“Digital transformation” is this year’s headline. While industries are transforming at different rates, one thing remains true: When it comes to HR and benefits administration, many employers are still stuck in the paper lane.
Every employer enrolling employees in health insurance and other benefits is collecting a multitude of data about their staff and their dependents. But many are still keeping this information in paper files, making future interactions trickier for all involved as the world continues to digitize. I recently observed a broker show up to enrollment with a stack of four-page forms — one for each employee — and return with an armful of handwritten documents. The problem: He’d been provided documentation with hard-to-decipher handwritten names, demographic details and policy numbers, forcing administrators to resort to using Facebook, LinkedIn and Google to confirm details of policyholders’ identities. Not ideal.
If brokers and HR administrators don’t always recognize the problem, millennial workers do. Those who are used to managing other facets of their lives through intuitive web or mobile interfaces balk at the anachronism and wastefulness of paper forms, which often ask for resubmission of previously supplied info.
In the last few years, we have seen other industries and business functions experience transformations. Much of our personal banking, for example, is now digital. I can enroll my kids in school or a tennis class online, yet all the while while, countless businesses and HR offices are still stuck in the past, mired in paper.
It’s not that HR directors are inherently opposed to new systems and technology — far from it. Nowadays, all manner of digital tools are in play for things like psychometric engagement and determining employee happiness. But what has left benefits enrollment so often overlooked? And perhaps the bigger question, why are the problems of paper magnified when it comes to enrollment?
Being in such close contact with this subject, I’ve seen some of the roadblocks to going paperless firsthand. For example, for sectors with high staff turnover rates and numerous hourly employees, such as manufacturing, healthcare or retail, eligibility and employees themselves keep fluctuating, which keeps employers in a hamster wheel of enrollments and terminations. That makes it hard to press pause long enough to make the digital switch.
But when an employee visits the doctor with a critical illness and, due to lost forms, discovers her health insurance was never processed, her frustration quickly turns toward her employer, who has to take the time to make it right, retracing the paper trail to find and process those forms.
Leaders can help by making a conscious decision to stop the vicious cycle and move to a digital system. A digital benefits workflow c an be the digital transformation HR bosses need. Employers that are struggling to move forward can fully embrace this digital change by following a simple road map:
Recognize your frustrations: Begin by listing out the daily problems associated with paper-based benefits administration. It may be a broker misspelling names, your approval process, carrier billing errors, complaints about “missing coverage” and anything affecting your productivity.
Educate yourself about digital options: You don’t need to build your own. Numerous software solutions now exist to make benefits a breeze (Full disclosure: I am the CEO of one company that offers this solution.) Read up on their different approaches and reviews from users to arm yourself with knowledge.
Sync with existing tools: Any benefits system you adopt may need to integrate properly with your existing technology tools, like HR admin and payroll. Check with suppliers to learn if and how their solution for benefits data can sync with those your organization already uses.
Deploy mindfully: Especially in larger organizations, rollout should never be a “big bang.” You should get together an internal HR group responsible for the project timeline, implementation and integration. And be mindful of flipping the “on” switch too close to actual enrollment time. Educating your employees on how to use the new tool while wrapping things up with the carriers at that pivotal moment could be very disruptive.
(Over)communicate: Remember your biggest stakeholders — employees — are about to be told to deal with their most significant financial and well-being benefits in a new way. So share multiple communications (in multiple formats) to set appropriate expectations on what’s changing, why, when and how.
HR benefits administration deals with some of the most important aspects associated with an employee’s working life. Finding efficiencies by upgrading to a world after analog is a benefit that everyone should realize. So start with a simple audit about what’s working and what’s not, and make a timeline for digital change to get the ball rolling.