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A Better Mousetrap - or Better Cheese?

January 23, 20244 min read

When it comes to getting employees more engaged with your employee benefit programs, which would you rather have: a better mousetrap, or better cheese?

Think back to 1998. Spencer Johnson's classic - “Who Moved My Cheese?” - introduced us to two mice (Sniff and Scurry), and two little people (Hem & Haw) who lived in a maze, in search of cheese (the metaphor for happiness and success).

Adapting to change
The story's key lessons are about anticipating, adapting to, and enjoying change - and cultivating readiness to change quickly (again) whenever you need to. It illustrates our common responses to change: denying it, resisting it, and eventually embracing and adapting to it.

Particularly in the early 2000s, the book was often used in business and management training programs for its insights into typical human reactions to change, and for encouraging a flexible and adaptive mindset.

single cheese slice

Fast forward to today, and like in Johnson's parable, the key to succeeding at getting more employees engaged in our programs might just be how we adapt to the unique tastes and needs of our workforce.

In other words, we don't need yet another "better mousetrap." We need better cheese.

We’ve been building better employee benefit mousetraps for years. We’ve honed our techniques, polished our presentations, and beefed up our benefit packages. But how well have we done at framing our offerings as the "better cheese" that our diverse, ever-evolving workforce actually wants? We’ve too often been like Hem and Haw: repeatedly checking the same old cheese station, even when it’s clear the cheese is no longer there.

Beyond "American" - to manchego and sottocere
If you do a Google or Bing search for articles on how employers, consultants and vendors are upgrading their engagement strategies from "education" to "marketing," you won't find many. From my perspective, it's largely because true "consumerism" in benefits is still not very widespread.

We don't tend to think in terms of employees buying benefits, we think in terms of them enrolling. So, we haven't really oriented our efforts towards appealing to what motivates them. Even though that's been changing, it's going..............slowly.

cheese plate

When I did my own web search to prep for this blog post, Bing found a 2016 piece in Frontiers of Psychology: Psychographic Profiling for Effective Health Behavior Change Interventions.

The gist of the article is that “one size fits all” approaches are about as effective as trying to catch a mouse with rotten cheese. And it's not just that we need to offer a broader range of benefits that cater to employees' diverse needs (we've already been doing that), it's more that we need to understand their unique psychological and behavioral profiles.

We already know that different groups of people have distinct motives, needs - and barriers.

We know that two individuals might both be uninterested in a fitness program, but are we recognizing that it could be for entirely different reasons? One might lack time, while the other might find no joy in exercise. Is there anyone who could write a universal message that could even hope to motivate both of them?*

More than education
Psychographics, as we've written before, broadens and deepens our ability to appeal to employees' preferences and desires by tapping into behavioral science - in additional to demographic and generational models.

It can help us language our messages more effectively, and it can help us develop better ways to deliver the kind of support they really need. Are they looking for more work-life balance? More focus on mental health? Or perhaps they’re seeking cheese of a different sort - financial wellness programs, for instance.

chefs serving

If we truly want to be even more innovative with our already-sophisticated expertise, our challenge is to tailor our outreach and communications to be more persuasive and more targeted to specific - and varied - tastes. To perhaps stretch the metaphor too far, "We need to be culinary artists in the kitchen of employee benefits. Let’s cook up some programs that appeal to the vegans, the lactose intolerant, and the cheese connoisseurs in our workforce!"

The last word
In summary, the proverbial "better mousetrap" isn't working. It's time to set out a cheese platter that’s so irresistible that our employees can’t help but engage. We can design benefit programs that are not only consumed - but also relished - by using more than one bland "flavor."

The cheeses we need to offer are the ones that have a range of flavors - ones that our employees actually want.

~ Mark Head
© 2024. All Rights Reserved.

*Actually, we can - but that's an entirely different story - set a call with us to discover how.


"A fish cannot drown in water. A bird does not fall in air. Each creature God made must live in its own true nature."

~ Mechthild of Magdeburg


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Mark Head


With 4 decades of combined experience in employee benefits consulting, wellness and health management, Head brings a unique combination of dynamic perspectives into a clear vision of where the future of health care is moving - and it's moving towards deeper human connection, awareness, and engagement...

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