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When it's time to survey -- Data to drive your employee benefits strategy


Surveys continue to show employee benefits are a key factor driving attraction and retention — the common priority for companies today. Plans need to remain competitive, relevant, and sustainable to meet the diverse needs of a changing workforce – within budget.

At the same time, employers are navigating the wave of new wellbeing programs and services rapidly entering the market, debating which ones will bring the most impact for their investment.

How do plan sponsors know they’re investing in benefits that are appreciated? Are members even aware of and understand the coverage they have? If usage is low, is it because it’s not valued – or because it’s not easy to access?

And how can employers decide which potential plan changes are the best fit for their group? Benchmarking and trends are interesting data points; but every organization unique, so what everyone else is doing may not be the right approach. If new wellbeing services are added, will they be used? What trade-offs would members be willing to make to have improved coverage? If there was more flexibility, would they appreciate having choices or feel overwhelmed?

To design a competitive benefit program that engages and cares for a diverse population within budget, we must first consider what employees want, need, and value. With the shift to hybrid and remote working, it’s now even more important to ensure plan sponsors hear perspectives across their population.

So how do we learn what employees think, feel, and know about their benefits?

Ask them! Well-designed benefit surveys and focus groups provide actionable insights, by revealing what they value (or don’t), want (or don’t), and understand (or don’t). Informed by data that represents their group (not just anecdotal feedback from the loudest voices), employers can make better decisions and create greater impact.

Survey or focus group – which one is better?

It depends on the questions we’re looking to answer, and how many voices we want to hear.

Surveys are an efficient tool to gather data across the broad group (especially quantitative data), potentially on a wider range of topics. They create opportunities for “slicing and dicing” to discover nuances across employee segments. They can also provide more transparent feedback, where respondents feel safer sharing anonymously.

Focus groups (or roundtables) dive deeper into fewer topics, with follow-up questions that probe why employees feel or think the way they do. With a smaller pool of participants, it’s critical to choose a representative cross-section; and a moderator who’s interested and knowledgeable, creates a comfortable environment for sharing, and most importantly is an impartial good listener.

Why are benefit surveys or focus groups valuable?

Learning what members think, feel, and know creates strategic opportunities for plan sponsors including:

Amplify the value of the current program (before making changes)

  • Identify areas where education is needed, as employees can only appreciate their benefits if they understand them (or if they’re even aware of them!). What do they find confusing? Do they know where to find more information? How do they prefer to receive communication?

Later, employers can revisit this feedback as a benchmark to measure the impact of their communication initiatives through a follow-up survey.

  • Bring attention to benefits available simply through the survey itself.

  • Identify any barriers or concerns that are holding back members from using the programs and services offered.

Gather data about today to guide decisions for tomorrow

  • Understand what drove members’ choices, in plans that have optional or flex benefits. Are they choosing primarily by the premium they’d pay? Or do they have coverage through other avenues (spouse's plan or membership in an organization)? Did they consider their personal circumstances, or simply pick the highest, lowest, or middle-of-the-road option?

  • Learn which benefits and services employees rank most or least valuable today, and why.

Market-test proposed benefit changes or new services

  • Measure reactions on plan designs being considered. What would members be willing to pay more for? What would they trade to have improvements? Would they use new services if they were added, and what barriers or concerns would they have (privacy, affordability, accessibility)?

  • Leverage this feedback to gain leadership buy-in, and to craft a successful launch.

Increase engagement

  • Show that the company cares about their opinions and their wellbeing. When employees feel heard, they can feel more engaged -- especially quieter voices who don’t often speak up or have less line of sight with the HR team.

More importantly, why are carefully-designed benefit surveys or focus groups valuable?

While benefit surveys and focus groups are powerful tools in an employer’s toolkit, questions and invitations need to be planned carefully to avoid these potential pitfalls:

Creating false expectations or concerns

  • Only ask about improvements or changes that are genuinely on the table. Asking if they want more eyeglass coverage is going to draw attention to your current maximum. “They wouldn’t ask unless there was a problem. Now that I think about it, our coverage is pretty low.

Similarly, be cautious when asking about removing benefits or increasing employee costs, as these questions will raise concerns.

Unactionable data that’s inconclusive or ambiguous

  • Do you think our benefit plan is competitive – Yes / No?” How did the respondent arrive at their answer? What benefits and services did they consider? Are there areas they feel are sufficient and others that are lacking? If 60% say “no”, how do we act on this?

Low response rates

  • If the sample size is too small or doesn’t reflect the diversity of the group, resulting decisions may be misguided. This can happen when employees see the survey as too much effort to complete, or they don’t believe action will be taken, for example.

Employers don’t need to travel this road alone

Working with a partner to develop and deliver the benefit survey or focus group can achieve more actionable and transparent results.

  • An experienced partner will help define goals and priorities, before designing questions that achieve data needed for informed decision-making.

  • Participants may be more open when they feel the added confidentiality and anonymity of data being aggregated before being shared with the employer.

  • An external partner can combine survey responses with demographic data files – to provide deeper insights into the results while maintaining privacy for respondents.

let bespoke benefit solutions be that partner

Other firms may rely on standard questions, with an increased cost for customization. At bespoke we appreciate that each organization is unique – in culture, how they communicate with employees, and what they want to achieve.

After learning your objectives, we’ll work together to refine our questionset to get the answers you want and need. We’ll help create supportive communication so members understand why you value their feedback, and guide you in best practices that drive higher response rates.

At bespoke benefit solutions, our solutions are custom-made to fit our clients – it’s right there in our name!


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