Education benefits are a critical offering to retain top talent

The top reason why employees pursue higher education and training is to keep up with or get ahead of any changes in their specific position, according to a recent survey. Read the following blog post for more on why education benefits are critical when it pertains to retaining top talent.

The American workplace is changing rapidly and so are the expectations workers have of their employers. Under pressure to keep pace with technology’s transformation of the labor market, employers are racing to up- and re-skill their workforce. They know that frontline workers, whose tasks are often most susceptible to automation, need training to remain viable and competitive.

According to this year’s Bright Horizons Working Learning Index, which surveyed more than 30,000 working learners, employees are well aware that their workplace is changing. When asked to select their top three reasons for pursuing more education or training, the most prevalent answer was that they wanted to “keep pace with or get ahead of changes in my position.” This beat out all other reasons, including advancement, opportunities at another organization and even earning more money at work.

Generation Z workers now rank education over all other benefits in importance, excluding healthcare. But they tend to differentiate between education and training, ranking education benefits above training and development.

That’s with good reason: a college degree is still the great lever for economic mobility and career advancement among frontline workers, driving higher lifetime earnings that total more than $2 million, on average. But with college costs rising, Gen Z is looking to employers to fill the gap. About four in ten Gen Z employees believe their tuition reimbursement program is the single best benefit offered by their employer. Twice as many say it is among the top three voluntary benefits.

Among the surveyed workers, three-quarters (76%) say a tuition reimbursement program would make them more likely to remain at their organization, and eight in 10 (81%) say it would make them more likely to recommend working there to a friend. Nearly two-thirds (64%) say such benefits make them “happier at work.”

Indeed, employees of all generations rank education benefits far above those offered for wellness and even above highly coveted benefits like life or disability insurance and paid family leave. In this survey, only retirement savings programs and paid sick or vacation time ranked more highly.

Importantly, nearly half (49%) said they would not have pursued education if their employers did not offer tuition assistance. Slightly more (55%) say the time commitment required for a degree or certification under their employer’s tuition assistance program is the biggest challenge they faced — as a result, many see the value of competency-based and self-paced learning options, often delivered online.

Data like this may change the calculus for employers considering investments in not just upskilling but education. While it may seem counterintuitive, employers must offer their frontline workers broad learning opportunities and educational benefits that can help them move beyond their current positions and pursue the next steps of their careers. Companies must have the foresight to invest in their potential.

SOURCE: Donovan, P. (22 November 2019) "Education benefits are a critical offering to retain top talent" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

How to Speak to Your Employees About Their Intimidating Benefits.

Employers spend thousands annually to secure and offer benefits to their employees. However, a small amount of time and money are devoted to ensuring employees understand and appreciate their benefits. Properly communicating – what you say, how you say it and to whom you say it to – can make a tremendous difference in how employees think, feel and react to their benefits, employer and fellow co-workers. In this installment of CenterStage, Jamie Charlton, founding partner and CEO of Saxon Financial Services, discusses the importance of offering sound education of benefits to employees, as well as how to effectively communicate their benefits in a clear, concise manner.

Through 18 years in the financial services field, Jamie has instilled a focus on stressing to employers the importance of communicating and educating employees on all that is available currently and what may change with each upcoming plan year. Jamie believes a focus on premiums leads to “next level benefits”, an offering Saxon delivers.

The Need for Benefits Communication

Clearly communicating benefits is an increasing issue due to the complex dynamics of benefits plans. Previously, benefits decisions have been made primarily by employers. As a result, employees have not become educated consumers about their benefits or on how to implement them. This absence of engagement, as Jamie notes, causes employees to enroll in benefits that don’t fit their needs, pay too much for their coverage and not discover the full advantage of their offerings.

Good communication is important and should cover all matters regarding plan offerings to employees and their dependents alike. The goal of a proper benefits plan, Jamie states, is to be enjoyable, comprehendible, and easily accessible. However, there currently exists an infliction point in employee benefits, and the entire process is changing.

This change is a factor of two main topics: (1) the continuing rise in medical costs and health insurance premiums and (2) a truly multigenerational workforce within the workplace. So how does an employer communicate their benefits to their employees?

