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Financial Wellness • Gradifi

How Do I Find Budget for Voluntary Benefits?

By Stephanie Taylor Christensen | 3-min read

You may already know that your employees enjoy perks like complimentary coffee and staff appreciation celebrations. But, how can you find room in your budget to introduce other important voluntary benefits that could support their financial well-being now, and in the future? It’s a common question many employers face—and one that’s worth trying to answer, given the impact that voluntary benefits can have on employee satisfaction, retention and your recruitment efforts.

Here are some ideas to help you find room in your budget for voluntary benefits.

Consider the current utilization rates of benefits

The Society of Human Resources Management’s data suggests that while employers continue to see the value in offering voluntary benefits to their employees, trends about which benefits are considered “hot or not” have shifted over the last few years. For example, respondents to SHRM’s survey said programs that provide employees with access to financial advice and student loan help, health savings accounts, standing desks, free coffee and meal reimbursements top the list of in-demand voluntary benefits. By contrast, they said benefits like medical flexible spending accounts and service anniversary awards are no longer valued by employees (and many planned to stop offering them as a result).

While culture-related perks like ping pong tables, nap rooms and laundry services were quickly embraced by start-ups, marketing firms and tech companies years ago, Forbes reports that increasingly, employers like Mondo, a staffing firm for tech and the digital marketing industries, have started to invest more in voluntary benefits that address employees lives outside of work, rather than those that only impact their workday. Once Mondo found that employees placed far less value on the “trendy perks” and freebies it offered, compared to programs like flex time and student loan assistance programs, the company approached its voluntary benefits budget differently.

Analyze the utilization rates of other voluntary benefits your company already offers staff to identify where you may find room in your budget for a benefit like student loan refinance programs. If your budget includes have a specific figure earmarked for tuition reimbursement that’s not being fully utilized, for example, that may be an opportunity to restructure your budget for benefits your employees will use.

Ask employees what benefits truly matter to them

Research by LIMRA indicates that while 70% of employers surveyed believed their current offering satisfied their employees, just 53% of the employees agreed. Just 18% of employers surveyed had a process for continuously asking employees which benefits they valued; only 34% of the employers asked at all.

Invite your employees to the benefits selection process by providing them with a list of all the potential voluntary benefits you could include in your budget. Ask them to rank the benefits they perceive as most meaningful, which they are indifferent towards, and whether they’d be willing to give up other benefits you currently offer (such as a gym reimbursement or catered lunches) if it meant access to other benefits, like a student loan repayment program.

Prioritize benefits that align with your desired workforce

In LIMRA’s research, 73% of employers named retention as a primary motivation for offering voluntary employee benefits; slightly more than half said recruitment was an equally important objective. Now that more than one-third of the US workforce is made up of millennials, according to Pew Research Center, their influence continues to grow—especially as more Baby Boomers enter retirement. According to “The Millennial Study” conducted by Accel + qualtrics, millennials tend to value programs that support and encourage work-life balance, and “non-traditional” voluntary benefits like pet insurance, student loan assistance or help paying for important life events (like a wedding), even more than they value a high salary. Consider whether your company could benefit by adjusting compensation packages to allow for a combination of competitive salaries, flex or remote work options, and voluntary benefits that speak to your target employees’ values.

Use benefits to support your culture

You can use voluntary benefits to help shape your company culture and communicate that your top priority is helping employees develop and thrive beyond the time they spend at work. Offering student loan refinancing or college savings benefits doesn’t have to a be “one or the other” proposition, or require that you make employees choose which ones they’ll use. Let your employees know that because your company values employee’s lives at work and outside of it, you’re investing in a number of voluntary benefits that contribute to their ability to succeed now, and in the future—even if the rest of their career isn’t spent working at your company.