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Employee benefits: know what you want, get what you want

You’ve got your company set up, your business plan has started to pay off, and you’ve started making some profit. Great! But now, you need to take care of employees, and that means benefits. They’re crucial for you and your workers, and the regulations about them can, approached with no context, be daunting and overwhelming. Where do you even begin?  

Know What You Want

Stop. Forget for a moment what the feds are requiring employers to do with benefits. Don’t worry about compliance.Don’t worry about procurement. (Yet.) Instead, ask yourself: What do I want to accomplish with benefits? Do I want them to be a differentiator when competing for talent? Do I want benefits to help attract a certain type of individual? Are benefits part of my strategy for helping employees to focus on customers versus their own financial or health challenges? Or do I want to do the bare minimum to meet compliance requirements and minimize my benefits spend?

The answers to these questions will be the foundation of your benefits strategy and product specifications, and will also, like shopping for a vehicle, help you focus on what to shop for, whose help you need in selecting the vehicle, where to find it, and how to buy it. If you need a rugged vehicle to haul supplies on rough roads, the Porsche Boxster is off the table. 

Involve Your Internal Stakeholders and External Resources

Involving the right stakeholders and external resources is a big part of both knowing what you want and getting what you want. Internally, you’ll want your management team (they’re the ones leading your workforce), HR (your in-house experts on employment matters) and finance (benefits are a big part of your budget).  

Next, it’s likely you’ll want to consider an advisor. If you are a real DIY person, then working with vendors that primarily interface through the Internet may be your best option. If you are the kind of person that likes to build things yourself, there are lots of self-help benefit and HR solutions embedded into tools that come with payroll and HRIS systems. However, if you’re like a lot of us, you are the expert at what you do and not the expert of employee benefits.

Like many other industries employee benefits is getting more complex every day. As an example, Wellness Programs have oversight from six major governmental agencies, as well as a few smaller ones. Keeping track of things like this can be overwhelming and having a professional on hand to help you may be the route to take.

An employee benefits advisor these days is different than advisor of yesterday who lined up a few options and brokered a deal with carriers.Today’s advisors should be providing a full gamut of services, ranging from advising you on strategy, helping you navigate shifting and onerous compliance requirements, guiding you on selecting the right benefits designs and providers to execute your strategy, and ensuring that services are delivered to your employees as you envisioned. 

A good advisor brings lots of specialized experience and expertise, as well as the support of back office resources and tools that employers don’t have access to on their own. A good advisor acts as a welcome extension of your own team. 

How do you select the right one to help you? Like developing your benefits strategy, ask yourself a few questions. Do I want an advisor familiar with my local market? Do I need an Advisor familiar with employers of my size? (Yes, size matters – as you cross 20, 50, 100 employees, different regulations kick in and advisors used to dealing with micro or very large accounts may lack experience.) What services and support do I need for compliance? Are employee communications important? Is support in resolving benefits-related issues desired?

Get What You Want (And Don’t Forget About Implementation)

Now that you know what you want and have your team assembled, it’s time to go shopping. The good news is, you’ve already done most of the work at this point. Assuming you made the decision to use an Advisor, your Advisor will seek out the benefits programs and carriers that are the best match and value for what you want. You will have a short list of recommendations from which to choose. Once you’ve made your selection, your Advisor will guide you through finalizing the purchase and move on to the next stage: implementation. 

You only get one shot at a first impression, and how you implement your new benefits will have an enormous impact on how they’re perceived by your employees. Going back to why you’re offering benefits, its likely recruitment and retention were big factors.  There are three big keys to a successful implementation: Good product, great communications, and competent administration. You’ve already covered good product. During implementation, you’ll want to work closely with your internal stakeholders and your advisor to ensure great communications. 

Usually that’s a combination of electronic (emails, website content) and in-person (staff meetings, enrollment meetings) interactions with your employees. Sometimes it’s a good idea to invite spouses, too – benefits are usually household decisions.  And lastly, competent administration. Once employees understand their options and make their elections, providing the right information to carriers and payroll (for deductions) is paramount. Everyone expects to get what they ordered at the price they were presented. Here too, your internal team and advisor will want to cooperate. Your advisor can help ensure carriers are receiving the correct information, and address any issues that may arise before they become bigger problems. 

Now that you’ve figured out what benefits you want and gotten them, it’s time to reap the rewards. You’ll find it easier to recruit and reward employees who are focused on realizing your vision for your business.

Authors Thomas Showalter is Human Resources Director for ConnectHR, a subsidiary of Wilson Albers & Company, and Jennifer Bundy-Cobb is Health & Welfare Services Director with Wilson Albers & Company. Showalter graduated University of Oregon and held several human resources management positions before joining his current team in May 2015. Bundy Cobb has been with her current employer and its predecessors since November 1995, in addition to volunteering with several community groups and trade organizations.

This article is featured in the 2017 Small Business Resource Guide, a free publication from Business Examiner Media.