How can benefits managers make a contribution that adds value to more than the parochial corporate bottom line?
Answering that question and providing the rationale for an answer may empower those managers and employers to focus on collaborating with other community members to create and maintain a healthy workforce (community) that will aid preservation of our national and global competitive advantage. Healthcare costs and the health of our workforce (active and retired) are inextricably tied to GNP and our competitive position nationally and in the world economy.
Historically, employers have been all about creating a competitive advantage by advancing their own self-interest, in a narrow sense of the term, while overlooking community collaboration beyond the usual participation in and sponsorship of community nonprofit and sports endeavors. That posture has driven a unilateral approach to dealing with the community(ies) where an employer does business.
This posture I believe has been based on the belief that employers provided more value to communities as opposed to the value communities provided to employers. This may be a hold-over form of thinking from the industrial age, when communities (read generic government) provided little more than essential public services and employers ruled the workforce.
Now that we are well past that epoch the dynamic between employers and communities (read the collective of employers and government) seems to be changing. To attract the service, high tech, and idea workforce of a more modern economy, it takes employers locating in a community that can provide the competitive advantage of a talented and healthy workforce.
Today it is much less about what an employer brings to a community and more about what a community has to offer an employer’s employees. Increasingly, it is the opportunities within a community that attracts a competitive workforce, so the employer tool box for recruitment/retention of a workforce requires more than the traditional salary and benefits offerings used to lure talent in the past.
Failure to actively engage this transition risks employer competitiveness and limits community competitiveness for all employers. Communities are becoming just as important or more important for attracting and retaining talent based on the perspective that communities and what they offer (in the way of educational, cultural, housing, and healthcare opportunities) supersedes the lure of independent salary and benefits offerings.
If this is true, it becomes incumbent on employers to embrace collaborative approaches for community (workforce) improvement. Accepting this premise means that employer/benefit manager roles and purviews must expand beyond the confines of the employer workplace. From the perspective of workforce (community) health, an expanded role/purview must necessarily include active involvement in efforts by others within the community to improve workforce (community) health.
Providing a robust health and wellness program for employees, which many employers are striving to do, is just the starting point. Collaborating with other employers and with healthcare providers is the stretch that needs to occur.
The issues confronting a move to this more robust role are not minimal. Community silos are just as intractable as employer silos. While employer silos have been the focus of much attention over the years, yielding many structural and behavioral interventions under the rubric of organizational development, community silos appear to be in their examination infancy. Many factors have contributed to initiating such an examination: for example, international terrorism, man-made and natural disasters, the threat of pandemic, the impact of the global economy, and legislation intended to support collaboration.
Healthcare employers locally are also grappling with the issues of collaboration among themselves. The realization that no healthcare group is autonomous (hospitals, physicians, etc.) and that collaboration is required to improve and maintain community (workforce) health, will result in long overdue improvements.
Benefits managers have traditionally been constrained to their desks as policy wonks. Some employers neglect worksite health and wellness programing because they do not see what is in it for themselves if they have high employee turnover. Failing to attend to employee health and wellness weakens the very talent pool from which replacement talent is drawn. Narrow perspectives are the dilemmas we face, if we believe the symbiotic relationship between employers and communities will yield competitive advantages.
So, what is a benefits manager (or employer) to do? Appropriate New Year’s resolutions might look something like this:
1) Resolve to push internally for development and improvement of health and wellness programs, recognizing that the talent pool from which employees are drawn is the same pool to which they return after ending employment with an employer.
2) Resolve to collaborate with other employers, and those in healthcare, on ways to improve community (workforce) health, recognizing that improvements impact competitiveness collectively. My observation is that local hospitals have some of the most sophisticated health and wellness programs for their own workforces. Partnering would benefit all community players. A mutual goal for all employers (healthcare included) might be to collaborate on a community model for health & wellness programming or medical plan design.
3) Resolve to expand the benefits manager role to include activities that extend active support (visually, verbally, and voluntarily) to external programs that contribute to building a healthier workforce (community). Literally this means pushing away from the desk and attending multi stakeholder meetings and other functions targeting community (workforce) health.
Competitive advantage for employers is ceasing to be a singles game. Collaborating into the future will provide all with greater opportunities for success.
— Bob Queyrouze is the former manager of compensation, benefits, health, and productivity management and an internal HR consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.