Business of Well-being

Making the Most of Voluntary Benefit Offerings in the Employee Benefits Package

Employees are taking on more financial responsibility for their benefits, and they have more interest than ever before in acquiring benefits that work best for them. For employers, voluntary benefits offer an option to employees where they can choose products that supplement their company-sponsored core benefits to suit their individual needs. The challenge between employers and employees within the topic of voluntary benefits, though, resides within the voluntary benefits options available; not all employees believe what is available reflects the diversity of employees.

Employees Want Diverse Benefits

Two surveys conducted in June 2015 - one of employers and the other of employees - indicate what they see similarly and what they see differently about voluntary benefits. Employees working full-time were surveyed through a Harris Poll and employers were asked their opinions through a Human Resource Executive survey. Here's what we found:

  • Both employers and employees agree on the importance of voluntary benefits - 90 percent of employers and 86 percent of employees say offering voluntary benefits is very or somewhat important.
  • Employers and employees disagree on whether the voluntary benefits offered at their company reflect the diverse needs of the employees. Seventy-eight (78) percent of employers believe that they do. Employees see it differently. Twenty-nine (29) percent of employees strongly agree, and another 33 percent of employees somewhat agree, that voluntary benefits offered at their workplace reflect the diverse needs of the workers.
  • 93 percent of employees say it is very or somewhat important that they be able to choose benefits based on their particular needs, such as ones that enhance their lifestyle, protect their well-being and improve their financial well-being.
  • Only 29 percent of employees say their or their spouse's employer offer non-traditional voluntary benefits, but 48 percent of those whose company doesn't offer them would like them to. Further, 54 percent of employers say they don't offer non-traditional voluntary benefits and 78 percent of employers say they don't anticipate offering any additional non-traditional voluntary benefits.

It seems employees have spoken loud and clear-they want more voluntary benefit options in their employee benefits package and, specifically, more non-traditional ones.

Tailoring Benefits to Meet Employees' Needs

Today's workforce spans three generations-from Millennials to Baby Boomers-that look at work, life, money and finances in totally different ways. Likewise, they have different benefit needs. With voluntary benefits, employees can choose what suits their particular situations. By knowing their workforce demographics, employers can select voluntary benefits offerings that will resonate.

Traditional voluntary benefits are mostly self-explanatory, but the growing list of non-traditional voluntary benefits in the marketplace today give a wide scope of opportunity for meeting employees' needs. Here's a fairly comprehensive list of what's available as a non-traditional voluntary product today, categorized by purpose:

Buying and Banking Options

  • Paycards
  • Short-Term Loans
  • Employee Purchase Programs
  • Employee Discount Programs
  • Credit Union
  • Flexible Spending Accounts

Lifestyle and Convenience Options

  • Child Care
  • Elder Care
  • Pet Insurance
  • Auto Insurance
  • Adoption Assistance
  • Cyber Security Insurance
  • Legal Assistance

Personal Care and Improvement

  • Financial Counseling Services
  • Wellness Programs
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Tuition Assistance Programs

Financial Safety Nets

  • Home Warranty Insurance
  • Homeowners' Insurance
  • Identity Theft Protection
  • Long-Term Care Insurance

Tips for Getting the Most Value from Voluntary Benefits

It's important that employers who offer voluntary benefits in employee benefits package get the most value from these offerings. Here are five tips to keep in mind:

Offer an array of voluntary benefits in your employee benefits package.

Voluntary benefits aren't one-size-fits-all. Employees have varying needs and they want a variety of benefits from which to choose. The latest benefit trends study from MetLife shows that the more voluntary benefit options employees have, the happier and more loyal they are. This sends a strong message to employers to offer a variety of voluntary benefits allowing today's diverse workforce to choose the ones that will help them the most.

According to the MetLife study, the greatest employee satisfaction is found at companies that offer 11  or more benefits. The variety of voluntary benefits offered by employers should include both traditional and non-traditional products. According to the Eastbridge study, the five most frequently sold traditional voluntary products are term life insurance, short-term disability, dental insurance, accident insurance (personal injury, not AD&D) and critical illness insurance.

The most popular of the non-traditional voluntary products sold are wellness programs. Others include ID theft coverage, legal plans, discount health programs, pet insurance, computer/appliance/furniture purchase programs and vacation programs.

Leverage the vital recruitment and retention role that voluntary benefits play.

Recruitment and retention of all generations in the workforce is important and, thus, a company's benefits package, including voluntary benefits, is crucial to provide individual choice. It is particularly significant for millennials. According to a study by Aon Hewitt, not only will millennials make up half of the workforce this year, but nearly one half of them plan to change jobs in the next year.

Millennials feel that what they value in an organization is different than the priorities of their current workplace. They job hop to advance their careers and improve their pay and benefits. Compensation and benefits packages will be the strongest driver in determining their next career move and employers will need to step their game up if they are committed to attracting and retaining quality talent.

Include non-traditional voluntary benefits to guarantee customization.

Employees have spoken; they want benefit options that  help meet their varying needs. With non-traditional voluntary benefits, employers can be assured they are providing the variety of options that allow customization. The ability to choose benefits that meet their life-stage needs is something employees want.

Employees look to non-traditional voluntary benefits to fulfill various purposes. When full-time employees were asked to list the purposes that voluntary benefits serve for them, 73 percent of respondents answered that at least one of the following purposes applied to them. Here are the highest priorities:

  • Provide me with a financial safety net - 44 percent;
  • Allow me to access benefits at a group rate rather than a higher individual premium - 43 percent;
  • Protect my overall well-being - 39 percent;
  • Make life easier/more convenient - 38 percent;
  • Allow me access to services that I couldn't get on my own - 33 percent;
  • Support my long-term goals - 33 percent.

Tailor communications to help employees understand everything that's available to them to make wise benefit decisions.

Employees need benefit offerings communicated in a way they understand. With today's multi-generational workforce, this can be a challenge. Baby boomers may want a newsletter, while younger employees prefer a mobile app explaining the products or a link to an online presentation. Both audiences would probably enjoy a video that clearly explains the products and presents them in the context of real-life examples.

Conveying the value of voluntary benefits is vital. The use of multimedia tools to demonstrate how voluntary benefits fill various needs is recommended. Online platforms can enable employees to interact, such as in chat sessions, asking questions and gaining greater insight regarding voluntary benefits.

Utilize data and technology to provide more efficient, effective voluntary benefit programs

Employers usually focus on employee demographics to evaluate voluntary benefit offerings, but using data analytics to more specifically target employees lead to better success in creating an appropriate voluntary package. Using an advanced analytical approach, creating an employer benefits profile report through an employer profile analysis, employee segmentation and predictive modeling can yield higher business value and a better employee experience.

From a technology standpoint, benefit portals and benefit enrollment platforms not only help simplify administration for employers, but improve access for employees.

About the Author

Elizabeth Halkos is chief revenue officer at Purchasing Power, a voluntary benefit provider of an employee purchase program. She has over 15 years of experience in  client relationship development, sales, marketing and product strategy.

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