WASHINGTON — When it comes to boosting employees' voluntary benefits use, word of mouth is critical, Mastercard's senior vice president for total rewards told employers at a National Business Group on Health conference April 19.
Voluntary benefits, which can range from pet insurance to financial planning, are gaining traction with employers. And when they gain traction with employees, they can give employers a competitive advantage, but that's a difficult ball to get rolling.
Mastercard's Christina Brenner discussed the company's adoption of a benefit that provides employees with information about medical conditions and encourages them to seek out second opinions. The benefit had the potential to cut Mastercard's costs — especially in unnecessary surgeries — and it eventually did. But how did they get it to catch on? "It grew because there was a grassroots buzz about what we were doing," Brenner said.
The company also employed other tactics, like sending mailers to workers' homes and posting information on employee websites, but it was the word-of-mouth praise that proved key.
In another Business Health Agenda 2018 session, Jodi Fuller, VP of benefits product development and management for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, echoed Brenner's insight. Fuller said her company has seen great success with its telehealth offering, in large part thanks to word-of-mouth buzz. Employees mention health needs to their coworkers, who then mention this service that doesn't require them to travel to a doctor, wait for an appointment or even take time off of work.
Like Mastercard, the company enjoyed some success with efforts like mailings and free gifts for enrollees, but found that the best results came when employees championed the programs to their coworkers.
But how can employers give "word of mouth" a little push?
"We plant seeds," Brenner told HR Dive. Mastercard knows which employees have strong networks and taps them, asking them to be champions of the offering. Those employees then make note of it in staff meetings, and comment about it on intranet blog posts.
"When you plant the seeds in the right places," Brenner said, "it spreads."