In the insurance game, and especially with health care exchanges looming on the near horizon, employers are constantly looking for ways to cut costs but still offer health care options that create desire for participation by their employees. It’s a tightrope—trying to hire and keep quality personnel and yet not go broke in the process. By 2014, both public and private health care exchanges should be geared up to allow access to health care products on the open market.
Voluntary benefits allow organizations the best way to provide quality coverage and services without bankrupting the business. Essentially, employees pay for whatever they want at little to no cost to companies, and the expense is passed through to the consumer typically as a payroll deduction. You may have an administrative cost, but at least you’re not paying for the products.
Of course, HR directors or business owners must do proper due diligence, and vendors who are chosen should be vetted to find the best applicable suite of benefits at the best price. Don’t sacrifice quality of care for cost; but likewise, don’t offer products that may end up with very low participation because your employees cannot afford them. Your agent or broker should help you with this process.
If you don’t work with one, find out through networking with your peers in your industry what they are doing to help lower health care costs. You may be surprised to hear what other companies are offering to employees. If it’s a good deal, they’ll be happy to tell you about it. Everyone likes to brag on themselves if they feel that they have made a smart choice, and if their employees are happy and staying healthy.
Here are a few tips on prioritizing voluntary benefits:
1.) Evaluate current needs with your work force. Don’t onboard a new vendor if your employees are not interested in the service, no matter how good it is or how cheap it is. Offering a product no one wants is a fast start to failure and a lack of confidence in you among your workers. Be empathetic with what turns them on.
2.) Listen, and ask questions. These fact finding missions are applicable to both your workforce and the vendors. Find out what the buzz is around the water cooler about what employees want. And, when you are interviewing prospective offerings, ask hard questions about quality of service, get references, and dig into what the product can do for your company.
3.) Make the agent dance. If you are working with a broker, make him earn his consulting fee by providing multiple options for various voluntary benefits, and have him develop a pro forma on how those vendors can increase your ROI as a business owner. And again, ask for references. Although you can’t pull out your six shooter and fire bullets at his feet like the Old West, you should ask tough questions for honest answers.
4.) Hold a benefits fair. Once you have selected your vendors, bring them in for a pre-open enrollment expo. The best way your employees can find out about what they have to choose from is to engage in face to face conversation with a benefits rep who can provide more personal insight to the products and services you are promoting to your workers. Offer a smorgasbord of companies at a central location on your campus. That way, your employees can have fun with their selection process and decide what they like and don’t like based on what they hear and see at the fair. Make it fun, and offer door prizes and special offers. Plus, your workers get a little break in their routine to find out what’s new and cool.
5.) Stick with things that work. No one likes failure, and no one appreciates benefits that don’t provide value and savings as well improving the quality of life. But if your voluntary benefits are successful, don’t make changes just for change. That drives your staff crazy, and your employees are too valuable to get upset by taking away services they like. After all, since they are footing the bill, why discontinue it--unless the cost outweighs the benefits. If your participation goes down because of expense, then it may be time to look for a replacement. However, the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still holds true.
6.) Be a cheerleader. Does that mean you need to go get a set of pompoms and make a human pyramid with your executive team? No, but at least you need to promote the real value that Voluntary benefits bring to your company and to your employees. After all, everything rises and falls on leadership. If your employees don’t catch your excitement and enthusiasm about their benefit offerings, then they won’t be interested. And you’re back in the same tired trap where you started.
Voluntary benefits are valuable for a variety of reasons. Your need as a business leader or benefits manager to provide the best in class for your human capital requires you to do your due diligence and make the tough choices when it comes to helping your employees glad they work for you. Although it never is easy to get straight answers all the time, at least doing your homework to get honest feedback is better than getting your answers from a Magic 8 Ball. Then go wild with voluntary benefits.