How the Great Resignation is affecting benefits brokers
We asked our readers, “how is the Great Resignation affecting the benefits industry? If you were to ever leave the industry, what career would you pursue instead?” Here’s what you said:
In the crosshairs
Yes, the benefits industry has been affected by the Great Resignation, just as much as any other industry. Specifically as a smaller agency, we are targeted by headhunters quite a bit as they know that some of the larger and more metropolitan agencies can pay more than I can. And the impact to me of losing just one person is that I lose 20% of my workforce in one fell swoop. Despite the fact that we offer “Amazon level” benefits, we can’t always compete on straight compensation alone and that seems to be more of a deciding factor than ever.
Agencies are so desperate for help, they are paying people more for a lesser skillset, and I believe that is going to catch up with everyone before too long. We are also impacted by the fact that many vendors have cut their workforce, which is forcing the agencies to bear more of the workload with less support.
Finally, if I could do anything else (successfully) I think I would like to be the host of my own cooking show!
Nancy Giacolone, Olympic Crest Insurance
Here in the Pacific Northwest, our clients have to compete with companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia and Boeing. Plus, there’s the never-ending and ever-growing number of small tech firms. Aside from all of the employment perks they typically provide, many of these firms also require exceptional benefit packages in order to compete.
Those benefit packages are getting costly! With competition extremely high, salaries increasing and a question about inflation, more firms are paying attention to their health care spend. We as advisors must figure out ways to deliver better benefits at a lower cost. Period! Convenience and quality care, but no longer with an open checkbook. Because health care is becoming a top operating expense, the C-suite is now having to get more involved in the decision-making on benefit design and cost.
Now, what career would I pursue if I left the health care consulting industry? I’d probably consider the retirement industry. I understand there is a lot of flexibility in that field! But there is still far too much left to do to keep clients competitive. Those recruiters in the retirement industry are just going to have to wait for me…
Randy K. Hansen, President, PSG Washington, Inc.
The great pursuit
“The Great Resignation” isn’t accurate. It really should be called “The Great Pursuit.” Our clients are using this historical event as an opportunity to lower operational and recruitment costs while becoming more productive. Many companies are following this trend by migrating to an at-home workforce and recruiting nationwide. Many say that at-home workers are happier and much more productive; however, this workforce shift has a bittersweet punchline.
These at-home workers are getting a taste of entrepreneurship. Is this newfound feeling of freedom the cause of the Great Resignation? According to a Pew Research Center survey, 37% of Americans quit their job in 2021 because the pay was too low and 33% quit due to no opportunities for advancement. These newborn entrepreneurs are on a quest to increase their own pay and discover new opportunities.
We’ve spoken to our clients about this bittersweet conundrum and have created a predictable solution. It all starts with the employer’s health plan. If you have the silver bullet to health care, you can then afford to provide overdue raises and create new positions for advancement. Here is the silver bullet: Employers should only use fiduciary vendors within the health plan, which are compensated to lower the frequency and severity of high claims. You should probably go back and read that multi-million-dollar sentence again. If health plan vendors are compensated more when costs go up, the employer will keep seeing increases at plan renewal. The annual benefits meeting is a mouse wheel painted a different color.
This cherry-pick approach will generate massive working capital. For example, we have a client in Pennsylvania who was about to spend $92,000 on a shoulder surgery. We went out-of-network and used a single case agreement to get the same surgery for $9,000. The employee paid nothing. Another example is a client in Louisiana who had an employee spending $19,000 a month on a specialty medication. We were able to source this drug for free. This unleashed $228,000 of working capital that was already budgeted into the health plan.
Strategies like these allow our clients to give overdue raises and create new positions for advancement, thus effectively stopping the Great Resignation in its tracks.
Mark Fox, founder, CBG
Calling the shots
I can’t remember a time in my life when employees had this much leverage over employers. The labor market is tighter than ever and employees are calling their shots. Moreover, we are in a new normal, where many employees expect hybrid or total work-from-home freedom. Regarding the attraction and retention of employees, the number one concern amongst employers continues to be the expansion of paid leave programs; employers need help designing, implementing, managing, and of course, paying for enhanced paid leave programs that also coordinate with disability benefits, state mandates and federal compliance.
