Does your org’s benefits conversation reflect the ethical dilemma of national health care?

Every organization deals with the ethical push-pull between the cost and benefit of benefits. You and I can envision a scenario where employee benefits rise to the point of breaking the org’s financial sustainability. Inversely, organizations with miserly benefits do not attract the best talent and are similarly unsustainable. There’s an ongoing and painful balancing act between offering too much and not enough. How do you manage that?

We can look at today’s congressional fight with national health care as instructive. We see the ethical need to care for our most vulnerable neighbors—in this case, those without health insurance. We also can see what happens when we reach a tipping point between providing satisfactory health care and breaking the budget.

The United States is one of the few wealthy nations without much experience providing national health care. While we have been subsiding health care for decades (tax breaks for health insurance are government subsidies), we have not before the past few years provided national health care to the degree of current legislation.

Moreover, from what I can tell, we sadly avoid conversations around adopting the best practices of other wealthy countries, instead trying to fix our already dysfunctional and overly bureaucratic system by adding layers of complexity. We foolishly wonder why the thing stays broken! Our process so far has been like having an old beater of a car, one constantly in the shop, limping along, stalled on the highway, begging to be sold for scrap. Yet, when we check the bank, there’s money available for transportation. Instead of scrapping the junker and buying a car that functions, we patch the thing endlessly.

On the extremes, we have a side that wants full coverage for everyone, which is not sustainable and looks like, “everyone gets a junkie, old car!” The other side wants to return to the market-driven approach that allows everything from walking to riding the bus to driving one’s own car to riding in the back of a limousine. The latter seems more sustainable as it is exactly how we handled health care since the Great Depression, and how we handle transportation costs today.

But health care is not transportation, and neither are employee benefits. Both carry emotional loads far heavier than does getting around conveniently. Health care is a life and death issue that bums against the highest ethical value (love). So, the dilemmas (and anxiety) continue.

We must somehow balance between too little, which puts at risk our national pride in being a good nation, and too much, which risks our national economic prosperity. Your organization carries the same burden with its benefits package that Congress and the President carry with national health care.

Questions for The Ethics Award

  • How do you balance your benefits package?
  • Do different classes in your organization receive different benefits? Do you offer different health insurance packages (or other benefits) for entry level, hourly wage earners, salaried managers, and executives?
  • If so, how do you sell that to the employees at the lower-compensation end? And if not, how do you sell it to employees whose jobs carry greater responsibility?