibility strategy.

As part of the engagement strategy, ACI produced a new benefits website that allowed users to submit direct requests for services, live chat with ACI specialists, and search for a wide range of available resources. The steering committee agreed on an official launch date, with a promotional plan that included email announcements, trainings and video orientations, social media promotional posts, and posting of benefit information across internal company websites. After a targeted relaunch campaign, including new interactive online tools, the client saw a 166% increase in users accessing services from the previous year, and 20-25% increased utilization during and immediately after email outreach campaigns, as compared to months in which no targeted efforts were made.

EAP/employer question: Is the EAP working with other benefits providers to address issues that cross functions, such as supporting laid-off employees or those being moved into new roles? Can employees reach and access information from the EAP and other benefits providers through the same seamless technologies? Is the EAP capable of integrating technology and communications with other benefits to provide the best user experience?

Achieving Results 
With the evolution of a diverse, tech-savvy, flexible workforce, employee benefits must also evolve if EAPs and their client companies want to succeed in a competitive, global marketplace. ACI has implemented a mobile-first EAP experience with enhanced work-life convenience services, strategic program promotion, and 24/7 access to benefits with “above-and-beyond” customer service. These changes have led to measurable improvements in EAP outcomes, including:

* 37% increase in mobile engagement in one year;
* 25% average EAP engagement increase following mobile-optimized promotional campaigns; and
*13.8% average utilization, notably higher than industry standards.

These results show that EAPs are more relevant than ever, as long as providers adjust their services to meet the changing needs and expectations of employees. The monumental changes to organizations and the way the world does business are creating both new opportunities and challenges for today’s EA professionals. Is your EAP ready?

Timothy Mutrie is Vice President of Marketing and Technology for ACI Specialty Benefits and leads ACI’s award-winning IT team in delivering next-generation engagement and benefits technology for customers worldwide. He may be reached at tmutrie@acispecialtybenefits.com. Editor’s note: ACI Specialty Benefits received the “Best Use of Technology in EA Award” at the EAPA 2017 Conference & EXPO – Los Angeles.