Self-described futurist Sara Richards is always thinking two steps ahead — from her employee communications strategies, to her business case for benefits edits, to her long-term plans to adapt to her employees’ changing needs.
As Director of Benefits at Red Bull, her impact is evident throughout the organization, but especially in the company’s thoughtful benefits offering, which is tailored to meet a range of needs and lifestyles. But her benefits chops didn’t happen overnight; she has over a decade of deep experience creating effective offerings and strategies, both at her time at Collective Health and on the brokerage side of the house.
Now as she joins the Nava Benefits Advisory Board, she’s ready to share her expertise — and learn from others in turn.
Read on to learn more about Sara.
You’ve described yourself as a futurist. What role do you think benefits can play in the future of work?
I think that benefits play a key role in the future of work. If you’re not feeling well mentally or physically, then you’re not bringing your best self to your work.
Right now especially, we’re seeing people reevaluate what they want out of their lives. And I think benefits can help people build the lives they want, and then create a work-life balance that’s manageable in the long term.
Over time, more and more people are going to stay with employers who offer the benefits they need to be their best selves, both at work and at home. And those are the employers who have stopped thinking inside the box of the table stakes benefits — traditional medical, dental, and vision — and started offering benefits that aim to support the whole person and their family.
With the sheer amount of new benefits and vendors emerging in the market, it’s understandable that some HR leaders and employees get overwhelmed with their options. How do you solve for this “point solution fatigue” at Red Bull?
First off, we’re always looking to streamline how our employees can access their benefits by leveraging our current vendors. So if one of our vendors happens to expand their offerings, we may end up consolidating those benefits under that one vendor.
It’s just much more efficient to have one vendor rather than two — but still, I’d rather have two vendors do two things well, over one vendor who does two things just okay.
Second, we’ve tried to build a system where employees can easily find and use the benefits they need without guesswork by grouping vendors based on the employees’ lifestyle. For instance, if you group benefits by life stages (e.g. growing your family, or just out of college), employees are more likely to be able to find the benefits they need that support at their specific time in life. It’s an intuitive way to present benefits for employees, that makes the benefits navigation easier for them overall.
Of the benefits you’ve offered to your employees in the last few years, which have had the most profound impacts, both to employees’ lives and the business’ bottom line?
Red Bull uses Lyra as our primary Behavioral Health support under the medical plan. We ended up adding this program because we recognized that accessing therapists through the medical plan is time consuming, often frustrating, and you have no way to know if the therapist the generic ‘doctor finder’ tool is showing you is actually effective in helping with your specific issue.
With Lyra, they focus on Evidence Based therapies, and during the intake process help connect you with the therapists that will likely be the best in actually driving change for the condition you’re seeing them about. Lyra is now one of the most beloved offerings among our employees!
Red Bull has a unique employee base — 60% of your workforce spends about 6-8 hours of their days driving a truck, delivering your product to brick-and-mortar stores; while the remaining 40% work in-office. How does your benefits package adapt to meet the needs of these two different schedules and lifestyles?
Ah, the age-old communications conundrum. I think this is something that every benefits professional is still trying to solve. And to be honest, my team at Red Bull hasn’t solved it yet. But this is a focus for us in the next 12 to 18 months.
Here’s how we’re approaching it. First and foremost, Red Bull engages with technology-forward partners to meet employees where they’re at. For instance, we’re doubling down on digital resources like telehealth so they don’t have to take time off or go out of their way to get the care they need. They can make appointments when it’s convenient for them.
We’re also making tweaks to our awareness initiatives. Because at the end of the day, you can have the best benefits in the world, but if employees don’t know about them, then are they really the best?
We’re working on a completely different communications strategy for employees who don’t work in the office — truck drivers, delivery personnel and field employees. By leveraging mediums that don’t require computer access (think podcasts, printed materials, QR codes) we can bring their benefits to them, whether they’re on the road or at home.
One unique aspect of your career journey is that you used to be a benefits broker yourself. How does this experience impact the way you approach your role now?
Working as a broker, I had a first-hand view into the data that matters most to the C-suite when making benefits decisions. I also saw clear before-and-afters when it comes to ROI on different benefits strategies.
Now I use that experience when making business cases for benefits. I can very clearly articulate how the strategies I’m suggesting will impact our company — from the bottom line, to our employee engagement, to our hiring and retention.
In reality, investing in benefits is about more than just the bottom line of medical plan costs, and it’s crucial that senior leadership understands that. When they’re looking at benefits, they often look only at the dollars spent.
So I take care to highlight how benefits impact the big picture. “Here’s how much we spend on recruiting to replace the people we’ve lost to churn.” “Here’s the institutional knowledge we’ve lost when someone walks out the door.” “Here’s the number of sick days employees have taken because they’re stressed or dealing with family stuff.”
All of those metrics are directly impacted by benefits, and in turn have impacts on the bottom line. Emphasizing those connections is key to nailing your benefits business case with the C-suite.
Thinking back on your time at Redbull, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment (so far)?
Adding coverage for certified doulas and midwives under our medical plan. Even though these medical professionals go through the same certifications as many others, insurance carriers don’t typically consider them to be legitimate providers unless they work in a hospital — which, for many mothers, isn’t necessarily the experience they want.
We worked with our consultants to research the health outcomes for doulas and midwives — and we were pleasantly surprised that not only do they not lead to worse outcomes, in many cases the cultural concordance can lead to healthier outcomes and healthier pregnancies. I think supporting additional avenues that give mothers options about how they access care during their pregnancy can be nothing but a positive.
This seemingly minor edit has made a huge impact on our employees. Our moms groups in particular are so excited about it. This benefit isn’t something that most employers offer, so it sets us apart.
What role can brokers play in transforming and reforming healthcare?
Brokers can drive change by pushing program partners to deliver the outcomes that employers and employees need. I think that program partners are often hesitant to conduct ROI analyses, but that information is absolutely critical to building effective benefits plans. So it’s up to the broker to hold vendors accountable to what they had promised the employer.
We're so thrilled to welcome you to the Nava Benefits Advisory Board. What do you hope to accomplish through this partnership?
I’m most excited about getting to work with some amazing people in my field who also have the same passion for disruption that I have. I think I’m going to learn a lot from the other Nava Benefits Advisors, as well as Nava's growing community of HR leaders.
In turn, I also hope to share what I’ve learned over the years, with the goal of helping others. When you work in HR, you learn quickly that there’s no single “right” solution to any problem. But when you have a community in the same boat, all sharing ideas and connections, you’re much more likely to arrive at the “aha” moment to solve whatever problem you come across.
Connect with Sara and other Nava Benefits Advisors in our new digital community! Learn more and apply to join here.
The brightest minds in healthcare and employee benefits have joined Nava Benefits on our mission. Learn more about the Nava Benefits Advisory Board.