Gender differences in the workplace highlight a critical role women play in the overall decision-making process
by Patricia Insley Ms. Insley is the Head of Human Resources for the Group Protection division of Lincoln Financial Group. In her six years at Lincoln, she has also led HR strategy, HR for the corporate organization, HR technology strategy, and was responsible for the design and implementation of Lincoln’s employee HR portal. Connect with her by e-mail: [email protected]
Women are often the household decision-makers, and usually the ones others turn to for financial and health-related advice. Benefit providers need to effectively reach and meet the needs of this key market segment.
Our 2015 Special Report: The M.O.O.D. of America on Employee Benefits (Measuring Optimism, Outlook and Direction) provides an overall view of the American working population. The study found that, overall, employees feel highly optimistic and in control of their lives, yet are concerned when it comes to covering health-related expenses. But the study also dives deeper, exploring gender differences in the workplace and spotlighting opportunities for brokers and employers to speak directly to women’s needs. For instance, non-medical benefits can play an important role in helping women prepare for their own – and their families’ – future, and benefit providers can effectively communicate their value by:
- Providing educational material for products women say they are less familiar with, such as life, disability, accident and critical illness insurance – not only helping them understand each product’s benefits, but also showing how each can play a role in filling financial gaps such as high deductibles
- Emphasizing affordability – and providing tools on company intranet sites to aid in financial planning, such as calculators and quizzes
- Streamlining processes to make education and enrollment easily accessible • Providing opportunities for one-on-one interaction with an advisor – and continuing this personalized service by including health advocacy services as a value-added benefit
- Optimizing online offerings as the main avenue for learning about benefit options
Why focus on women?
In the early 1970s, women made up only 38% of the American workforce. Today’s numbers tell a different story. As of December 2014, the 73 million women working in the U.S. represent almost half (47%) of the working population, and a majority (51%) of those are in professional and technical occupations.1
Of course it’s essential to speak to the needs of the whole employee population. And certainly both men and women have many of the same concerns, attitudes and questions regarding their health and financial future: Can I cover expenses? Am I making smart benefit decisions at work? Am I doing the right things today to prepare for tomorrow?
But women are often the primary healthcare decision makers in our country. In fact, they make approximately 80 percent of the healthcare decisions in their families.2, and they take the lead role in choosing health plans, scheduling doctor’s appointments and making sure their loved ones are getting the care they need. When companies provide not only the right benefits but also tools and information that help members envision and plan for future expenses, they’re helping women make the best healthcare choices for their families and for themselves.
What issues are women most concerned about?
Since the M.O.O.D. Survey’s inception in 2011, feelings of optimism and control have increased among Americans. Yet when it comes to their financial futures, less than one in five employees feel very secure, and only 18% are confident they could cover their current expenses in the event of a major injury or illness.
Women employees share this optimism with men. But they feel somewhat less in control of their lives (71% of women vs. 78% of men) and their financial futures (80% vs. 88%). In fact, while 83% of men feel very or somewhat secure about their financial future, just 68% of women feel the same.
Women employees are also more concerned than male counterparts about a variety of financial issues, including debt, bills, retirement planning and loss of income due to illness or injury. Health-related issues are also top of mind – especially cancer, chronic illnesses such as diabetes, and injuries that could result from a car accident.
Planning for the future
Despite higher levels of concern, only 36% of women employees characterize themselves as “very focused” on saving and planning for the future; 49% of men employees describe themselves this way.
Survey results also show that women are less likely than men to have created a financial plan, and are less confident they can cover health expenses today and in the future.
Women self-report lower income and investable assets than men. So when asked how they would cover out-of-pocket expenses not covered by their medical insurance in the event of a serious illness or injury, women were less likely than men to turn to existing funds and more likely to consider putting these bills on a credit card, or borrowing from friends or family.
How non-medical benefits can make a difference
The Special Report: M.O.O.D. of America on Employee Benefits reveals the role participation in non-medical benefits can play to help ease fears regarding overall health concerns and associated healthcare costs; uncovering a correlation between enrollment in nonmedical benefits and employee confidence, optimism and future financial preparedness.
Critical illness and accident insurance enrollees feel significantly more secure about their financial futures than non-enrollees. They also report higher levels of optimism and feel more in control of their lives. However, employees tend to have less knowledge and less experience with nonmedical benefits in general, and critical illness and accident insurance in particular. This gap in knowledge offers companies an opportunity to show how coverages such as accident and critical illness can help pay for unexpected expenses due to injuries and illness, and partially fill the gap many face with high deductible healthcare plans.
When considering the various choices their employers provide, women tend to highly value – more so than men – affordable and appropriate coverage. Familiarity matters as well. Three out of five women strongly agree they are more likely to enroll in benefits they feel more educated about, versus 52% of men.
Emphasizing accessible, personalized education
How can benefit providers help women employees take control and take action when it comes to selecting nonmedical workplace benefits?
By effectively reaching out with the information they need to make the right decisions – and using the methods and channels women indicate they prefer. Although all employees in the survey emphasized the importance of a straightforward and easy enrollment program, as well as having an advisor to speak to about their choices, women emphasized these factors even more so than men.
A provider’s website is especially important. Women identified the benefit provider’s website as the #1 channel they use to learn about their non-medical benefits.
An opportunity to help boost employee confidence and benefits participation
Nonmedical benefits can play an important role in boosting employees’ confidence and optimism. Effectively reaching out to women – key decision makers who may feel less secure when it comes to their financial future – is a crucial element of a successful non-medical benefits enrollment program.
But it can end up being a lost opportunity unless companies provide the useful information that speaks directly to women’s main concerns. To take full advantage of this important market, benefit providers can offer:
Tools such as calculators, quizzes and personalized guidance that help women think through their healthcare costs and needs for the coming year, considering planned surgeries and procedures as well as possible risks of injuries, such as children who participate in sports and other physical activities
Options to lower healthcare costs, including saving vehicles such Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs)
Health advocacy services that help women navigate the healthcare system; coordinating care, identifying specialists, and making the most of healthcare benefits
Guidance and information that encourages women to view healthcare expenses in conjunction with their overall retirement and financial planning, including the suggestion of turning to a financial planner to consider their financial issues and goals in a holistic manner. ♦