Aflac’s CHRO talks tech, AI, and why employers aren’t listening to employees’ benefits needs | EBA

Aflac’s CHRO talks tech, AI, and why employers aren’t listening to employees’ benefits needs | EBA

Is it possible to get employees to truly engage with benefits communication? 

Yes — but it takes a number of complementary strategies, plenty of employer listening, and an assist from technology. 

“We’re really seeing a blended workforce from a technology-expectation perspective,” says Matthew Owneby, CHRO at Aflac. “But even while a younger workforce expects to be able to access things like their benefits cards, information or handbook via an app, a great deal of them also want a benefit adviser to help them make decisions, particularly around annual enrollment or when a change happens in their life.” 

According to Aflac’s 2022-2023 Workforces Report, which surveyed 1,200 employers and 2,001 employees, 82% of employees say that it’s very or extremely important that they have the ability to manage their benefits online — something that’s of particular importance to millennials. However, just 67% of employers offer digital benefit management, a dip from the 79% who were doing so in 2021 at the peak of the pandemic. 

Read: How to merge in-person and virtual open enrollment

How can employers find the winning formula for their organization? Owenby recently spoke with EBN to offer his most tested methods and share how employers can strategically meld tech tools with live resources to capture employees’ attention and boost utilization of available benefits. 

As employers look to balance in-person support with tech tools around benefits, what are some methods that are really driving engagement and helping employees understand their benefits? 

Matthew Owenby, CHRO at Aflac

Courtesy of Aflac

With respect to the technology piece and just due to the nature of broad social media applications, you almost need to have your own Twitter channel or Facebook channel. Companies that integrate communication and education elements into the normal aspects of social media use are the companies that probably have the best engagement with their benefits. It must be integrated into the existing app ecosystem. 

You can have an app from Fidelity, an app from Anthem, Kaiser, Blue Cross Blue Shield, etc., but employers need to consolidate that into one spot where employees can access it. And at Aflac, we haven’t gotten that down to a science yet. But we do have a portal where you can access all of those different things, whether it’s a retirement benefit or a wellness benefit or a pure healthcare benefit. 

Read more: 10 most wanted employee benefits of 2023

Are any employers striking that perfect balance? 
Employers almost always believe that they do a great job of communicating their benefits. But two thirds of respondents to our survey say, “No they don’t.” Or, employers believe the value of their benefits is very high, but 58% of employees would say, “Well, we don’t understand [our benefits], even if you are providing them.” What surprises me the most is that we get this disconnect every year. We’ve been doing this survey for over a decade. You would think employers would get better at this over time. 

What’s behind that disconnect? 
I suspect it’s because employers in general aren’t actually talking to their employees about what they want or need. Employers need to be dynamically engaging to understand what benefits people want, and not just through a survey after annual enrollment. 

This is especially important when retention is a particular focus. Talk about the benefits people want, and talk about the proper way to use benefits, which can make a better experience for the employee and create a cheaper experience for the employer. And, as you think about the overall price and cost of insurance, employers should be happy to tell people about the benefits they’ve secured. If employees had the view that their benefits are a type of compensation — which really, it is — they would be much more interested in it, just like their paychecks. 

Read more: 27% of employees would leave their job if they lost summer Fridays

How much is the current state of remote/hybrid/in-person work impacting the benefits people are responding to? 
At Aflac, we’ve gone to a largely 75% hybrid working environment. Basically, we have some expectation that there’s a minimal number of days that you come to campus, based on where you’re located. And there’s still some resistance there, but we’ve worked to offer things that are attractive as we try to bring people back, like on-site child care, on-site healthcare, and having events and things that may be fun to bring people back in. 

It’s hard to talk about all the ways tech is changing the way we work without mentioning artificial intelligence. Is AI already disrupting the benefits world? 
I think where machine learning is really going to come into play is from a benefits application — where you can unleash a type of ChatGPT on your 15,000 members’ experience with healthcare and understand what services they’re using the most often, where they’re using them, how they’re using them, the timing of how they’re using them, and then use that information to change your offerings. Maybe in the future AI will help customize that instantly, but I haven’t seen that yet. In fact, I may need to build an app just like that.