In the first half of 2021, 36% of U.S. employees were engaged in their work, according to a Gallup study, leaving 64% not engaged and 15% actively disengaged. Engagement levels affect productivity, profitability, retention, absenteeism, customer satisfaction, and more.
According to Chris Labrecque, president of Insurance Office of America's Employee Benefits Services Division, employee engagement also affects commercial risk. Labrecque has been in the insurance industry since 1990. He worked for a small, family-run agency for 18 years. That agency was sold to a friendly competitor, which in turn was sold in 2010 to Insurance Office of America, a privately held, full-service insurance consultant and brokerage serving small and mid-market employers.
“We work with employers who see their employees as their No. 1 asset and recognize that their relationship with employees is their strongest currency,” Labrecque says.
Cause and Effect
With health care being the centerpiece of most benefit plans, Labrecque encourages clients to think about how doing business differently with their existing assets could create better results.
“Our job is to put relevant benefits in front of an employer and, by extension, to employees,” Labrecque says. “Despite our best efforts over time, we have seen limited results in cost controls. The industry faces 8.5% to 9.5%, sometimes higher, trend increases every single year.”
Inspired by cost controls in the property and casualty space, Labrecque began thinking about proximate cause, which addresses the trigger of a claim. For example, in a property damage claim, the proximate cause might be a flood or broken pipe.
“When it comes to controlling costs in health care and benefits, it’s not necessarily about controlling premiums because of the frequency of claims,” he says. “It’s controlling the spend on the back end. If we can control that by controlling the proximate cause, then the products we put in place will perform. The question is, how do we position benefits to support the overall goal of transferring, mitigating, and reducing risk everyday, all the time?”
Here is where employee engagement comes in. “It’s not the CEO who backs over somebody with a forklift. It’s the employee who is disengaged,” Labrecque says. “Part of being engaged is being healthy. Part of being engaged is being financially viable. Part of being engaged is being professionally fulfilled. Part of being engaged is being safe. Part of being engaged is being socially connected to something bigger than yourself. Those are the five elements that we look at when we want to improve the health of a population.”
These elements are interconnected. For example, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Special Report: Financial Stress and theBottom Line, 28% of surveyed employees say their financial worries had impacted their health.
“If I’m trying to improve the health of that population, then I need to bring resources to help people right-size their pay-to-debt ratio and help them become more financially viable,” Labrecque says.“If I don’t do that, then nearly 1 in 3 of the people that I am meant to serve is going to have a health degradation issue or event. And as a result, I’m going to be facing claim spend that I did not address by providing them with financial counseling to help them get their debt in line and help put them on the right path, whether they’re 23 years old or 64.”
Employees’ financial concerns are just one of the five most important things that employers can address to create engagement in the workplace.
“Another thing to do is create a safe work environment, or what I would call ‘table-stakes.’ This includes pandemic-safe surfaces and proper lifting techniques,” Labrecque says. “But it’s much beyond that. We’re taking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into the workforce.”
Labrecque explains that the social contract between employer and employee through the pandemic and beyond is rapidly evolving.“It’s an exciting and wonderful opportunity, and the five elements support an approach like that,” he says.
Providing employers with a leadership ability versus a management ability is also key to ensuring that employees feel safe and valued at work, have a sense of belonging, know what they need to do to grow and fulfill their professional aspirations, and feel connected to something bigger than themselves.
Benefits of Engagement
With the so-called ‘great resignation’ currently underway, employees are asking themselves if they are really doing what they want to do and if they are genuinely connected to the organization in ways beyond punching a clock and getting a paycheck.
“That’s part of the evolution of the social construct that this five-element approach is meant to serve. It has a reverse value proposition,” Labrecque says. “For example, this approach can reduce turnover or training costs for the employer because employees choose to stay at a job for, let’s say, $32,000 versus finding another one for $34,000 to service some Christmas debt they may have taken on. So, the implications are fairly broad but definitely additive.”
Labrecque likens this approach to a quote attributed to naturalist John Muir: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
“There is a fabric here in the way that the employer and employee interact socially and professionally that has a direct impact on commercial risk,” he says. “If you measure your employee engagement and net promoter scores, over time, you’ll see that they dance together very well. So, where are you going to invest your time and resources? Are you going to cut corners and staff or are you going to pour your heart, mind, and professional efforts into your employees, so they feel fulfilled and they feel part of the tribe to deliver on behalf of the organization?”
Labrecque believes employers can positively impact the health of their employees over time by focusing on the five elements. For example, he says providing strong financial advice, creating social bonds at work, and helping people feel professionally fulfilled and part of something bigger than themselves with a sense of future belonging can make a significant impact on commercial risk.
“But when you take all five and improve each exponentially year over year, that’s a big deal with a substantial impact,” he says. “The ability to look at this in the mid- to long-term is crucial. We need to talk about what we’re going to do tomorrow, next month, and next year. We need to start thinking of this in terms of decades.”
Labrecque entertains the possibility that he might be wrong and encourages others to tell him where it works and where it doesn’t work.
“Ultimately, I think you can never be too humane, and you can never, as an employer, pour enough into your employees because they will repay you in ways that you never thought possible,” he says. “Even if you improve at 10%, your traditionally measured results like EBITDA, profit and loss, top-line revenue, client lifetime value, and net promoter scores would be off the charts. This approach is meant to amplify what we’re already doing and, by the way, reduce risk, reduce turnover, reduce training costs, engage people, and increase your net promoter scores by increasing your employee engagement in a powerful way.”