Regarding a change of career, I don’t ever see myself leaving the benefits space—I love what I do, and I love helping people and entities secure their finances. Prior to my time in benefits, I spent 17 years as a floor trader on Wall Street. There was no greater adrenaline rush than standing in a pit, shoulder-to-shoulder with your competitors, moving tens of thousands of dollars based on split-second decisions.
Kevin Kennedy, benefits consultant, TriBen Insurance Solutions
Mental health solutions are in high demand. We have seen a major trend of employers wanting a more robust EAP solution to address the needs of their employee’s mental health. Employers are also looking for plans that can provide outside-the-box solutions and services to management and employees’ families, in addition to those services typically included in most plans.
This demand is nationwide and since there are only so many certified/licensed clinicians available, it is also creating a challenge for many EAP providers trying to meet the demand in a timely manner. Now more than ever, employers want to know what mental health solutions are included in their plans and whether they will get the support they need, when they need it most.
While this is where I am supposed to be for now in the benefits world, if I were to leave, it would be for something in broadcasting or public speaking.
John Troutman, national director of marketing & business development, Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP Services
The great … expansion?
Employee benefits have expanded significantly throughout the Great Resignation and employers are spending much more time revamping, enhancing and funding different strategies.
While I wouldn’t wish the Great Resignation on anyone, the silver lining is that benefits are finally getting the attention they deserve. Employers are focusing more on purchasing strategies and creative ways to truly connect to employees.
Additionally, I see family planning, mental health and talk therapy, identity theft and income protection rising in importance for candidate employees.
While our belief falls in line with the expanded definition of employee benefits due to the Great Resignation, it does create an immensely heavier burden on myself and our team to produce more and more custom strategies. The clients deserve it, 100%— we just want to be able to make it scalable and our only source of revenue is the insurance aspect.
This has taken such a toll on employers. Not only are they having to expand benefit offerings, but also increase their focus on education. There is no perfect recipe, because each culture/employer is so vastly different.
I always felt like professional soccer (or as I like to call it, real football) was my calling, but my legs didn’t agree. Outside of that, I would love to be a pilot! I love aviation.
Ed Ligonde, executive vice president, Nielsen Benefits Group
Here’s a take from a solution provider to benefit advisors and their customers: “It’s the first time in a long time I have had advisors bring clients to the table who are willing and ready to spend more money to improve their benefits for the purpose of retaining and attracting employees.”
I’ve just started my 36th year in the business and I consider the importance of what our industry does more important than ever to make a difference. Why would I want to leave this industry when the opportunity to help people is critically important NOW?
Bob McCollins, senior sales consultant, Pulse Health Solutions
Break it down
I see a spectrum of activity in benefits right now.
Wild: Employers are adding benefits to attract employees that will help only a few people and do nothing to reduce cost or help the majority of their members.
Good: I’m seeing more mental health support. I don’t think apps alone can do it, but more awareness and access to a therapist is great.
Pretty good: I’m also seeing more digital PT growth which can be good. But to me, the results seem somewhat optimistic. I say that from 30 years of patient care with heavy PT involvement.
Fear: Some employers are cautiously waiting to see where things are going, or are more concentrated on the HR aspects of their company than on benefits. Mostly very status quo. Many are willing to take the hit and appear to be using hope as their strategy.
Innovative: Many of our clients are looking for innovative benefits to set their company apart or actively looking to reduce MSK costs. Many want to help their employees avoid downtime, opioid use, and surgical recidivism from elective ortho surgery. We see this often in family-owned businesses where the employer knows and cares about the long-term well-being of their employees, with first responders where all-hands-on-deck is important for all of us, and in high MSK cost industries in need of and willing to implement a new solution.
And if I were to ever leave the industry, I would pursue something outdoors, with nature; farming, solar, planetary health of some kind.
Mark Testa, DC, MHA, executive vice president, Regenexx
Here’s our chance
We continue to see this issue surface frequently with clients, and it has been a great opportunity for us to work with them and bring ideas to help them to overcome these challenges, along with some fresh thinking about the opportunity it creates for them as well. A topic we tend to focus attention on are the macro trends that we believe are fueling much of the great resignation/great reshuffle, since there are many forces at play beneath the surface.
Luckily, we have been minimally impacted as an agency, and in fact continue to grow during this time.
