Health care is a complicated issue in any society these days. Here in the United States, we have an expensive, inconsistent system that provides mixed outcomes depending on who you and your employer are. Unfortunately, since we all live and are served by a profit-based health care system, the benefits we receive are largely dependent on how much we are worth—but to whom?
Let’s call out the elephant in the room—our frontline call center employees may be “worth” less to our companies than their manager or executive are. Does your company’s health care policy reflect that economic reality? Health care is a great example of underlying economics influencing the behavior in your call center that may be beyond your control.
But our agents will never have the ability to achieve the prosperity and independence that all people within our society seek if they don’t have the one thing that will carry them through the subsequent years: good health.
In my conversations with BPO leaders, their thinking about health care mostly comes down to retention. They have no hope of retaining the managerial, quality and support people who keep the delivery of services going unless they provide them with health care that makes them feel secure.
But these leaders tend to be unaware of how economic an issue health care is. They’re not educated on the economic impact of their healthcare policies on their agents, and may not understand how economically damaging a catastrophic health event can be.
I could tell you story after story about how catastrophic health events have affected our agents. But I think you know that already. What you may not know is how much power you have to help your agents through your buying decisions and your budgets, if you simply reframe your thinking about health care as a retention tool, instead of as an economic support tool for your agents.
By redeploying some of your existing dollars, you can greatly increase the amount of economic security you provide for your agents by providing them with better healthcare services—some of which are traditional, some of which are not. Your agents, who may be the working poor or the lower-income earners, those who earn less than twice of the federal poverty line, generally ask four questions about their health care:
- Do I have health coverage so that, if I get sick, I have options and don’t have to quit my job?
- Can I gain coverage for my dependents?
- Do I have help if something catastrophic happens to me or my family?
- Can I get all of this in a way that doesn’t make me poorer?
If you’re not already providing coverage to your agents, you need to start immediately. You may face budget constraints and angry bosses, but the signal that covering agents’ health sends to agents is much more valuable to your business in the results it produces than the monthly cost. Further, it should be 100% coverage. Most people want to know that their health care is “taken care of” and they will notice if you do.
In the U.S., if you have agents who are receiving Medicaid, frankly, you should be ashamed. I’m sorry to have to put it in such stark language, but as business leaders, we have a moral obligation to use the strength of our leadership and the economic power of our firms to benefit the people in our lives, our employees and our society as a whole. With some changes that may be profit-neutral, you can use the economic power of your firm to make even a small difference in the lives of those around you.
If you’re not covering dependents today, that is understandable. Healthcare costs in America are high. If the economics of your costing or pricing can withstand it, I encourage you to do so. Even if you can only afford to cover one or two dependents, do that and then consider offering an option for the agent to fully pay for additional dependents; it will mean much that you seem to care for their children.
If you’re thinking that catastrophe is something that your insurances adequately cover—you may be right. But remember that the working poor or low-income people don’t have the money to pay for the same coverage that we do, like property and life insurance. Let me give you a tangible example of something we’ve done that’s making a big difference with a small amount of cost.
In addition to HMO, we provide what’s knows as a “Catastrophic Fund” that we created ourselves. Every month, RTS gives cash grants to those employees who have experienced a crisis in their extended family. If agents know they have somewhere to turn when crisis strikes, that’s one more bit of security they can feel while they’re employed with you.
The cost of this to us is quite small—$3/month/agent overseas, and $15/month/agent in the U.S. On a per-agent basis, this is a small amount that can make a big difference to the way they live.
Finally, we have all read in the press horrible stories about how people were made poorer by health catastrophes that struck them or their family. Catastrophe is a risk for agents, but there are two greater risks out there, as well.
First, the cost of medications is a problem globally. In our centers in the Philippines, some agents report spending close to 30% of their income on medications for themselves or their family. In the U.S., we have better medication coverage, but that coverage can vary, and copays can sometimes be quite high. Find out where the gaps are for your agents. Then engage your HR leader to see if you can fill in those gaps. Sometimes, just negotiating with your provider may be enough to lessen the burden your employees may be facing within their daily budgets.
Second, If you do make your agents pay for some of their own health care or some of their dependent care, you need to do a bit of homework. Specifically, will requiring them to pay for some of their health care push their after-benefit wages below the poverty line in your local area? Obviously, you don’t want this.
In summary, when you make health care a human right and prioritize your company’s role in providing it to agents, it gives your agents a sense of security that allows them to perform well in their jobs. That, in turn, lowers company costs (like retraining and absenteeism) and increases your profits. We’ve seen those same results at Rethink Staffing, and I know that, with some work, you can make a difference in the healthcare economics at play in your call center. Good health is good business—make sure you’re playing your part.