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 voluntary benefits that could tangibly support their financial well-being? It’s a common question many employers face—and one worth trying to answer, given how voluntary benefits can affect employee satisfaction, retention, and recruitment.

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, benefit trends 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, benefits like medical flexible spending accounts and service anniversary awards are no longer as valued by employees, and many employers planned to stop offering them as a result.

While culture-related perks like ping pong tables and laundry services were embraced by start-ups, marketing firms, and tech companies years ago, Forbes reports that, employers are shifting toward voluntary benefits that address employees lives outside of work, rather than those that only affect their workday. For example, one staffing firm 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, so 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. For example, if your budget includes a specific figure earmarked for tuition reimbursement that’s not being fully utilized, it 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 ones they feel 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 nontraditional voluntary benefits like pet insurance, student loan assistance, or help paying for important life events, such as weddings.

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 even beyond the time they spend at work.

Offering student loan refinancing or college savings benefits doesn’t have to a be an either/or proposition. Let your employees know that because your company values employees’ lives both 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.


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