In today’s competitive hiring environment, a generous and valuable benefits package is crucial for recruiting and retaining talented workers. As human resources leaders seek to evaluate their benefits providers and see where they need to make improvements, it can be difficult to know where to start.
To provide the benefits packages your employees—and future employees—will value, you must select the right benefits provider. With that comes a wide array of providers vying for your company’s business, choosing the right one can be overwhelming. You can start narrowing the list by determining the qualities or characteristics that are important for your employees when it comes to benefits.
Here’s a look at five of the most important items to look for in a benefits provider, to ensure you’re offering a package that will meet the needs of today’s workers.
Most thriving workplaces include employees of various ages and backgrounds, with varying needs and expectations. Some employees need parental leave benefits or child care options, while others want help repaying their student loans, and others highly value fitness options.
A survey of 2,000 U.S. workers found that better health, dental and vision insurance plans were at the top of the list as the most desired employee benefits, according to the Harvard Business Review. The next most valued benefits include flexibility (such as flexible hours, more vacation time and telecommuting options) and assistance with student loans and tuition.
Because not every employee is the same, one general benefits package is unlikely to meet every employee’s needs. That’s why one of the most important qualities to look for in a benefits provider is the ability to offer choices.
Employees are accustomed to using technology to manage their entire lives: From a smartphone, we can schedule a doctor’s appointment, buy groceries, pay bills, and find out if a package has been delivered to our front doors. With so many tasks and processes available online, employees may feel burdened by benefits providers that require them to complete paper forms or keep up with paper copies of benefits programs.
In addition to evaluating benefits providers’ ability to use technology to simplify employees’ lives, you can also look for technology-based processes that can help employees make the right choices about benefits. For instance, at Welltok, a 400-employee health optimization company in Denver, “people now expect to use technology, online or mobile, rather than talking to someone in person or doing anything manually,” Chaz Hinkle, chief people officer, told the Society for Human Resource Management.
Engaging decision support features usually offer online or mobile self-service, with easy-to-use guidance for determining the best options or defining terms employees may not understand. These “smart” systems can win your employees’ approval, but they can also help ensure that employees are choosing the right benefits plans that will meet needs and contribute to their satisfaction at work.
Also, think about whether the benefits providers you evaluate are using technology to automate administrators’ workflows, simplifying your process of benefits management. Consider whether the vendors are savvy enough with technology to be able to adapt and scale their offerings to accommodate changing needs over the long term.
Finally, ensure that your benefits provider has proper security infrastructure in place to protect employees’ personal information–and that the provider can help you train employees on how they can help prevent data security breaches.
Communication and Education
Providing an excellent benefits package is pointless if your employees don’t understand the offerings or know how to use them. Look for a benefits provider that can not only explain the options and choices to the employer but can also make it clear and understandable for each employee.
Ask vendors what types of educational materials they will offer. Employees may benefit from videos, manuals, live training, or online tutorials. For instance, Little Big Business Solutions in Midlothian, Va., uses a five-minute benefits video to explain its benefits package. A recent study of employee benefits video response rates found that 78 percent of the more than 173,000 employees who received a video about benefits viewed the video at least once, and 94 percent of those who viewed a video took some action afterwards, such as logging into the online enrollment software and accessing benefits information.
In addition to determining what kind of communications vendors will offer, also find out whether the vendor’s communication about benefits will be year-round or just at open enrollment—in some cases, employees may benefit from a refresher throughout the year to maximize their use of benefits. Or when new employees come on board, they may need access to the vendor to ensure they understand their options and how to take advantage of them.
Ongoing Service and Support
Most employers don’t want to sign on the dotted line with a benefits provider and then feel as if they’re on their own to run and manage the plan. But in many cases, that’s exactly what happens.
If you expect a vendor to be available to answer employee questions and concerns about benefits on an ongoing basis, ask upfront about ongoing service—and whether it will cost you more. Find out what that service looks like; for instance, will employees have access to provider representatives and know how to contact them? You may even consider asking vendors for customer references so you can talk to other customers and find out for yourself whether the vendor’s service is ongoing and satisfactory.
The perfect benefits provider will be irrelevant if you can’t afford to pay for its service. Make sure the benefits offered will fit your budget so your employees can depend on them over the long term.
Before meeting with vendors, determine how much you can spend on employee benefits and how much you’re willing to ask employees to contribute. When you meet with vendors, discuss the budget upfront. If you like a provider and its options and services, but the price is more than you intended to pay, ask if they can customize a plan for you. In many cases, effective benefits providers can tweak their offerings to meet the needs of your employees—as well as your cost budget.
Your benefits providers are valuable partners in helping you provide the attractive work environment that top employees expect. So it’s important to take seriously your evaluation of each benefits provider and settle on the ones that can help you meet your goals of effectively serving employees and respecting your bottom line.