The Pitfalls of BenchmarkingBy Rachel Miner | August 21, 2018
Not too long ago, I was on a trip where we were dropped off in the ocean, out in open water, to go snorkeling. When I agreed to the whole idea, I thought we would be in three or four feet of water, max. Never did I envision being so vulnerable and so far out there. To say that I was terrified is an understatement. The mantra that kept repeating in my mind was: Stick close to those in the water with me and I’ll be safer. I guess the thought of many of us being the victims of a shark attack felt better than just me.
As humans, we feel a strong desire to be part of the pack. We compare ourselves to others in order to determine our own worth. If we see someone who has a better car, we think they are more successful than us. When we see someone who is heavier than us, we think “Huh, maybe I’m not in as bad of shape as I think I am.” We rationalize irrational ideas and notions.
In my role as a benefits consultant, I find that nearly three quarters of my prospects will ask me how their plan compares to other employers of the same industry. Yes, benchmarking surveys measure basic elements of a plan design, like co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles. But sometimes, I feel like sharing a benchmark survey would be misleading. Why? Because there are a lot of employers with (excuse my French) sh*tty plans right now. If I’m telling an employer, “Yes, you’re keeping up with the trend,” they’ll think that’s a good thing. And frankly, it’s not. It means they’ve increased deductibles, cost shared more expenses with their employees, and increased premium contributions for the employees’ families, just like other companies have.
It’s really hard to tell a company, “Comparatively speaking, you are on pace with everyone else,” and then in the next breath, tell them why they should want to be doing better than everyone else. The best measure of success for a health plan is perceived value. Are employees getting the best quality of care at the lowest cost? What are their outcomes? There is no benchmark survey that will show this statistic. No survey will be able to show waived co-pays for employees who make smart fiscal decisions that save themselves and their companies money. They don’t show an employer incentivizing employees with things like free diapers and wipes for a year for a new baby.
I struggle with the idea of benchmarking, because it’s not a true indication of employees’ overall happiness with the plan. And the unfortunate truth is that although the grand majority of employers would agree with this, most aren’t willing to veer from the pack and do something different that could potentially be better.
When I was initially dropped off at a 30 foot deep reef and was battling my fear, the thing I didn’t appreciate was that I would have an opportunity to see more fish. Yet, there was a greater potential risk, but the reward was far greater.
Employers need to start thinking of themselves as separate from the pack and realizing that they can have a different experience — one that can be far different than other similar companies. But one that is far better.