Voluntary benefits: Make them so good, no one knows they’re voluntary

I recently heard a business owner describe his company’s voluntary benefits package as a “nice to have.” If that’s the case, I say get rid of the package and save both the aggravation and administrative cost.

If you’re going to offer voluntary benefits, those benefits should be a fixed part of your employment package — part of the ala carte set of options an individual is entitled to as a result of working for the company. People don’t call a 401(k) plan a “voluntary” benefit. Why, then, should an optional life, disability, vision, and dental package be thought of as “voluntary”?

Voluntary benefits are part of a comprehensive benefits package; choosing to take advantage of them is simply optional.

Employers seek satisfaction and productivity from their employees. In our current “jobless recovery” economic environment, productivity is high, but satisfaction is low. The employer is in a quandary because cash flow is tight, so satisfaction cannot be bought through additional compensation. This is where voluntary benefits can prove so useful.

A 2010 study by SHRM found that job security and benefits are the top two motivators of employee satisfaction. In fact, benefits have ranked in the top two since 2002. The challenge is to help voluntary benefits be perceived as benefits. If they’re simply marketed as a “nice to have,” they won’t be valued and, most importantly, won’t enhance employee satisfaction.

Employers should focus on some key elements in designing and offering a voluntary benefits program. These ideas don’t add cost; they simply require attention and some effort.

*Choose those benefits that are most valued by the most employees.
*Limit the benefits to those that can be understood and appreciated by most employees.
*Educate employees about both the need for benefits and how to obtain them.
*When it comes to benefits education, one size doesn’t fit all.

To be successful, employers need to be able to focus on running their businesses. Unproductive, unfocused, and unsatisfied employees can really distract business owners.

In terms of benefits, these employee distractions can come in the form of wasted time cruising the Internet for information and deals, trying to sort out advisors from scoundrels, and stressing over not being able to obtain adequate coverage. When an employer vets carriers, advisors, and benefits, offers a controlled environment where they can learn about and purchase these benefits, and, finally, makes it easy to obtain and maintain them, employee satisfaction is a natural outcome.

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