The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Scott Kirksey Of BenefitMall On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together

December 30, 2021

Originally published in Authority MagazineAn Interview with Karen Mangia

Finding trusted advisors to help guide your benefits — Employers should turn to their brokers for access to advisors who can help shape overall benefit plans that meet the needs of current and future employees.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Scott Kirksey.

Scott Kirksey has been a part of the BenefitMall family for more than 20 years and currently serves as the organization’s Chief Executive Officer. Kirksey assumed the role of CEO in January 2018 and is responsible for leading the development of the company’s long-term and short-term strategies. Kirksey has served numerous charitable, and community organizations throughout his career and recently served as Chairman of the Board of North Dallas Chamber of Commerce and President of the Board of Trustees at St. John’s Episcopal School.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

I grew up in an extended farming and ranching family. The experience of working together, and everyone contributing to the success of the family, ingrained in me the value and fun of teamwork. We are definitely better when we all work together with a common purpose in mind, and that spirit is core to our BenefitMall culture.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

No matter how much time passes, we’ll still be talking about work/life balance. It’s a challenge because we’re human and it’s not just a societal issue. For every individual, priorities change over time. What’s important to you when you’re young, single, and first starting out in your career, those won’t be the things that you prioritize 10 or 15 years later when you’re more established and may have a family to think about. Even then, things continue to change. Another 15 years down the road, you’ve got three decades in the workforce, you’re making use of your medical benefits in a different way, you have caregiving responsibilities for aging parents, and you’re thinking more about retirement and planning for that next phase of life. Most employers have a workforce that represents two or more of these different phases. A mix of “generations” provides challenges, but also a great deal of value. If you are an employer that doesn’t yet have multiple generations today, in 10 or 20 years, you will. You should always be thinking about how to leverage the mix for both the company and for the employees. We’ll always be having this conversation because that’s what it is to be human.

One thing that is changing as a result of the pandemic is that employees are becoming more vocal about what they want and need from their employers in terms of benefits — not just healthcare, but other types of tools, support, and policies to make their lives better. The labor market has gotten tighter with the Great Resignation, but employers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves through culture and benefits.

In a competitive market, workers want to tailor their benefits to their individual situations. The pandemic has forced people to really understand their healthcare options and face hard truths about how illness or an accident can impact household finances for extended amounts of time. Whether they experienced it first-hand or they watched a friend or family member struggle, it’s not just the cost of treatment and care, but lost wages and mental health impacts on the rest of the family.

We’re going to continue to see employees advocate for more — and that’s a good thing! If you want to retain your best workers and attract new talent, you need to know what it takes to put together a well-rounded, compelling offer. If employees are asking about student loan repayment programs, childcare stipends, or a higher percentage match on your 401k, that’s data you can use to ensure you’re the employer of choice.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Leaders need to know when to be rigid in their adherence and when to be flexible. When it comes to your values, you can’t deviate or make exceptions — you either stand for things or you don’t. If your zero-tolerance policy doesn’t apply to some people at certain levels of the organization, then you don’t actually have a zero-tolerance policy and your employees aren’t going to be fooled.

But when it comes to other aspects of your business, you need to be open to change and new ideas. The best leaders, at all levels of an organization, are able to take in new information, consider it, and act accordingly. Sometimes that means introducing a new strategy or changing your approach on a line of businesses, but other times, you may need to take a hard look at your practices that are traditional, but not inclusive. Organizations need to change and evolve to meet the present moment. Otherwise, they become obsolete, no matter what their core business.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

One of the biggest challenges for employers is how to offer flexible schedules and enable remote work without losing the benefits of spontaneous conversations in hallways or break rooms, or the ability to stop by someone’s desk and ask a quick question. On one hand, we’ve all gotten much better and less awkward on video calls than we were in the spring of 2020. But at the same time, some teams thrive from the in-person experience and can’t quite recreate that energy on individual screens.

There are definitely times when working from home made people more efficient. When you need uninterrupted time to focus on writing a proposal or redlining a document, it might be easier to do that from home than in an open office where people are having impromptu brainstorms or stand-up meetings all around you.

When it comes to the ideal work environment, there are outliers on both ends of the spectrum. Some employees hate remote work and can’t wait to get back to an office full of people. Others would be happy working remotely forever, never seeing their colleagues in person. The challenge for employers is that most of your workforce is somewhere in the middle — there are times when they want or need to work from home, but they also expect to come into the office to collaborate with others.

At BenefitMall, we’re already thinking about what our post-pandemic arrangement looks like. Our long term plan is a hybrid model that can flex based on business needs. If employees can be successful and collaborative in remote settings, we want to support that. We also want to make the experience easy for employees when they come into the office. We’re looking at a hotel model where every desk has a monitor, camera, and universal docking station. When you come into the office, we don’t want you to worry about having to bring all your peripherals with you. The goal is to make it easy to come in and start working with minimal fuss. Then, at the end of the day, you pack up your laptop and go home.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The trend towards a distributed workforce isn’t new, but the pandemic has accelerated support for remote workers. Two years into the pandemic, we’ve made huge investments in infrastructure, tools, and hardware to enable employees to be productive outside of the office. We’ve improved our remote login processes and bought video conferencing licenses, but we did it at a speed and scale we never would have attempted had we not been faced with the necessity.

If this was an experiment, it proved that people can be productive and responsive working somewhere other than the office. It’s not just “work from home,” but “work from anywhere.” We all know people who temporarily relocated to their parents’ homes or moved in with a sibling to help with childcare and remote school. For many knowledge workers, it proved that geography doesn’t matter. These are trends that are evident in job postings. Positions may be advertised as fully remote or in any city where the hiring company has an office.

