Making the Most of Your Voluntary Benefits Program

April 27, 2017

The data continues to show that benefits have a measurable impact on employee recruiting, retention, loyalty and engagement. This is true for both employer-paid benefits as well as for voluntary benefits, which employees generally pay for via payroll deduction.

Since 2008, as employer margins have tightened, voluntary benefits programs have become more important as employers move to shift the cost of employee benefits more onto the employees themselves while still providing a compelling value proposition for their employees. The addition of voluntary benefits overall has been a win-win: Employers are able to better manage their costs, and employees pay only for the coverage they need and want.

Consider:

  • MetLife research has found that 70% of employers say they offer voluntary benefits to increase company loyalty, while 44% of employees say “having benefits customized to meet my needs would increase my loyalty.”
  • 49 percent of employees want wellness programs that reward their healthy lifestyles. But only 8 percent of employers thus far offer such benefits.
  • 51 percent of employees surveyed say they are interested in having their employer provide a wider array of non-medical benefits that they can choose to purchase and pay for themselves.
  • 52 percent report being willing to bear more of the cost of their benefits in order to have choices that meet their needs.

 Coordinating Benefits

Thoughtful employers are finding that they can create synergies by combining company-paid and voluntary benefits in ways that complement each other. For example: Employees who transition to lower-cost high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts or health reimbursement arrangements often find that the reduced premiums save them enough money to purchase cancer or other disease insurance, or hospital insurance or disability coverage that more than compensates them for the risk of paying a higher deductible.

Best Practices in Communicating Employee Benefits

  1. Sell your benefits program all year round. Don’t wait until open enrollment period to talk to employees about their benefits package. 
  2. Make it personal. One-on-one employee benefits counseling is still key. The MetLife 14th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study found that personal, one-to-one counseling from an employee benefits enrollment specialist was the most effective bridge to enrollment and to valuing the benefits package, besting mobile apps, text messaging and benefits websites.
  3. Use multiple platforms, including online and direct mail messaging, as well as employee meetings and counseling sessions.
  4. Keep up email and website marketing. You want your benefits already sold, and have a warm and receptive market that already wants to sign up before open enrollment period comes around.
  5. Take employee age into account. Disability insurance and cancer insurance won’t be a huge hit with an office full of 25 year olds. It will be a big hit with the 50 year olds. But the 25-year olds may jump at the chance to participate in a student loan repayment program or tuition reimbursement benefits!
  6. Make benefits affordable for employees.
  7. Consider your recent unplanned absences. Have employees been calling out because of dental emergencies? If they could have been prevented if the employees had access to dental care benefits, consider starting with dental and vision plans as a voluntary benefit.
  8. Match employee benefit education efforts to employee education levels and general financial knowledge.
  9. Engage family members in benefits education efforts. Consider offering an inservice to explain benefits to employees and spouse together (hourly workers should be paid for this event).
  10. Make use of trained benefits industry professionals to conduct in-service training, lunch and learn sessions, dinner or breakfast meetings.
  11. Consider using webinars – especially where your work force is spread out over a wide area.
  12. Use multiple forms of media to communicate. Older workers still use printed brochures and direct mail, while younger workers tend to prefer engaging on mobile devices and websites and other digital platforms.
  13. Don’t leave benefits education for open enrollment. Make it at least a monthly or quarterly effort. This keeps employee awareness and interest high. By the time you get to the open enrollment period, they already want to enroll!
  14. Don’t try to roll out too many voluntary benefits at the same time. Stick to what employees can afford and what your eduction and communication efforts can support.
  15. Work on integrating voluntary benefits into your overall plan, rather than merely adding them willy-nilly as extras. For example, offer a critical illness policy to help transition workers into lower-cost high-deductible health plans with health savings accounts.