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How Important Are Benefits to Your Employees?

Posted on March 2, 2015
Amy GulatiWritten by Amy Gulati | Email author

At Helios, we frequently help our clients survey employees to understand everything from engagement, to skill development to benefits needs. Particularly in the era of healthcare reform, employers need to get the most for the budget dollars allotted to benefits and the best way to do that is to understand what employees want. My advice would always be to survey employees at your own company. But if you’re staring down a renewal and facing a stiff increase in cost, you may not have the time. Two recent studies conducted by Unum and Aflac can provide you with the insight you need to understand how benefits can make a difference at your company.

In case there was any doubt as to how important benefits are, the Aflac 2014 Workforces Report for Small Business offers this attention getting statistic: 57 percent of those surveyed said that they would accept a job with slightly lower overall compensation, but better benefits. Clearly, benefits are a difference maker and even small businesses cannot afford to ignore the role they play in attracting good employees. Unum’s study also showed a direct correlation between how employees view their benefits and how they think about their jobs. In a survey of over 1,500 working adults, roughly 75% of those employees who said that their benefits were excellent or very good also rated their workplace as above average. Here’s a troubling fact uncovered by Unum’s survey: overall employee satisfaction with their benefits is at a six year low!

What can employers then do to make sure that they’re providing benefits that are valuable and desirable? The key may lie in employee engagement and education around benefits. According to Unum’s result, nearly 30 percent of employee stated that the information they receive from their employer was fair or poor.

Think about how this applies in your business. Do employees know what their deductible is? If you offer an HRA or HSA, do employees know how to use these accounts to help manage their out-of-pocket costs? What about wellness incentives? If you’ve made changes in the past year, have you held post-enrollment meetings to help address employee questions on new plans and features? As part of an overall change management methodology, continuing to educate employees even after changes have been made can go a long ways toward smoothing over difficulties and positively impacting employee perception of their benefits.

This year, many small business plans are facing a sharp increases in cost as insurance companies struggle to balance the risk of taking on the previously uninsured. If you have to make a change to your plan design in order to manage cost, educate your employees about why and if at all possible, involve them in the decision. For example, you may have determined that your current plan is not affordable going forward. Instead of just getting rid of it, you could ask employees if they’d rather pay a higher deductible to keep the plan affordable for the company or pay a greater share of the monthly costs instead. If your employees feel as if they’ve been consulted, they are more likely to react favorably to whatever changes you make. Every company has a cadre of employees who are highly invested in the benefits you offer or have strong opinions. Often, they spread discontent and sometimes misinformation amongst everyone else. One tactic that I’ve seen work well is to ask these employees to be part of a benefit committee. If you give them the full picture in terms of what benefits cost the organization, and involve them in the decision to help manage costs, they go from being malcontents to advocates for change.

Voluntary benefits can also make a difference for employees. Aflac’s report revealed that just eighteen percent of small companies offer voluntary insurance to their employees. Fifty percent of employees at small companies who don’t have access to voluntary insurance benefits say they’d be likely to purchase such benefits if they were offered by their employers. So work with your human resources team and your broker to figure out what voluntary benefits can be offered, starting with a survey of what competitors offer. This type of benchmarking should be a complimentary service provided by your broker to help you better understand the marketplace.

The next few years are sure to hold many more changes to the benefit landscape but it’s certain, despite these changes, that employees will still value employer-provided benefits. Given all of the changes, it’s never been more important to help employees understand your plans and communicate the value of what you offer.

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