The Gatehouse Blog

Improving employee engagement through a Total Rewards culture

Following a period of rapid growth, US healthcare disruptor athenahealth wanted to improve its employee experience to better align to the $1 billion business it is today. Director of Benefits & Global Mobility Joanne Jones explains how the Compensation, Benefits, and Internal Communications teams got together to help address employee retention and engagement.

athenahealth provides network- enabled services for hospital and ambulatory clients across the US, improving provider performance and tracking public health trends.

We reached a new stage of maturity last year, turning 20 years old. Now with more than 5,000 employees – otherwise known as athenistas – across five locations in the US and three in India, we’ve become a big player in a relatively short time.

Of course, with great growth comes greater challenges and responsibility.

We at athenahealth pride ourselves on being a bold, trendy, and innovative company, and have worked collectively to spread this culture throughout the organisation – but when it came to benefits, we felt the employee experience didn’t quite match up. Considering we’re a relatively young company with a substantial millennial workforce, this needed to change.

Stakeholder analysis

We started off last year by completing a competitive analysis of our existing benefit programs and health plans. We wanted to get a clear view of our market position to help maximise our ability to attract, engage, and retain the best people.

This process involved getting feedback from athenistas on their perception of our benefits – where they saw gaps and where they felt we should invest.

One thing that came out loud and clear was the lack of awareness of what we offered today – let alone what we could offer in the future!

We heard it from athenistas, we heard it from leaders. Clearly, we had an opportunity – and a responsibility – to educate athenistas.

Fresh thinking

We decided that we needed to invest in a communication campaign.

We wanted something that would act as a catalyst for an ongoing dialogue with athenistas about their rewards. Something packed with positivity, clarity, and energy, that would not only talk about benefits enhancements we planned to introduce in 2018 but that also helped athenistas and their families understand what the company already had to offer.

This was about taking things to another level. We’d done basic communications in the past, but we needed professional support to inject some fresh, new thinking, reflective of our external brand.

Looking under the lid

Enter Gallagher, our broker for health and welfare in the US, who introduced us to a team of employee communications specialists within Gallagher UK.

Gallagher Communication hosted a workshop last July to kick off the two parts of the project: Total Rewards (TR) identity and an Open Enrollment (OE) campaign.

In addition to my team, I got a couple of different stakeholders in the room – from the Compensation and Internal Communications teams – to make sure we connected all the dots.

Gallagher Communication took us through a pretty rigorous process. They wanted to gain a full understanding of our company, our people, and brand guidelines as well as how we talk to customers and athenistas, and what communication channels we could leverage.

We explored colours, wording, and photography that aligned with our brand promises of being refreshingly candid and radically simple. We ultimately decided on the eye-catching green, the simplicity of social media ‘comment’ style language, and photos reflective of our athenistas in action to help inject something raw and emotive.

The workshop was well-thought through and well-executed. Afterwards, Gallagher Communication came back to us with pieces that really resonated.

“We heard it from athenistas, we heard it from leaders. Clearly, we had an opportunity – and a responsibility – to educate athenistas.”

Targeted and engaging

The resultant campaign used bold creativity, powerful messaging, and clear calls to action to help athenistas become informed and empowered decision-makers.

It was an intensive campaign and we saw great results.

The three-week window for athenistas to make their bene t choices opened on 1 November. All communication touch points were designed to drive athenistas to learn more about their benefits options and, ultimately, make their elections.

October kicked off with vlogs, digital teasers, and a cool, swatch-book style summary guide that athenistas could refer to on-the-go. The swatch-book was designed in a way that presented the key information in digestible chunks, and it was great to see them pulling out their guides at the benefits fairs. These elements positioned the existing and new benefits as part of athenahealth maturing.

The campaign continued through November with emails, leadership blogs, onsite posters, table tent cards, and a live digital countdown display in key communal areas. Each piece was designed to remind everyone that OE was here and choices needed to be made.

We also debuted an interactive decision-making tool called ALEX®, by Jellyvision, to help guide athenistas through tricky choices like picking the right medical plan.

The all-important upshot?

96% of athenistas went into the OE system and actively made an election. That’s the highest participation rate we’ve seen and is an increase of around 20% over previous years. 75% of athenistas used the ALEX tool to help make their decisions.

Feedback suggested athenistas understood what they needed to do and they connected with the look and feel of the campaign. Overall, it was really well done.

Next steps are to build on the brand we’ve created, ensuring that we continue to elevate the wider TR dialogue and value of athenahealth Rewards. We want to align TR to everything we do across HR, Benefits, and Compensation, ensuring it’s something that’s “felt” by athenistas – a holistic experience instead of an easily-forgotten promise.


Biography: Joanne Jones

Joanne Jones is Director of Benefits & Global Mobility at athenahealth, where she is responsible for the strategic planning, design, implementation, communication, compliance and administration of the Company’s Benefits programs and policies.

She has more than 20 years of experience in the management of the benefits and global mobility functions for multinational organisations.