Some companies regrettably try to "go it alone" when it comes to crafting healthcare and employee benefits programs for their workforce. Perhaps because of a previous broker relationship which they feel didn't bear much fruit, some companies discount the impact a talented employee benefits broker can have on their business. Others fear that the services of a broker will be too expensive, or that it will be difficult to find one they can trust. Despite these objections, most HR professionals will concede that any decent employee benefits adviser knows far more about healthcare and the field of employee benefits than they ever could.
It's true that some employee benefits brokers are essentially "order takers" — simply taking instruction from employers who think they know best and/or are looking to get their benefit selections done as quickly as possible. The really good ones, however, will help companies approach their benefits programs in a highly strategic fashion, thereby driving impactful investment decisions while at the same time identifying critical savings opportunities.
Developing this symbiotic relationship with your benefits broker is a two-way street; these consultants and advisors can’t do all the work alone. To maximize impact, they need your assistance and cooperation. In that regard, here are a few things you can do to ensure you’re getting the best work out of your employee benefits broker — not just during open enrollment, but all year round.
Let Your Employee Benefits Broker Do Their Job
It’s very common for HR personnel and upper level administrators to sometimes feel as though employee benefits brokers are stepping on their toes, especially when what they have to say challenges company norms. No one likes change, and it’s certainly understandable that third-parties entering the foray are not always welcome, but remember that they are not trying to disrupt your policies or cause any problems. They were hired to solve some of your problems and that’s exactly what they will try to do — if you let them do their jobs.
Access To Data: One thing you can do to ensure your employee benefits broker is able to help you to the fullest extent of their ability is to provide them with any data they request. They’ll need obvious census data, such as the number of employees and dependents eligible for benefits, but they may also ask for information you might be hesitant to hand over such as turn-over rates, affordability levels, etc. Keeping information close to the vest will not only waste your broker’s time, but yours as well. If they don’t know the full situation, they might present options that are out of you and your employees' price range or do not fulfill strategic imperatives you need in your benefits plan. It’s best to be honest right from the get-go.
An Invitation Into Your Inner Circle: Another thing you can do to help your employee benefits broker during this process is to invite them into your inner circle. This doesn’t mean you need to light candles and talk about your darkest secrets, but it does mean you need to let them hear you speak openly and honestly. Discuss your concerns with them candidly, and be forthcoming with what you want (or definitely don’t want) from an employer-sponsored health plan, along with anything else you feel is important to the discussion. Doing so will help your broker find the best plan options for you and your employees.
Access to End-Users: It's often a good idea to let your broker speak directly to end-users of the health plan. One way to learn more about their opinions is by conducting qualitative focus group research. Another is by conducting a thorough and anonymous quantitative survey. You'll want to sequence these so that your qualitative research informs the design of your quantitative survey. You’ll want to do this long before renewal season, but far enough into the new plan year that your employees have had time to use the plan and weigh-in on what they like and don’t like about it. Be forewarned however — designing a truly effective and reliable survey takes a very special skill set. This is something a great benefits broker can help you with, providing they have the right resources on board.
Exposure To Critical Influencers/Key Decision Makers: If your employee benefits broker is only meeting with the HR department, but the CFO and CEO are involved in the final decision, you’re only prolonging the process of making real progress on your benefits plan if you don't involve them early in the process. Admittedly, there is a tough balance to find here on when to bring key stakeholders, influencers and decision makers into the process.
If the group is too large, you may risk the frankness of an open and honest discussion due to all sorts of internal politics and territorial tendencies. It’s also possible that you’ll invite “too many cooks in the kitchen” — and the abundance of requests and opinions will cause conflict amongst such a diverse audience. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the group your broker is meeting with is too small, there may not be enough stakeholders, influencers and decision-makers in the room.
Trust that Your Employee Benefits Broker is Well-Rounded
Employee benefits brokers are your private consultants. Their sole purpose is to objectively help you accomplish something you cannot take on alone, typically because of limited time, knowledge gaps, or internal dismissal somewhere along the decision path of "non-expert" opinion (or perhaps a bit of all three).
If you've done a good job hiring the right broker, they will be a highly skilled negotiator, and because they are an outside resource, they can say things which other internal stakeholders may be reluctant to say for a host of reasons, not the least of which is fear of stepping on toes.
A seasoned employee benefits broker is also typically well-versed in a wide spectrum of employee benefits across diverse industries, geographies and demographics . This diversity of experience is a great thing for you because they’re able to draw from this to provide recommendations based on techniques which have proven themselves to be effective elsewhere. They should also have at their disposal an industry-leading database for competitive benchmarking, such as the Truven Health Analytics database used by the JP Griffin Group.
If your HR personnel start to feel a bit on-edge when an employee benefits broker enters the picture, remind them that brokers have not been hired to replace them. Brokers are brought in to make their lives easier and help them find the right solution for your HR staff and your employees — not to threaten anyone’s job or insult the work that’s already been done. An effective benefits broker will reduce HR burdens by streamlining processes, improving data integrity and ensuring the efficacy of benefit strategies.
Work Closely with Your Employee Benefits Broker
You’ll want to work as closely with your employee benefits broker as possible, which means keeping open lines of communication and being honest about your wants, needs, limitations and priorities — not just during open enrollment, but throughout the year. Waiting until renewal season to discuss how you can save money in the coming year does you little good, since your only option at that point is to “go to market” and hope for the best.
Our Approach as an Employee Benefits Broker
Here at the JP Griffin Group, we see our role as that of an innovator, a benchmarking and best-practices advocate, a sounding board, and even a provocateur when the situation calls for it. We like to challenge current thinking, where necessary, in an effort to bring about the relevant evolution, and sometimes revolution, of approach. Our ultimate goal is to gain alignment on strategy, but we value dissenting viewpoints and contrasting ideas and believe that both eventually lead to finding solid, common ground.
We believe we do our best work when our clients follow the tips we’ve outlined here. We don’t want your experience with us to be strenuous or stressful. It’s our goal to make it as simple and comfortable as possible.
If you’re looking to switch employee benefits brokers, don’t hesitate to get in touch, regardless of if you just completed open enrollment or if you are just at the early stages of a renewal. We’d be glad to help you reach your goals.
Do you wish your relationship with your employee benefits broker was different? Leave us a comment below or contact us. We’re happy to hear your feedback!