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DEI for Brokers: Guiding Modern-Day Benefits for Today’s SMBs

Quick Look: Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has changed from the exception to the rule for many companies. It involves everything from recruiting to training to developing career paths to reshape and modernize a company’s culture. However, as business leaders navigate the best DEI approach, the question often is: where to begin? Each must tailor its strategy to the specifics of its company, and brokers are key to helping them get started.

There’s no doubt DEI is a buzzworthy topic, but it’s far more than a fleeting trend. It’s become an essential part of a company’s foundation. A broker serves as a valuable resource for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to guide DEI-focused benefits and reflect the current needs of an ever-changing workplace.

The benefits employees wanted and expected even five years ago are not the same as they are today, and they will continue to change and evolve. Benefits diversity expands the type of benefits offered. Whereas equity and inclusion confirm eligibility and equal access for all employees.

Though the core categories may be similar, there are a few specific initiatives brokers can recommend to SMB employers to encourage and design diverse, equitable, and inclusive benefits which resonate better with today’s workforce.

Provide inclusive healthcare education

According to the annual Policygenius survey, more than 25% of Americans are unsure of what their healthcare plan covers and have avoided seeking healthcare as a result. Education and transparency regarding coverage are essential in order for it to be equitable.

This includes providing equal access to information in multiple languages, as well as in forms for those who may have limitations navigating online platforms. Furthermore, as online enrollment and education continue to trend upwards, including captions, written transcriptions, and audio recordings helps to ensure everyone receives the necessary information to make informed healthcare coverage decisions.

Factor in accessibility and affordability for all

Equitable health benefits must also recognize the differences in healthcare needs among employees versus offering one-size-fits-all types of plans. This includes taking into consideration proximity to hospitals, pharmacies, and health food stores to provide employees equal accessibility to resources. Affordability is another top factor to keep in mind. One way brokers can assist is by connecting SMB employers to resources offering tiered income premiums and HSA contributions. Additionally, offering at least one plan option without a deductible can also help address affordability concerns some employees face when choosing healthcare coverage.

Design benefits based on the demographic

Being cognizant of the workplace demographic and its changing needs is essential to guiding benefits with DEI in mind. For example, brokers can help identify providers who promote coverage for specific conditions for at-risk individuals. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at-risk individuals include but are not limited to children, pregnant women, and older adults, plus individuals from diverse cultures, those who have transportation disadvantages, and individuals experiencing chronic health conditions.

Examples which support at-risk individuals may include fertility and adoption benefits, chronic disease and care management coverage, and disability-inclusive medical coverage, such as speech therapy, physical therapy, hearing aids, and other accessibility resources. Each company must assess the particular needs of its employees on a regular basis to ensure they still fit the current demographic.

Reassess PTO policies

On the surface, PTO sounds like vacation days to most employees. In reality, it often serves as a general bucket for sick leave, jury duty, and floating holidays. Additionally, parental leave and other Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) scenarios are often a part of an overall PTO policy. Unfortunately, it’s common for employees to be unaware of the full scope of their benefits and do not receive them equally across the board. For example, a recent UCLA study found white workers are more likely to have access to leave than people of color.

The study cites 18.7% of Latina women, compared to just 8.4% of white men, lack access to the unpaid leave provided by FMLA due to its minimum annual hours requirement. Since there’s a difference between a company’s own PTO policy and what’s regulated by law, SMBs must maintain compliance while also providing equity across the board. A broker can be the connector between a company and a professional employer organization (PEO) solution to ensure these needs are balanced and benefits goals are met.

Answer the needs of marginalized communities

Another key area of an impact when guiding modern-day benefits is providing diverse and inclusive medical care for employees. According to a Willis Tower Watson 2021 Healthcare Survey, 47% of employers are focusing on social determinants of health in 2022 and beyond. The purpose is to make benefits more affordable and accessible, while closing gaps in care, for marginalized communities.

A first step may involve increasing the diversity of in-plan physicians to support and advocate for BIPOC employees. Stanford research shows racial diversity among medical professionals could help reduce cardiovascular mortality among black men by 19 percent. Furthermore, transgender benefits are an important part of the healthcare discussion when restructuring benefits packages with DEI in mind. This could include coverage of medical care related to sex reassignment or affirmation as medically necessary versus labeled as a cosmetic procedure.

Crowdsource voluntary benefits

Brokers can also help SMB employers choose voluntary benefits which are most desirable and help implement programs to increase adoption. A Glassdoor survey revealed four out of five employees would rather have additional benefits than a salary increase. Though the term “crowdsourcing” is applied loosely, the idea is to hear directly from employees about the benefits offered to see which provide the greatest overall value.

Voluntary benefits allow employees to complement their benefits plan with rewards which fit their particular needs. Examples may include free mental health programs, education stipends, legal services, and home improvement incentives for remote workers. Considering the average cost per hire is reportedly over $4,000, and the average time it takes to fill a position is 42 days, adapting benefits to the demographic and culture of the workplace can prevent the cost of high turnover.

Personalize the experience

Employees are used to curating experiences based on their individual needs. Having this same opportunity when it comes to healthcare benefits allows them to search and “shop” for plans in the same way. By providing an experience which allows them to compare plans, search by treatment option, cost, and/or other personal factors, it allows each person to feel confident in choosing an option best-suited for their situation.

It also allows employees to connect with healthcare support and coverage among medical providers who specialize in and best reflect their needs from a racial and/or cultural perspective. Being linked with a healthcare provider who will advocate for what they need most is a way to make every employee feel well taken care of.

DEI, a benefit to all

In addition to competitive recruiting for new hires, DEI is important for maintaining current employee satisfaction. When employees feel their needs are supported, they are more engaged with their company, which leads to higher retention and better performance. In today’s workplace, 75% of organizational decision-makers reflecting a DEI culture will exceed their financial targets.

Brokers play a critical role in delivering options and providing resources for SMB leaders to create DEI-focused benefits. By partnering with a PEO solution like ExtensisHR, it ensures companies are kept up to date with what the current workforce wants in order to stay relevant. Meanwhile, it gives SMB leaders confidence in maintaining compliance and navigating industry changes, while they dedicate more time and resources to employee retention and business growth.

The status quo is evolving and companies must adapt or be left behind. Our experts are available to help you strategize DEI benefits plans to bring the most value to your clients.

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