HR at Humana Learns by Listening

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon a press release summarizing a recent Employee Benefit Research Institute report.

In the 2015 Health and Voluntary Workplace Benefits Survey, the Washington-based organization found the percentage of workers reporting they are satisfied with the health benefits they currently receive has fallen from 74 percent to 66 percent between the years 2012 and 2015.

This is just a guess, but I have a hunch Humana Inc. employees were not among the 1,500 workers who EBRI polled for its study.

Last week, I attended a session at HRE’s Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, led by Humana’s Tim State, who serves as the Louisville, Ky.-based Medicare provider and health insurer’s vice president of human resources. Over the course of that informative hour, State discussed how HR leaders at Humana have embraced the “experience group” research methodology both to gain insight into the unmet health needs of its roughly 52,000 employees and to design a benefits program that helps them better meet those needs.

“It’s only from the associates’ point[s] of view that we can understand their health challenges,” he said. “It’s not about just having a Q&A session. It’s about having a real conversation around employees’ experience[s] with health benefits.”

Humana’s experience groups, according to State, typically consist of five to eight employees, who, along with a facilitator from the Humana HR function, convene for 60 to 90 minutes in an effort “to get across the idea that [our employees are] the experts [on their lives and health needs]. The facilitator really just kind of gets out of the way.”

Topics include obstacles that employees face on the path to better health, and, together, these experience groups and the HR team brainstorm ways to clear these hurdles.

What State and his colleagues in HR have heard from these experience groups has certainly been instructive, he said.

One employee, for instance, mentioned in a group session that work is actually “one of the biggest challenges to my health,” citing the combination of daily job-related stress and the often-sedentary lifestyle of the office employee.

Meanwhile, another female employee pointed out that the office dress code deterred her from walking more while at work, noting that going up a few flights of stairs isn’t always so easy in a pencil skirt.

State and his colleagues in HR have taken action in response to such comments, changing dress codes and introducing benefits that encourage prevention and provide more chronic-condition support, for instance.

Such adjustments—even small ones—have reaped almost immediate rewards, said State, adding that Humana’s experience groups have only been meeting for approximately 12 months.

For example, the organization has seen a 21-percent jump in employees’ use of preventive services offered by the company and has seen medication adherence increase by more than 10 percent. In addition, four out of 10 Humana employees report that they’ve improved their health by cutting down on physically risky behaviors, said State.

Making such changes has given employee engagement a boost as well, with Humana ranking in the top 10th percentile of the IBM Kenexa WorldNorms database for “world-class associate engagement” for the past four years, he added.

Such results—which have been realized in the space of one year— should be heartening for HR leaders at other large companies as well, said State.

“[Humana] is a Fortune 100, 50,000-plus employee organization,” he said. “Change can happen in an organization that size.”