How to Create a Comprehensive Employee Benefits Package that Attracts Top Talent
A common mantra of human resource managers is to find the right person for the job. Not an easy task as it includes much investment of time, energy and expense. Once the "right person" is found, equal (if not greater) investment of time, energy and expense is crucial in retaining talented employees. However, many employers still rely on a traditional benefits strategy.
We are working in a much different job market compared to the past few decades, and employers who value top talent are taking a new look at employee benefit packages. While health insurance, retirement benefits and paid time off are still extremely important to employees, so now are additional benefits such as flexible working hours, wellness programs, and professional development opportunities.
Prior to the Affordable Care Act ("ACA"), many employers offered one or a few choices for their participants - likely traditional PPO plans with expensive monthly premiums. PPO plans are still necessary for those who have multiple monthly prescriptions, frequent doctor visits, and/or ongoing treatments; however, employers should revisit their health insurance offerings in order to truly reflect the needs of a diverse staff. Today's workforce wants options such as high deductible/low premium choices, health savings and reimbursement plans, and broader network coverages.
Allowing employees to have more say in this benefit spend will increase employee morale. Younger workers will not feel they are "over-insured" or paying high premiums for a benefit rarely used, while those who need the coverages frequently may customize their plan to their specific needs. The diligence of a human resource leader shopping the health insurance market regularly, along with assistance from health insurance experts or brokers, will be greatly appreciated by the employees.
Another alternative for a group health insurance policy is to offer annual or monthly health insurance stipends. For smaller businesses, this may be an option allowing an employee to cover the additional expense of being added as a dependent to their spouse's employer coverage. Some may find their medical needs can be met through combined group health sharing pools. There are many pros and cons to be considered when electing subsidies versus enrollment in a group plan, and advice of financial planning experts should be sought at both the company and employee level.
Dental and Vision:
Dental and vision benefits remain a critical component for most employees participating in an employer-sponsored group health insurance plan. In recent years, dental and vision plans have become more a "discount program" rather than a true insurance plan. Human Resource teams must be aware of the specifics of all benefit offerings. Are they truly insurance for dental and vision needs or a discount plan? Participants expecting insurance plans when actually being enrolled in discount plans may face a disturbing surprise and that can possibly lead to a very disgruntled employee.
A growing number of dental and vision practitioners are now implementing their own discount programs which may create a better fit for some participants. Consider dental and vision plan offerings to your employees as electives and not mandatory with health insurance enrollment. Allow employees to explore their own dental and vision providers if in-house discount programs and financing makes more sense than paying a monthly premium. If so, perhaps stipends could be offered to employees by the employer for dental and/or vision needs.
Creating and implementing a wellness program or incentives may seem a daunting task for human resources. Again, a great deal of time, energy and expense can be associated with this part of an employee benefits program, and yet, it may often reap the greatest rewards in recruiting and retaining top talent. Stipends given for gym memberships, or participation in organized wellness programs such as Weight Watchers, GoLo for Life, or NutriSystems, can be investments in employee health and productivity.
An employer can also create an internal wellness program with little expense and effort. Consider using a company's intranet platform or a common working space to challenge and encourage each other. Building a sense of team and friendly competition can often be a benefit that resounds loudly with employees. Consider challenges like:
- Walking or "Getting Your Steps Daily"
- Stretch breaks
- Book clubs
- Eating Healthy
Build a company ethos that reflects care for employees' overall health and word will get out to those seeking a great place to be.
Employee Assistance Programs:
Employee Assistance Programs ("EAP") may be under utilized because employees are uncertain of what it is, what to expect from it, and how to take advantage of it, and yet, it too can offer a huge return on investment. Human resource teams need to invest not only in finding available wellness incentives and programs, but also communicating and educating often about them.
According to a 2022 article by Annuity.org, twenty-two percent of Americans have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, and 15 percent have no retirement savings whatsoever. These figures most likely reflect a lack of understanding and planning. Too many employees forego personal contributions believing they have plenty of time to save. Others believe that their current financial reality of living paycheck to paycheck makes saving for retirement impossible.
A retirement benefit should be appealing to employees at every stage of their work career, but many may not take advantage due to lack of guidance. Human resource managers need to be careful and never give financial advice to team members. Instead, consider creating a list of recommended, but not endorsed, financial advisors to share with employees.
Employers have the option to build in match contributions to participant accounts. The employer's contribution can be a certain percentage of base salary annually, or be dependent upon employee's personal contribution. Once an individual realizes how much employer match money is being left on the table each year, participation in the program will grow. Longevity of a top employee can often be aligned with the years of retirement benefit participation.
An optional benefit seen primarily with larger corporations is participation in company stock options usually at lower than market prices. Care must be given when implementing stock options as tax implications can be realized by employees. Consideration on how best to educate employees on how this benefit works and can be maximized should be part of the benefit planning process. The greatest payoff for such a benefit is that employees will likely feel more engaged and invested in the success of their company. Be mindful though too of communicating what it means when dips are seen instead of a rise in order to prevent loss of confidence by employees.
Paid Time Off:
Indeed.com defines the newest paid time off trend, unlimited PTO, as "a structure in which employees are not assigned a set number of paid days off at the start of the year. Instead, employees are provided with the freedom to take time off when needed as long as doing so will not disrupt business." Provided in this same article are many of the pros and cons already realized with this new benefit, and some work sectors have seen much success employing unlimited time off. Yet there will also be some industries that unlimited PTO simply will not work.