Employers seeking to spread the word about their benefits offerings are continuing to seek out the expertise and experience found through Saxon. Understanding there is no one-size-fits-all method for every employer, Saxon delivers tools through tested methods to get your message across to employees. We explore your company’s offerings and assist you in crafting the perfect method to communicate and educate your employees on their existing plan offerings. Jamie gives the example of wellness programs and how to broadcast these offerings. Utilizing channels in which employees are bound to check – computers and smartphones – Saxon places the knowledge of how to display these offerings through informational web pages or email blasts.

Proper Benefits Education Begins with Saxon

While the methods above serve as channels for reaching employees, nothing compares to a direct, in-house explanation of your benefits to ensure your message is addressed and comprehended. Unique to Saxon is what Jamie notes as the “secret sauce” of Saxon’s employer and employee empowerment – the annual open enrollment meeting, which consists of nothing more than a step-by-step walk through of your entire health plan. This annual ‘seminar’ within your office closely examines the “nuts and bolts” of your plan to ensure everything is in-tact, working and done so with comprehension across the entirety of the organization.

Saxon understands the complexity of the modern healthcare scene and therefore is driven to provide the most comprehensive breakdown of your plan. Have more than one? No problem – We can compose a side-by-side analysis of your plans to show not only employers but employees where the strongest assets lie. Additionally, we stress the importance of shopping around at renewal time to make sure you get the best you can for your money. Jamie explained the goal of the meeting, as well as Saxon’s continued service year-round, is to “empower employees to have a choice.”

Empowerment from Saxon comes in many different forms. Just one of these many ways discovered through Saxon’s annual meeting is placing the power of online benefits administration at the fingertips of employees. Traditionally, when an employee needed to update their plan (i.e. having a new baby in the middle of a plan year), they were entitled to visiting their employer’s office and updating their plan by filling out a form. Risks associated with this older process included the “potential loss of documentation and therefore an inaccurate reading of an employee’s coverage needs”, said Jamie. The online method saves time, stress and paper.

How Can Saxon Help?

At Saxon, we want to invest in you. We begin by engaging experts that truly listen, building successful strategies that stay focused on your vision and goals. We strive to not be a name you turn to for assistance but a knowledgeable face always at your service. Saxon exists to care, cultivate and empower through relationships, expertise and exceptional standards of service. From finding a doctor, solving a complicated claim or partnering with an insurance agency to help protect your company’s sensitive medical data to ensure you are HIPAA compliant – with us; it’s personal.

To begin the conversation with Jamie on how to better communicate with your employees, contact him at (513) 573-0129.

4 best practices for implementing a gamification-based compliance training system

Many employees may dislike and even disengage when their employer mentions implementing training sessions. Continue reading to learn how implementing a gamification-based training system can help improve employee engagement.

For most employees, compliance training is the Brussels sprouts on the kid’s plate of working life. Everyone knows it’s good for you — one mistake could lead to violations, accidents, reputation issues and maybe a not-so-friendly visit from regulatory body officials — but most workers turn up their noses and disengage when it’s time to dig in.

Considering that merely a third of American workers report feeling engaged at work as it stands, anything that makes matters worse is dangerous. Why risk inflaming indifference — not to mention spending money for on-site instructors — with dull-as-dry-toast workshops?

A far better bet is to embrace technology and go virtual. Of course, online-based compliance training won’t guarantee heightened participation or enthusiasm unless they have one specific aspect: gamification.

Gaming elements can turn any virtual compliance training learning management system (LMS) into an immersive experience. ELearning compliance training participants can enjoy customization and flexibility while getting up to speed on the latest rules, guidelines and protocols. With LMS gamification, HR managers and chief learning officers can cultivate and retain top talent. Best of all, it’s far easier to get buy-in for a robust LMS system with badges, bells and whistles than it is to make a pile of Brussels sprouts disappear from a toddler’s tray.

What exactly is so exciting about game-based learning? In essence, the process prompts active and immediate participation because of extra motivation in the form of rewards. Whether it’s badges or points, these features make eLearning interesting and enjoyable.