I honestly don’t know what I would do if I ever left the industry, but I’d likely spend some time in a skilled trade. It would be fun to learn something new!
Derek Winn, consultant, The Business Benefits Group
This provides a unique opportunity for agencies to market themselves appropriately for what is demanded now by employees and clients: an opportunity to earn someone’s true value and what they bring to the table. It also allows for full accountability.
Employers have to shift their mindset from their old way of thinking. It gives them a clean slate regarding how they want to pursue a workforce that needs to be replaced or hired. No longer is it OK to just show up to work; not only will your employer be gauging the quality of your work. If done right, agencies will be able to build a more open and direct communication platform with their employees and build more rapport with their current clients that are dealing with the same issues.
I am super excited about the future and I believe that most of the individuals on the support and service side should be too! The insurance industry is still a diamond in the rough and it’s up to us to take advantage and provide a meaningful impact to not only clients but our colleagues.
If I were ever to leave the benefits world, I would probably go into the real estate industry. Exciting, I know!
Fernando Martinez, senior benefits consultant, Clarus & Co.
The Great Resignation is making it more difficult to recruit reliable talent, in my opinion. Many people have had to figure out how to put together a series of gigs that will pay them what is comparable to what they would get working a traditional job. I have started to incentivize new hires by training them on how to be a part of our industry as a producer by paying for licenses and letting them know that I support their growth and independence.
If I wasn’t in this industry, I would be a cardiologist, as I enjoy having a substantial impact on and in the lives of people.
Felipe Barganier, CEO, GAB International LLC
A shifting world
More than ever, small companies are becoming multi-state employers. Now they must look at the regulations for each state and design benefits that work for everyone. In the past, this was more of a large employer challenge.
From our perspective, we see a big shift in how employers engage their employees. Employers are becoming more intentional on the way they communicate the value of their benefits programs.
Jack Holder, president, EBIS
We find that HR folks are more open than ever to discuss enhancing their benefit offerings in order to better attract and retain employees. We’re having discussions with employers about EAP programs, debt relief services, technology, and innovative risk management services. We’re also finding many younger employees are more interested in the EAP plan than the health insurance plan.
Gary Becker, CEO, ScriptSourcing LLC
Ultimately, the Great Resignation is truly just a shift in what employees want from their employment experience. I believe that people want to feel challenged, do meaningful work, and to feel as if they are a part of something. The transactional work environment that most corporate environments deliver to their employees is simply not going to cut it any longer.
I believe this gives benefits advisors great opportunities to come alongside employers and coach them into how to build mission-driven benefits. We can help them identify how to offer benefits that align with the company values and the employees’ needs. However, I do think that requires us to think bigger and outside of the box of solely offering insurance products. We need to put ourselves in the employees’ shoes and structure programs that employees really want. This will separate “advisors” from “brokers.” Brokers will be unable to make this change because it isn’t traditional and there isn’t commission built in. Advisors will continue doing what they have done (being true advisors for employers.
I would pursue a career in coaching basketball at the collegiate level! Coaching basketball will likely be my retirement gig, but at the high school level.
Ben Conner, president & CEO, Conner Insurance
I’ve recently worked with some interesting companies that are very focused in their offerings to women. I was curious to see if their extreme focus on women would be a deterrent – meaning benefit firms would not want to meet them/engage with them due to the “limited” nature of their offering.
In fact, I saw the exact opposite. With the increased focus on women’s health as well as inclusion, and with the backdrop of the great resignation, benefit brokers and consultants have been very interested in these solutions focused on women’s health. Why? The overwhelming theme is “it’s about time – why haven’t benefits like these been offered in the past?” That, coupled with the ability to attract women to a particular employer and to offer benefits to retain the ones currently working, has made these focused women’s health solutions a major draw for employers and benefit pros to combat the great resignation.
Dave Kerrigan, founder and managing director, Sante Nasc, LLC
The great retention
The number one concern of our clients is attracting and keeping talent. The CEOs we serve are very concerned about the onboarding process, especially during a new hire’s first 90 days. My next career(s), might run a dog park, start a Manatee sightseeing company, help other independent agency owners with their legacy strategy, and participate in building local health care delivery systems that are transparent and affordable.
Kimberly Eckelbarger, founder, Tropical Benefits