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It’s not that simple!

Exit or remain, welcome refugees or build a wall to keep them out, guns or no guns, black or white, include all or be exclusive… the list of extreme positions that people are taking goes on and on. What is driving this sudden increase in polarized thinking in the world? The world was getting smaller, technology was supposed to ”level the playing field,” and people were supposed to become more connected. What happened to the ”it’s a small world after all” thinking we hoped to grow up to realize?

There is a surfeit of complexity in the world, and we are under more and more pressure from this complexity. We cannot live in our simple silos of thinking any more. There is more travel, more migration, more interaction between people who come from different life situations and history. As these complex systems collide, it creates even more complex problems to which there are no simple solutions.

Yet we search for simple solutions. We come to realize that there is a limit to the complexity that can be tolerated by a normal human mind. The reduction of complex domestic and foreign policy strategies into text that scores at a fourth-grade reading level, and the naive sound bites that seem to make the world simple and ring with truth, have filled our world of politics for over a decade. We search for simplicity, and when we find it, are willing to pay an additional price for it. We pay more for a phone with just one button. We can see that less is more.

However, this desire for simplicity can lead to some complex problems. The Brexit vote is an example of what appeared to be a simple referendum where people were asked to vote for Britain to exit or remain in the European Union. In reality, it required that simple people with a limited appreciation of the complexity and implications of the situation make a world-changing decision. Could Britain have found a consensus-building process that allowed the complex issues to surface and address the desire for exit? Could it have found a way to work with the rest of the EU and make necessary adjustments to the hardline position? That sort of complex analysis and consensus cannot be done by the average person. We rely on and trust elected representatives and other subject-matter experts to better engage with the complex questions to arrive at the best available option. That is the democratic system – that uses the will of the people as a guide, while giving itself the ability not to be overwhelmed by it.

What does all this mean to the employee benefits business? The issues are too important for employers and employees to make choices about benefits without proper study and assessment, but the overwhelming complexity of coverage options and regulations make this difficult. For this we need experts who can be trusted to understand all dimensions of complexity and present the non-experts with easy-to-understand solutions. There will be trade-offs and fewer options, but the options would take into account the complex underlying issues.

The recommendation engine that helps employees choose an appropriate health plan is an example. Instead of the employee doing the what-if analysis on different plans for their specific family status and need for health services, a better starting point is a tool that looks at their current plan utilization and presents the option that would best suit them if all things stayed the same.

Similarly, employers have so many options to choose from – fully-insured, self-funded, level funding, unbundled stop-loss, captive, different methods of stop-loss gain sharing arrangements, so on and on. Short of an expensive (and as yet in the future) system with artificial intelligence capabilities, there is no way to have a simple interface to this problem-solving method. Except—if you get help from an advisor you can trust, an advisor who has the wisdom, insight and experience to understand your situation, your risk tolerance, business model, and employee demographics and their risk tolerance, and can recommend the best options for you from among the plethora of those available. Good benefit advisors will embrace this challenge to make complex things simple for their clients without losing integrity. It is not easy. Employers should seek out advisors who can adapt to the new complexity of this world and rise to the challenge of simplifying it for their clients.

How do you identify the right advisor? You have to avoid being mesmerized by the exaggeratedly simple solution that disregards underlying complexity and look for those who make the complex simple for your benefit, without subjecting you to the complexity that hides the simple solution. A quote attributed to Einstein, who grappled with the most complex of concepts, goes “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Evaluating employee benefit options is tough work, but the right employee benefits advisor can make it seem simple. The duck swimming across a pond seems to glide across the water effortlessly. Under the water, however, its feet are paddling like mad!

Workforce Junction® is intentional about partnering with great benefit advisors, and as a team, we ‘paddle’ tirelessly to make the complex world of employee benefits simple for the employers and employees the serve. An earlier version of this blog was published by United Benefit Advisors (UBA). (


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