In one study, workers who enjoyed themselves retained concepts 40% better than those who weren’t having fun. As you might guess, this is what game-based learning is all about. Engaged employees who rapidly earn rewards are less likely to make errors, so they naturally increase a company’s bottom line and lower the likelihood of compliance fees and penalties. Plus, according to research from TalentLMS, 87% of employees report that gamification makes them more productive.

Merging gamification with training makes plenty of sense. It’s also easy to build a gamification-based compliance training LMS by following a straightforward LMS implementation checklist.

1. Identify your training goals and gaps. Before you can find the best LMS for your needs and move forward with an implementation project plan, you need to spot the inefficiencies of your existing compliance training program. For example, your strategy might not facilitate real-world applications. Knowing this, you would want a compliance training LMS that bridges gaps and imparts practical experience.

2. Discover what motivates and drives employees. Employee gamification only works when employees are properly incentivized, so find out what motivates your team based on their backgrounds and experience levels. Whether a task is challenging or boring, people respond better when they are internally driven to succeed.

Do you need an intuitive LMS with a personalized dashboard? Are the introverts on your team more driven by badges and points than by a sense of competition? Conduct surveys to gauge expectations, and try to follow a 70:20:10 model of training amplified by gaming to foster experimentation and collaboration.

3. Choose the right rewards for desired outcomes. With the plethora of LMS choices on the market, you can select from rewards and mechanics that lead to the exact behaviors and criteria you desire. Want employees to achieve safety online training certifications? Reward “graduates” with points after they have displayed their proficiency. Reinforce favorable behaviors without punishing workers who lag behind. Carrots are far more effective than sticks.

4. Invest in a feature-rich, gamification-supported LMS. Your LMS should not only be user-friendly, but it should also be a portal to game-based learning support and an online asset library. Ideally, your gamified learning platform should include themes and templates that allow you to design visually appealing rewards without reinventing the wheel. Just make sure you have game-based reporting on your side, which makes it simple to track employee performance, completion rates, and other LMS metrics.

Implementing a gamification-based compliance training strategy requires careful budgeting, planning, and analysis. Once you find an LMS platform that delivers the features you need within your price range, you’ll be on your way to mitigating risks and retaining superstar employees. And thanks to gamification, everyone can have a little fun along the way.

SOURCE: Pappas, C. (10 October 2018) "4 best practices for implementing a gamification-based compliance training system" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from

5 tips to make retirement education meaningful

Originally posted on

Through the use of education and communication, employers and benefit advisers can have a huge impact on their employees’ retirement readiness. Making that education meaningful, however, is key to employee engagement and understanding. Here are five tips from Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial and investment advisers with Commonwealth Financial Network on how to make retirement education meaningful.

1. Paint a picture of their "future self"

Employees who can envision their future selves are more likely to understand their financial needs during retirement. The advisers with Commonwealth Financial Network suggest one strategy for embracing your future self is to have employees envision not only their financial retirement goals, but also lifestyle retirement goals. By forcing today’s self to recognize how he or she will look in the future, employees are more likely to save for that future, they say.

2. Help them plan for an achievable number

For too long the financial services industry has focused on the daunting pot of money people should accumulate in order to retire, the advisers say, adding that breaking the number down to monthly saving increments is less scary and seems more achievable to employees.

3. Account for health care

A 2013 study conducted by Fidelity's Benefits Consulting Group estimated that out-of-pocket health care costs for a 65-year-old couple with no employer-provided retiree health care will be $220,000, assuming a life expectancy of 17 years for the man and 20 years for the woman. As part of a comprehensive financial education plan, the Commonwealth Financial Network advisers say it is imperative that medical and insurance costs be incorporated into the retirement planning discussion.

4. Start 'em young

The power of compounding interest is evident in retirement plan balances, the advisers say, adding that evidence has shown the benefits of starting to save at a young age. Interest adds up over time, so even starting to save at 30 instead of 40 can save exponentially more money.

