The Spring team has been involved with the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) and its events for quite a few years now. The organization provides valuable resources for employee benefits and absence management professionals, and their annual forum is a great opportunity for industry experts to come together and share their experiences and strategies.

For these reasons and more (such as escaping winter in Boston), I was excited to head back to San Francisco earlier this month for the 2018 IBI Annual Forum. Over the course of the three days, I joined over 500 employers and service providers in helping each other advance our professional knowledge and capabilities. Acquaintances were made, colleagues were reunited, lessons were learned and cocktails were had. I even had the chance to join some clients on a panel to speak about, “Evolving Your Absence Management Strategy: Let’s Talk Best Practices.” In the spirit of shared learning, I like to relay what I found to be the most significant topics at a given conference.

So if you missed the IBI forum this year or lost your notes, here’s a brief overview:

1. Data
This was probably the biggest buzz word at IBI this year. Big data, small data, data of all kinds. In 2018, this is not surprising.Specifically, Dr. Bruce Sherman from Case Western Reserve University emphasized the importance of HR professionals incorporating health-related statistics into their strategy, and treating well-being as a means to improve business performance. Then on Monday afternoon, folks from UPMC discussed the power of Big Data, demonstrating their use of an integrated platform that ties in all sorts of metrics and allows employers to view customized reports from which they can act upon. Along the same lines, representatives from Aon and PSEG explained how PSEG was able to tap into data to increase employee safety and risk, productivity and well-being while decreasing absence. Lastly, another session entitled “Unlocking Data to Analyze, Benchmark and Diagnose Absence Drivers, Culture and Impacts on Outcomes” demonstrated how to use qualitative and quantitative data to better inform absence programs. The panel discussed the ability to use this data to modify plan design, improve administration, optimize plan expense, minimize plan liability and more.

2. Change
By this I mean that words like “innovation”, “new” and “revolutionary” were commonly heard at IBI 2018. This is to be expected, since many attend the event to hear the freshest ideas and trends, and they weren’t let down this year.Gary Earl presented on the rise in chronic diseases over the past several decades. He urged the audience to sway from the status quo by modifying systems, behaviors and environments to make positive changes in health. Then, a team from Morneau Shepell explained their innovative approach to a “total health strategy”, which looks at employee health at the individual level and demands dual-accountability from both employer and employee for better outcomes in the areas of physical and mental health as well as productivity.In “Work is Changing and Reshaping Return to Work”, Dr. Glenn Pransky of Liberty Mutual outlined the changes we are seeing in the American workforce: more automation, more remote workers, the incorporation of artificial intelligence, the emergence of the gig economy, the trend toward later retirement and so on. These changes, Pransky argued, warrant an aligned shift in return-to-work tactics through the use of more digitally-friendly systems in particular. This was a nice segue into a later presentation on virtual healthcare, which emphasized the efficiency and effectiveness of telehealth through actual case study results. A representative from Walgreens then spoke on a panel about the importance of employee engagement in their whole health program, which aims to make services more convenient.Lastly, as mentioned above, I spoke with colleagues from Robert Half, Guardian Life Insurance, Adventist Health System and Chevron about the need for organizations to evolve their absence management programs. Our focus was on offering results and experiences that exhibit how to identify trends within your company and within the market, how to choose and work with different vendors, the importance of gathering feedback post-implementation from all stakeholders, and the ways in which metrics can help inform all of these integrations.

3. Paid Leave
As more and more states are passing paid leave laws and regulations, and more employers are implementing their own policies whether or not they are mandated to, I was glad to see that this was one of the hot topics at IBI this year.One session included a case study from Norwell Health, a New York based organization with 60,000 employees who recently developed a new paid parental leave program. The presentation provided guidance on how Norwell Health considered things like benchmarks, predictive cost and productivity analysis, competitive advantage and measurement. On the second day of the conference, Michelle Jackson of Unum and Kristi Stormer of American Family Insurance provided an overview of several organizations who have implemented a paid family leave policy. They presented  on the business case for such programs as well as the time and funds needed to establish a PFL benefit.

4. Mental & Behavioral Health
Eliminating the stigma and getting to the core of mental health problems has been a core focus over the last couple of years, both within and outside of the workplace. The 2018 IBI Annual Forum helped continue and advance the conversation.One panel highlighted the importance of creating an understanding workplace environment where anxiety and depression are treated as normal issues and are allowed to be discussed and recognized. The speakers explained how creating such a culture will help an organization’s morale as well as its bottom line. During “Mental Health in the Workplace. Challenges. Strategies. Opportunities!” further addressed the problematic stigma of mental illness, citing that while 20% of the US workforce suffers from it, only 1/3 will seek help or treatment, for fear of prejudice. This presentation, led by on mental health specialist, one employer and one ADA attorney, focused on ways to increase access to education and support for mental health at work, including EAP programs and other accommodations. On the last day of the conference, a mental-health related session drew from the experiences of The Home Depot and Comcast in their efforts to destigmatize the issue. Specifically, speakers illustrated the role that sleep can play in mental illness and therapeutic solutions. Sleep is so often the answer, isn’t it?

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the 2018 Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) Annual Forum. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions about employee benefits, disability and absence management, or anything else related. Lastly, keep an eye out for a similar write-up regarding the 2018 Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) 2018 Annual Compliance Conference at the end of April.

 

 

 

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Karen English

Karen English

Karen Trumbull English, CPCU, ARM, ACI, AU is a Partner with Spring Consulting Group, LLC, formerly Watson Wyatt Insurance & Financial Services, Inc. She has twenty years of experience that spans across both health & welfare and property & casualty arenas, and routinely works with her clients on program strategy, product development, process improvement and market research initiatives. She leads the firms’ health and productivity approach and is actively involved in voluntary and other emerging benefits. Prior to joining Spring Consulting Group and Watson Wyatt, Karen led the regional risk & insurance practice for a small consulting firm, held the role of Assistant Risk Manager for one of the nation’s largest banks (U.S. Bank), and was a casualty broker for two of the world’s largest insurance brokers (Marsh and Aon). Karen has her BBA in Risk Management and Human Resources from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her MBA in Finance from University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management. She has also earned the designations of CPCU, ARM, ACI, and AU and is a licensed insurance broker.