How benefits integration can yield results—just ask Cisco

Employers are increasingly offering a smorgasbord of benefits and layering on the ability for employees to personalize their choices, but they may be missing out on key components in the design of their people program that could drive adoption.

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One important component when designing integrated benefits is to create automated ways to point employees to specific benefits, or services or advisors that fit their particular situation. Secondly, it’s important to share this information in real-time.

But often, HR and benefits leaders overlook these elements.

“Once we move beyond the initial communication campaigns, employees often report that they and their dependents had no situational awareness of these offerings during a critical moment that matters,” says Mark Stelzner, founder and managing principal at IA, a strategic advisory service for HR executives, and one of HRE‘s 2022 Top 100 HR Tech Influencers.

How to build a holistic integrated benefits system that works

To address under-utilization of integrated benefits, Stelzner advises employers combine a variety of personalized communication methods regarding the benefits, the frequency of those communications and the high-touch delivery of the information.

“Forward-thinking employers are contemplating a layering of solutions that serve as the connective tissue between the employee experience and each of these highly valuable benefit programs,” he says.

Cisco is an example of this type of employer, says Stelzner, who worked with the enterprise networking, security and software company to develop a holistic integrated benefits system.

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The company created an integrated benefits experience using multiple communication channels, high-touch and high-tech interventions, and hyper-personalized communications for navigation, consumption and insight generation to support its workforce, Stelzner says.  

A taste of Cisco’s multi-year integrated benefits journey

Over the course of 18 months, Cisco worked with Alight, which provides a cloud-based integrated digital human capital platform on which various benefit providers sit. And in June, Cisco launched its integrated benefits offering. 

For Cisco, its main interest in exploring an integrated benefits system was not about increasing benefits adoption among its workforce, says Michelle Teixeira, director of global benefits for Cisco.

“Although utilization was certainly a consideration, our primary focus was to offer just-in-time support to employees who are navigating critical moments that matter,” says Teixeira. “In times of both joy and pressure, we were finding that situational awareness of our programs was often suboptimal.”

For example, among the foundational questions leaders sought to answer was: Could employees easily find, comprehend and engage with Cisco’s benefits programs and partners? Could they choose whatever channel of communications they preferred?

“Our ambition for the project was much larger than a simple benefits administration system or outsourced provider selection,” she says. ”Instead, our goal was to design a holistic integrated benefits experience for our 43,000-plus U.S. and Canadian employees and retirees.”

Related: To learn more about Cisco’s journey, attend Cisco’s Integrated Benefits Experience: A Future-ready Engagement Model session at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 3-5 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Among the biggest wins of Cisco’s real-time integrated benefits system has not only been an uptick in unique portal user hits during open enrollment but also a 3% increase in enrollments, Teixeira says.

Another win has been the use of Alight’s dedicated Benefits Pro and Financial Wellbeing Pros, along with its Alight Financial Plan services, Teixeira says, characterizing these services as Cisco’s “secret sauce” for its integrated benefits offering. 

“Having seasoned experts available to help our employees with their complex life situations, critical healthcare navigation and financial decision-making moments has been a game-changer,” she says.

Related: Cisco looking to alleviate COVID stress with this unique perk

As for next steps, Cisco is still in the stabilization phase of its holistic integrated benefits system, with the initial basic metrics showing good results. 

That said, however, Cisco is shifting its focus to identifying stronger data insights through the digital experience portal, mobile app, hyper-personalization campaigns and communications, Teixeira says. It will also leverage employee listening via surveys and call center metrics to ensure it is meeting its goals of driving a consistent, simplified, intuitive and holistic experience.

“Perhaps the most rewarding success is the unsolicited feedback from senior leaders, employees and family members expressing their gratitude for providing this level of service with care, empathy and excellence,” Teixeira says.

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.