5. Keep the message relatable

Paramount to the success of any education strategy is using simple terms and relatable examples to illustrate potentially complex issues, the advisers say. For example, telling a group of participants that inflation will erode the buying power of their dollar over the entirety of their retirement may be lost in translation, they say. But telling that same group of participants that the $5 sandwich they enjoy today will cost $22.93 in 30 years will likely keep their eyes from glazing over.

Employers partner with academic institutions to create specialized programs

Originally posted August 27, 2014 by Nick Otto on

It’s a new spin on an older system, as benefit managers are trying to evaluate the long-term benefits of helping to pay for their workers’ education — and more cost-effective and results-oriented methods of doing so. The big question: do these programs indeed serve to attract more candidates, and does the training necessarily produce workers who are better skilled and interested in staying with their current jobs?

In the past, tuition reimbursement programs were a more unstructured offering — occasionally the classes needed to be work-related in order to qualify for employer reimbursement, depending on an employer’s needs — resulting in a pleasant but not entirely critical employee benefit, with workers paid back for their studies as long as they maintained an acceptable
grade level.

Under a new model emerging at a variety of employers, direct partnerships with the online-specific satellites of accredited post-secondary institutions are helping to create more specialized and self-directed educational offerings, catered to the skill sets employers have found lacking in their workers. The participating college offers a discounted tuition rate and in exchange, the employer works to promote that particular program. Employees have less range of choice in educational offerings as a result, but may find the classes more individually suited to their needs and ultimately more important to their professional development.

“Corporate America is always trying to attract and retain the best talent, that’s certainly a very key HR strategy for most employers,” says Carol Sladek, partner and work-life consulting lead at Aon Hewitt. “So what we’re seeing is an increased interest on the part of employers to try to find the types of benefits and programs and policies that will help employees not only join their team, but stay on their teams and also help better employees along the way.”

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire partnered last year with College for America, a nonprofit college launched specifically for working adults and their employers, to create a competency-based program with no credit hours or courses. Students learn through projects targeted toward specific, employer-focused skills — communication, teamwork, ethics and others — resulting in either Associate- or Bachelor-level degrees. One of the biggest perks is the price tag: At $2,500 annually, the all-inclusive program is self-directed and online, providing an approach that allows students to progress through the program at their own pace.

Chris Dugan, director of public relations for Anthem’s New Hampshire operations, says it was one of the first companies to partner with the university last year, and since then, the insurer has had 56 employees participate in the program.

“Not only are employees going through this program stronger at their day job, but it could open up other opportunities in our company — so we promote this vigorously to our employees, and they seem to have strong interest [so far],” Dugan says. The convenience factor, plus Anthem’s arrangement to pay employees’ tuition, has also added to the new program’s success.

To date, College for America has enrolled nearly 1,000 students since its pilot launch in January 2013, adding more than 100 new students per month in recent months. Currently, it has about 60 employer partners — including corporate, government and nonprofit groups — offering the College for America program to their employees.

“We’re currently in program development discussions with several national employers and associations who see a specific labor market need where a competency-based, workforce-applicable degree would help with their talent development pipeline,” says Colin Van Ostern, a member of the college’s leadership team. “We’re seeing significant demand.”

Another example of corporate-academic partnerships can be seen with Starbucks, which recently created a program allowing any employee working 20 hours a week or more to be eligible for a full reimbursement if they enroll in Arizona State University’s online program as juniors or seniors. Freshmen and sophomores receive a partial scholarship and needs-based financial aid toward the foundational work of completing their degree.

According to data from EdAssist, an administrator of tuition assistance programs, spending on — and utilization of — tuition  assistance varies by industry. Among health care companies in its database, for example, the average annual spending per employee on tuition assistance is $2,332, yet the industry boasts the highest utilization rate at 8%.

Anthem and Starbucks’ examples come in contrast to other employers’ internalized education programs — fast-food retailer McDonald’s and its well-known Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Ill., a corporate managerial training program that has offered skills-based training to thousands of company employees since being founded in 1961.

Whatever the venue, Karen Hutcheson a partner in the rewards and talent management practice at Mercer, says that employees are keen in keeping up with current skills.

“I’m finding employers also want to make sure their employees have those opportunities; it’s a win-win,” she says. “On the employer side, if you can educate your workforce in an affordable and manageable fashion, you can feed into stronger engagement.”