A greater value for paid time off, limited or unlimited, can be realized when it is managed well and fairly by supervisors and the human resource team. Life happens and compassion, empathy and genuine concern will define the success of any paid time off benefit. The process for requests and notifications needs to be simple, timely and relevant, acknowledging that today's family faces far more challenges with last minute absences than with planning of vacations. Clearly communicate the needs and expectations for absence notifications and most employees, if they are truly top talent, will work diligently to follow and exceed the same.
Revisions to older policies differentiating vacation/sick/personal days paid may be ready for some updates, instead allowing top talent to be treated as trusted and valued individuals. Perhaps the "one PTO bank" approach will have its merits for both employer and employee, allowing employees to use their PTO bank as they need or see fit, and releasing the employer from policing sick versus personal days. A reminder though that careful documentation must still be kept in case of short or long-term disability situations.
Short and Long-Term Disability Leaves:
The Social Security Administration declares a substantial growth in cost and participation in its disability programs. Strict qualifications, processes and documentation are parts of administering and managing short and long-term disability, therefore human resource managers must rely heavily on insurance experts. However, once mastered and organized, this benefit will be seen as a great safety net by employees and a personal investment.
Many times the same insurance provider offering health, dental and vision insurances can either assist or lead you to providers of disability insurance. Should an employee become eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, it often decreases the benefit amount paid by the employer.
Other Paid and Unpaid Leaves:
Among expectations of today's top talent market, paid and unpaid leaves are important, and include some of the following:
- Maternity/Paternity/Adoption Leave
- Family Medical Leave
- Renewal Leave
- Community Service Leave
- Study Leave
Company leaders need to consider the values and mission of their work as they discern which types of paid and unpaid leaves may be implemented. Some leaves have minimal financial impact if managed consistently and fairly, and may be a great positive contribution to company culture.
Flexible Work Arrangements:
Benefits such as flexible working hours, remote or hybrid work locations, and cross-team shift coverages can all be important deciding factors for a top recruit. Work life balance has become an essential for most in the workforce, and the more an employer can equitably implement such benefits, the far better. Many top talent employees will resign from their roles should they feel that a constant war is waged between work and family.
Engaged employees desire the opportunity to contribute, be a part of, and be accountable to good work. If being faced by a possible resignation of a valued employee, explore with them the challenge being faced, and be open to a mutual agreement that can be temporary at first. Documenting of such flexible or alternate work arrangements is crucial to successfully implementing and managing fairly. Being willing to accommodate an employee during stressful situations will be long remembered by the employee and others on the same team.
Professional Development Benefits:
Leading reasons talented top performers leave one job for another are traced to the desire for higher pay and feeling stuck professionally. Many of the above benefits can meet the basic needs of individuals, yet it requires a bit more investment of time and effort by employers to meet those intrinsic values that are also important, such as:
- Need to feel valued
- Need to feel recognized
- Desire to be part of something bigger than themselves
- Need to belong
According to a survey done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people born in the early 1980's held an average of 8.6 jobs from ages 18 through 34, and the number of jobs increase for those born later. The time when employees took great pride in their "loyalty" and tenure with an employer has been replaced by an era of climbing the professional ladder through job changes. There are studies available that agree that staying with one company too long may be a disadvantage - cost of living increases may not compare to the salaries given to new hires.
In addition to making sure salary bands are equitable and competitive, employers can also combat the urge for top talent to go elsewhere by offering professional development benefits. People desire to do well and be recognized and valued for their work. Offering benefits such as tuition reimbursements, employer-paid learning trips or conferences, aid with continuing education and certificate programs, and mentorship programs can all be very important to those top talented employees wanting to make a difference and be part of something bigger.
Voluntary benefits are those additional or supplemental benefits that an employer makes available to an employee at reduced group pricing. These benefits can be particularly appealing to employees because they are customizable and allow employees to choose the benefits that are most relevant to their individual needs and circumstances.
Some examples of popular voluntary benefits are:
- Life insurance
- Pet insurance
- Long-term care insurance
- Travel insurance and planning
- Memberships or subscriptions to various clubs or organizations
- Legal services
- Daycare assistance
- Funeral and Estate planning
In order to discover which voluntary benefits may be seen as most desirable by your team, take the time to distribute a brief and concise survey. Let your current employees have a voice in what is important to them. Once decisions are made on which voluntary benefits would be most appreciated, contact your insurance broker for information on how to take the first steps.
Today's job force includes greater diversity than past decades. The generation range seen in many companies has never been so wide forcing employers to provide quality benefits to the young, mid-career, as well as those working beyond usual retirement age. One size will never fit all.
Many benefits are still essential to attract and retain top talent, such as health insurance, pension and retirement benefits, and paid time off. Yet employers must be open to those benefits offering flexible and broad offerings. Investing time in learning what is important to your current personnel, exploring alternative options, communicating and educating on benefit details and advantages are consuming more and more of a human resource teams' days. However, when the right people are placed just right in the right seats of the bus, it is worth it. Be open to new ideas, think creatively and constantly review what others are doing in your industry to attract and retain top talent.
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