Eric Platz February 26, 2021 11 min read

Heart Health Goes Beyond Remembering to Send a Valentine in February

The value of a lifestyle benefits marketplace

Employers are trying a kaleidoscope of approaches to understanding and addressing the cost of employees’ health-related lifestyle choices.

And that’s fantastic. But there’s an unfortunately common pattern that limits their efforts.

Many HR and benefits teams have well-intentioned plans to continually communicate about and enhance their health and wellness benefits programs … and then become so bogged down by the administrative tasks associated with employee benefits management that they don’t have enough time to keep those programs fresh and employees aware of them.

So, despite those heroic efforts, the financial and other costs of employees’ not using programs that can help improve heart health just keep climbing — for themselves and for their employers.

It is a huge shared challenge, and it requires a shared response.

February is National Heart Month, a perfect time to show workers how to access and use those benefits, thereby causing their HR teams less of the stress that could overwork their own cardiovascular systems.

Keep reading to learn how employers can build heart-healthy partnerships to serve employees during February, the rest of 2021, and beyond.

Bottom line impacts of heart health

For every dollar of the almost $950 billion spent on healthcare benefits every year, another $0.61 of productivity is lost to illness and injury.

In fact, illness-related lost productivity cost employers $575 billion last year, according to a new study from the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a nonprofit health and productivity research organization.

In the longer view, by 2035 the cost to business from cardiovascular disease will exceed $1 trillion per year, according to an American Heart Association study.

In the context of short term-impact, that translates into nearly $3 billion a day in costs to employers. Much of that cost is directly related to the heart health of their employees.

Direct costs for insurance payments are just one piece of the price, however — the Centers for Disease Control estimates that heart disease and stroke cause $138 billion in lost productivity on the job every year.

And, given the studies’ findings were released pre-pandemic, that number has likely risen.

That’s scary, but what can I do?

As people-leaders, HR professionals play a strategic role in optimizing the health and wellness of employees to lower costs and, even more critically, to improve employee productivity and safeguard their mental as well as physical health.

And cardiovascular health is one of the primary foundations on which employees’ total wellness and ability to contribute to your mission rests.

But it can be challenging for employees to access and use benefits that can help them improve fitness, develop healthy eating habits, take steps toward financial wellness, and make other changes that can lead to better heart health.

Working with a partner to design, build and maintain a lifestyle program “marketplace” is proving to be an effective and low-cost heart-healthy strategy for many employers and their workers.

Creating a lifestyle marketplace

Often available at zero additional costs for employers working with a benefits administration partner, a lifestyle marketplace gives employees a wide selection of lifestyle products personalized for their needs.

In addition to heart health and other wellness programs, lifestyle marketplaces typically include employee loan programs for short-term loans or student loan repayment, employee purchase programs, legal assistance, pet insurance, identity theft, home and auto insurance and a large array of employee discounts.

Surveys make it clear that employees and prospective employees place huge value on these kinds of programs.

But lifestyle marketplaces don’t stand alone.

A powerful piece of your total benefits picture

To deliver on their promise, it’s necessary to integrate lifestyle marketplaces tightly into a comprehensive benefits administration framework.

A well-designed and executed marketplace streamlines and automates lifestyle benefit selection, payroll integration for remittance of payments and reconciliation of premiums for individual employees, and contract negotiation and remediation with a constellation of provider partners.

Marketplaces should also include a program of year-round targeted and personalized communications campaigns to help drive employee education and engagement.

It is a lot of work keeping so many moving parts in sync. For many HR and benefits teams, it’s realistically more work than they can handle given the already huge demands on their time and attention.

Building partnerships and expanding options

Working with both a broker and a benefits administration partner to select and integrate lifestyle benefits into a comprehensive benefits plan, more and more employers are expanding the selection of valuable employee benefits and they are doing it without taking on additional administrative work or costs.

And that is the core of the lifestyle marketplace value story — helping employees deal with many aspects of their busy lives without having to spend a lot or deal with increased stress, a major contributor to heart disease.

And experts tell us that the link between financial stress and health is very real.

"We know that stress can have adverse effects on health and well-being, but the amount of Americans who face stress due to financial issues is shocking,” notes Brad Johnstin, business development officer at Kashable, a financial wellness benefit that offers low-cost personal loans automatically repaid through payroll deduction. “According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of adults in the United States felt the weight of financial stress at least once in the past month. That’s why it is critical that companies like Kashable — which offers individuals access to affordable credit that can be used to overcome financial stress — keep our focus on how improving employees’ financial well-being can help to directly impact their overall health, leading to better productivity, employee satisfaction, and benefits for employers' bottom lines."

By building a range of discount offerings featuring national and local retailers and vendors, marketplaces make it easy for employees to save money on both everyday and occasional purchases.

A great marketplace partner will work to find and continually refresh a wide array of discounts and special offers in addition to programs promoting heart health and overall wellness.

Automotive, beauty, books, clothing, computers, education, entertainment, flowers, food, games, gifts, home and garden, hotels and travel, office, sporting events, sports and fitness, telecommunications and travel are all examples of programs and discounts lifestyle marketplaces can deliver to employees.

There’s never been a greater need, or a better time, to focus on a healthier lifestyle

The pandemic has already placed a lot of stress on your employees for over a year, and there is still a long way to go before things return to whatever normal is going to look like.

Most employers have done an amazing job of investing in technology infrastructures and evolving their work processes to keep employees productive and financially whole.

But working from home and dealing with remote schooling, reduced ability to socialize and exercise, and all the other COVID-spawned challenges have increased and will continue to increase stress on everyone.

Employees need help and support to get and stay healthy while we emerge from the worst of the pandemic.

Employers need help and support to cost-effectively design and expand benefits programs even as business uncertainty continues.

A well-designed and effectively managed lifestyle marketplace can answer both of those sets of needs, keeping employees healthy and productive now and loyal to their employers over the longer term.

National Heart Month is a great time for every organization to send employees a valentine gift that will give them tools to take care of their hearts and improve so many other aspects of their lives during February, throughout the rest of this year, and into a promising post-COVID future.

Reach out today to learn more about the Benefitexpress Marketplace and its seamless integration with our core benefits administration solution.