Higher education needs to be more nimble and responsive to student needs, she adds. And people in the workforce want strong skills, but the cost of traditional higher education is so high. “This is a nice way to marry the two together,” Hutcheson says.

Limiting options

On the flip side, overly focused programs do limit some employees’ options, and might lead to lower benefit participation.

“With the lack of choice, high potential employees may discount the value of obtaining a degree or graduate degree,” Hutcheson says.  And although it’s still too early to tell, another potential downside would be the perceived value of an online degree versus the historical degree. “Not all Bachelors [degrees] are created the same,” she adds.

Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management, says the College for America model is part of a growing trend of employers working with community colleges, vocational schools and traditional universities to create structured programs.

Part of that growth, he says, seeks to offset a continued imbalance in the labor pool.

“During the height of the recession, there were employers desperate for skilled tradesmen and couldn’t find them to save their lives,” he says.

In the future, Elliott says he expects to see more corporate partnerships as a way of helping to drive down the cost of continuing education for employees — particularly in the Starbucks’ example.

“The reality is, these kids will be graduating with maybe $10,000 in debt,” compared to the much higher numbers in average student loan debt as the result of traditional, self-funded college programs. “You do the math.”

Aon Hewitt’s Sladek says that business costs and overall return on investment continue to be the biggest questions facing benefit managers as they consider the wider range of educational options.

“A lot of employers are sitting back waiting to see what will happen,” she says. “The Starbucks thing was really interesting and there was a lot of interest. I think a lot of other employers are standing on the edge watching.”

Hutcheson calls it a “wave of the future.”

“What we’re seeing in the workforce are people being more focused on building and maintaining skills,” she says. “We see employers wanting to see their employees be more prepared and in charge.”

Education heightens employee satisfaction with benefits, employers

Originally  posted July 23, 2014 By Melissa A. Winn on

Employees are increasingly dissatisfied with their benefits, and therefore dissatisfied with their employers.

This trend, according to new research released by Unum, highlights the correlation between employers’ benefit offerings and the ability to attract and retain top talent. What’s more, the survey found employees who receive education about their employee benefits tend to be more satisfied with their benefits — and ultimately their employers. Benefit advisers working with employers can stress the importance of benefits education on employee satisfaction and how that translates into better employee attraction and retention.

The survey results released Tuesday show employee satisfaction with their benefits continues to closely relate to satisfaction with their employer. More than three-quarters (77%) of those workers who rate their benefits package as “excellent” or “very good” also rate their employer as an excellent or very good place to work. By contrast, only 17% of employees who consider their benefits package to be fair or poor rate their workplace as excellent or very good.

Also, 79% of workers who rated the education around their benefits as excellent or very good also rated their employer as excellent or very good — compared with only 30% of those who said the education they received was fair or poor.

“This research underscores the value of an effective benefits education plan because when an employee understands their benefits, they tend to value them more and in turn may then value their employers more for providing access to them,” says Bill Dalicandro, vice president of the consumer solutions group at Unum.

The Unum research reiterates recent findings from the Aflac Workforces Report that small business employees are not only dissatisfied with their employer’s benefit offerings but also willing to take a pay cut to work for an employer offering better benefits.

Unum’s online survey of 1,521 working adults, conducted by Harris Poll, finds that only half (49%) of U.S. workers rate their employer as an excellent or very good place to work and less than half (47%) of employees who were offered benefits by their employer rated their benefits as excellent or very good. This is the lowest rating of benefits in six years of conducting the research.

The survey also shows employees do not feel they are getting the information they need about the benefits they’re being offered. Only 33% of employees who were asked to review benefits in the prior year rated the benefits education they received as excellent or very good – a drop from 2012 and a reversal to the upward trend in ratings since 2009. In addition, nearly three in 10 (28%) rated their benefits education as fair or poor.

“With health care reform and other changes in employee benefit plans, employees have so much information to digest right now,” explains Dalicandro. “Employers can play such a great role in helping their employees understand their options so they will feel comfortable making benefits decisions.”