Employee Benefits

Decision Making…Out of Inspiration or Desperation?

Colin McLain
Colin McLain
Vice President

When I began college, I had a fascination with Philosophy. I was intrigued with what people had to say, their thoughts, their beliefs, and their decisions. My intrigue brought me to the point that I made Philosophy my second major. After a few semesters, I realized I wasn’t so much intrigued with what people had to say or what decisions they arrived at, rather, I became fascinated with why they said things and why they made the decisions they did. So, my intrigue with Philosophy turned into my love of Psychology [you can insert your joke here]. Part of what I learned in Psychology is most people don’t make decisions based on logic, they make decisions based on emotions.

Over time, I’ve realized most decisions can be characterized by one of two emotions — inspiration or desperation. If you really stop and think about it, almost every decision we make (big or small) can be tied back to inspiration or desperation. Some examples:

Which route should we take to the lake on the weekend?

  • Desperation — “Let’s take the interstate. We’ll get there faster and not waste our limited weekend time.”
  • Inspiration — “Let’s take the backroads. It’s the weekend…time to relax.”

What should we eat for dinner?

  • Desperation — “I don’t really care what we have for dinner, I’ll eat anything; I’m starving!” 
  • Inspiration — “I’ve been craving a steak all week. Let’s go to the steakhouse!”

What book to read, what movie to watch, which part of town to live in, what car to drive, etc. See where I’m going? Now don’t get me wrong, someone’s inspiration can be another’s desperation. I’m craving the steak (inspired)…or I’m on a high protein diet, so I need the steak (desperation).

To say it a different way, decisions made on desperation are simply the things we have to do. And decisions of inspiration are the things we want to do.

I have a family of four…a wife and two boys. We’re in the market for a new vehicle. If we base our decision on inspiration, we’d probably buy an awesome convertible with just enough room to squeeze in (i.e. what we want to do). If we base our decision on desperation, we’d probably buy a mini-van (i.e. what we have to do). And who are we kidding, there’s nothing inspirational about a mini-van!

Decision making in employee benefits is no different. When we have a client prospect, most take a meeting with us because they’re unhappy with their current benefits partner. They’re frustrated, fed up, and desperate for a change. On the other hand, some prospects want to be on the cutting edge, they want their business and business partners to be unique, they want to make a difference, and they’re inspired to make a change. Employees make benefit decisions the same way.

I recently attended an industry conference and, in one of our breakout sessions, we reviewed a large national survey asking employees why they chose the voluntary benefit options they did. Roughly 76 percent of all employees surveyed indicated they made their choices based on “peace of mind” and “responsibility.” It wasn’t cost, it wasn’t plan design, it wasn’t what their peers elected. It was “peace of mind” (i.e. inspiration) and “responsibility” (i.e. desperation). They were inspired knowing they had the peace of mind they and their families were protected. And in desperation, they were showing responsibility by having coverage they knew they and their families needed.

So, it got me thinking, why are we communicating/messaging benefits in ways that aren’t important to employees? Why are we showing them graphs, statistics, gaps in benefits, etc.? There’s nothing inspiring (or desperate) about the way we’ve traditionally communicated benefits. Then, why aren’t we illustrating benefits based on what’s really important to them — peace of mind and responsibility?

We are emotional beings, and our decisions are emotional. The only question is, are we inspired or desperate?

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