And it’s not just about convenience for employees. Remote offerings give employers a larger talent pool to draw from and the ability to work from anywhere can be a compelling offering in itself. This is also an opportunity for businesses to address their overhead costs. Can you reduce your square footage or convert in-office perks to employee stipends?

Working from home has also forced greater awareness of employees as whole people. In fact, at this point, it’s not as much that we are “working from home” as “living at work”. How many of us saw our colleagues’ families for the first time when a toddler interrupted a meeting or a cat ran across a desk? We should take that compassion and understanding for our coworkers and carry it forward. We can commit to being more flexible when someone needs to leave early to attend a choir concert or takes a long lunch to drive a parent to a doctor’s appointment.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

It goes back to recognizing employees as whole people with concerns, priorities, and responsibilities outside of work. This is something employers can address directly through benefits, giving workers more options and making it easier for them to prepare for emergencies, actively manage their finances, and prepare for the future.

One unfortunate result of the pandemic is that many people delayed preventative medical screenings because they wanted to avoid doctors’ offices and clinics. In early 2021, the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) found that two-thirds of doctors were seeing an increase in patients with advanced disease and nearly 75% had patients who had missed routine cancer screenings, leading to delayed diagnoses and treatment. A survey by the non-profit Business Group on Health found that 94% of employers were anticipating an increase in 2022 medical spending attributable to more cases of advanced disease because of delayed treatment.

One trend we’re seeing is an increased interest in emergency savings accounts through payroll deductions. When employees are able to build their emergency savings, they are better equipped to deal with unplanned expenses that would otherwise exacerbate financial problems.

But financial preparedness is not just about emergencies. Some employers are offering financial counseling services to help employees take a more proactive approach to financial planning. Most 401k programs include planning assistance. Employers are also offering a wider variety of options that allow employees to address their specific financial concerns, from student loan repayment to medical deductible financing and corporate discount programs.

Employers that recognize and support all aspects of employees’ lives will find themselves in the strongest positions to hire and retain top talent.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The past two years have shown us that people are resilient and creative. We’re able to keep moving forward despite obstacles and unknowns. We saw colleagues step up to support one another. It hasn’t been an easy time for anyone, but the effort says a lot about who we can be when we need to be our best.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Earlier, I mentioned a survey of employers by the Business Group on Health. In that survey, 91% of employers said they were concerned about the long-term mental health impacts of the pandemic. It’s not just a matter of new diagnoses, but existing patients who weren’t able to maintain their pre-pandemic therapies and treatments.

Mental health is top of mind for many employees. They are looking for access to care, extra resources, and understanding from their colleagues. A key trend in 2021 Open Enrollment was employers adding mental health benefits and resources in recognition of the pressures employees have been under. More employers are offering voluntary mental health benefits — not every employee will take advantage of these programs, but it’s an option for those who want it.

A key part of mental health and wellness is managing the stressors and situations that are putting added pressure on employees. More employers are offering support to new parents and caregivers through expanded leave, access to support groups, and other tools that connect them to people in similar situations, trusted advisors, and programs to help them manage their unique situations.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

Leaders have to acknowledge that the job market has changed. The past two years have forced us all to reckon with what we want in our lives. Employees want to feel good about the work they’re doing and the company they are doing it for. They want to feel that their contributions are valued and that they are compensated fairly for their work.

For a long time, people thought of compensation as salary. But today, employees are more likely to look at the whole picture — salary, benefits, and time off. With many people working remotely, in-office perks don’t have the same value they used to. Instead of catered lunches, snacks, and on-site gyms, some employers are offering home office stipends or child care services to reflect the needs of today’s employees.

Approaches to time off have also been evolving, with more employers offering unlimited time off. It will be interesting to see how these programs evolve over time. The pandemic has made it difficult for people to travel as freely as they would have liked and we’re likely going to see pent up demand for travel.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Extending benefits to part time and contingent workers — Historically, employers limited benefit offerings to full time employees, but the gig economy has changed the relationship between employers and workers. Contingent and part time workers fill key roles in the workplace and in a tight labor market, employers recognize that.

2. Recognizing the whole person with voluntary benefits — Thinking beyond the traditional vision, medical, and dental insurance, employers are offering student debt products, child care support, home office stipends, pet insurance, and other options that allow employees to tailor their benefits to their unique needs.

3. Offering more caregiving options — As the senior population continues to grow, more employees find themselves responsible for medical decisions and general oversight of parents and older relatives. Whether it’s caregiver leave or specialized insurance products, employees will be looking for employers to support their expanded caregiving roles.

4. Growing importance of healthcare exchanges — Affordable coverage can be found on healthcare exchanges and some employees may opt out of employer-sponsored coverage in favor of the marketplace.

5. Finding trusted advisors to help guide your benefits — Employers should turn to their brokers for access to advisors who can help shape overall benefit plans that meet the needs of current and future employees.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“If you look really closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” — Steve Jobs

I’m very impatient. It has taken a great deal of discipline for me not to give in to impatience and tweak something that is working, but more slowly than I’d like. Much of the success of a new strategy is communication to and between your teammates. Then give them time to absorb it, personalize it, and build it to reality.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

Politics aside, I would say President George W. Bush, who lives here in Dallas. He’s led a very interesting life, and he’s a great storyteller. And I love a good story. I hope he’s reading this. I’d love to get coffee one morning.

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

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