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Gone Daddy Gone

October 10, 2011

Yesterday over at HR Bartender, Sharlyn posted the side-by-side results of a poll she recently took comparing “What HR Currently Does” and “What HR Wants to Do.”  Some interesting results; specifically I noticed that spending time on comp/benefits ranks #2 as what HR folks do, while it ranks as last for what HR folks want to do.

While I think there’s some truth to Sharlyn’s idea/question that “Companies are watching their pennies.  Are HR pros spending time on compensation and benefits to save their organizations money?” I also think there’s a bit of legacy HR that causes this to occur.

Remember back in the day, pre-HIPAA, when employees would bring their medical bills, questions and issues to the HR Department?  And the nice HR lady would pick up the phone and place calls to the doctor’s office and the insurance company to get to the bottom of a billing error?  I do.  I remember employees bringing expandable file folders to the HR Department, dropping them off with a note for the benefits staff, and walking away.  The nice HR ladies (and gentlemen) would spend hours upon hours assembling bills and collection notices, tracking down ICD-9 codes and working to rectify problems with co-payments, deductibles and proper patient billing.   In those days, the insurance company and hospital billing office would talk to the nice HR lady;  it was a generally understood practice that if Jane worked for ABC Company then ABC Company’s HR department would help Jane fix those types of issues.

It was also often encouraged and expected that HR would perform these tasks as either a service aspect of their HR role (“Employees are our Internal Customers”) or because hand-holding and not requiring personal responsibility were a cultural norm. (I’ve often wondered how many people would think to bring their mortgage paperwork or auto insurance bills to HR so problems could be sorted out?)

So while those days are over my friends, your employees either don’t want them to be or don’t realize they no longer exist.  They still  fondly remember that glorious legacy HR; and they want you to be able to straighten up the overcharges for sodium chloride during their hospital stay.  You’re the one who schedules those Open Enrollment meetings every year, sends out Medicare Part D notices and reminds everyone to review their quarterly 401(k) statements, right?  Plus, it’s much easier to pop into HR to ask coverage questions (and watch the nice Benefits Representative  – you – log into the provider’s website) rather than search out the info/do the work.

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Now I’m not saying employer-provided benefits aren’t important – they certainly are.  They still make up a fairly big chunk of our recruitment messages – although, upon reflection, I’ve never had anyone turn down a job offer or resign because the benefits didn’t meet their expectations.   And until and unless the U.S. moves to a model where health coverage is not part of the employment relationship, we’re got what we’ve got.  And what we’ve got is HR professionals handling employee benefit programs – plan selection/design; enrollment, notifications, COBRA, adhering to ever-changing-government-regulations AND communicating the value of the benefits and how to use them.

How to use them.

That may be the most important component of the benefit message.

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I don’t miss the days of a shopping bag full of doctor bills being dumped off in the HR Department by the CEO’s wife (yes; true) with directions to “please sort these out for me.”  Thanks to government interventions regulations some of those HR Benefit tasks changed forever. Technology, on-line enrollment and account access and point-of-sale debit cards for FSAs…wonderful things.  However, your employees still fondly recall when Bob in HR sent them a personalized letter each month letting them know their current flexible spending account balance.  Accompanied by a print-out of their vacation balance.

So how has your HR and communication model evolved to keep up?  Do your employees truly know what HR’s role is in regards to their use of their benefits? Do they know what their role is?

Do they realize what’s gone? **


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