Want employees to use their benefits? Rebrand them, experts say.

As employers try to balance the rising cost of benefits with the comprehensiveness of their packages, companies are looking to make the most out of what they do offer, benefits experts told HR Dive. 

“I think employers are doing absolutely everything that they can in order to optimize their spend on benefits and make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck and the best reach,” said Casey Hauch, managing director of employee experience at WTW, a global insurance broker and advisory firm. 

Many are already spending billions on benefits but aren’t seeing the desired utilization rate, Hauch said. So instead of completely revamping their offerings, they’re rebranding and repackaging existing benefits to better engage workers. 

“It’s really about targeting messages,” Hauch said. “A lot of it is less in the design of the benefits, it’s more in the communication and marketing of them.”

One major area companies have focused on is employee assistance programs. The programs are historically underutilized, yet offer lots of resources to support mental health and emotional well-being for workers, Hauch said.

“Since the pandemic, over the past three years, we’ve seen huge strides in organizations rebranding those programs to … try to remove the stigma that might be associated with an EAP where people might think it’s only for people with substance abuse problems,” Hauch said. “They’re trying to really reposition those programs as something that can support you in your work and life.” 

Companies are instead highlighting what resources are offered through the EAPs, such as help securing an attorney, finding a caregiver for a parent or child or dealing with anxiety or stress, Hauch said. 

Some employers, too, are giving workers more control over their own career journeys by rebranding how they offer professional development, said Erika Duncan, a human capital consultant at UHY, an accounting and advisory firm. 

Companies might have always had a pool of money set aside per employee for development, but that was only something managers knew. 

“It wasn’t what I would call a transparent offering or a flexible offering,” Duncan said. 

Now, employers are communicating to workers that there is a set fund that can be used at the employees’ discretion for career progression, Duncan said. For example, companies will allocate $1,000 that employees can access themselves to attend a seminar or receive training, rather than having to ask a manager and wait for permission. 

“It’s being more intentional about that. Access, availability and education of those benefits is really key, particularly for recruitment and retention,” Duncan said. “If you’re engaged in a program or a degree or a certification, you’re probably not going to leave a company [that] has paid for it.”