Voluntary Benefits: The Upside of Giving Employees a Choice

July 31, 2017

Many employers rely on a robust benefit package to attract and retain employees. The challenge is determining which benefits will appeal to a diverse employee base.

The best solution for many employers is customization. A benefits package that goes beyond the usual medical, dental and vision insurance can include a selection of voluntary benefits. According to findings in MetLife’s 15th annual U.S. Employee Benefits Trends Study, gone are the days of “one-size-fits-all” benefits programs.

Voluntary benefits are products offered by employers to employees at group rates. Employees pay all or part of the costs. These optional products cover a wide range of interests and can include life and disability insurance, pet coverage or financial counseling.

A big advantage for employers is that it’s relatively simple to offer voluntary benefit programs. Once an employer chooses a vendor, the vendor handles the rest, including claims, forms, insurance cards and customer service. Premiums are taken out of employees’ paychecks on a pre-tax basis for most benefits.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers some cautions. It’s important employers ensure the benefits offer a tangible value to employees. For instance, group home and auto insurance may sound like a good idea, but may not provide better prices than employee-purchased policies because the policies would still have to be underwritten.

The main advantage is that employees can choose the voluntary benefits that best fit their lifestyle at any particular time. Benefits appealing to single employees may not be optimal after they get married, have children or get close to retirement.

Almost three-fourths of the employees surveyed by MetLife said that being able to customize their benefits was an important consideration when deciding to take a job. Experts say this attitude is not surprising given the many personalized choices available today, from how our coffee is made to the vast number of apps we can select from for our smart phones.

So, what benefit options do employees want? The MetLife study showed that 36 percent of the employees were most interested in wellness benefits and financial planning.

Wellness Health Benefits

A well-run wellness program can improve employees’ health and reduce health care costs. Doctors Richard Milani and Carl Lavie conducted a study showing that for every dollar invested in a wellness program, $6 were saved in health care costs.

Low-cost passes to a local gym can be a nice perk. However, experts caution that for wellness benefits to truly have a positive impact, they must be part of a comprehensive, accessible plan that is communicated clearly to all employees. Wellness plans also should focus on more than physical fitness and weight loss. Harvard Business Review reports that depression and stress can be major sources of lost job productivity and are worth addressing.

Financial Wellness

Employees who are worried about their financial situation are usually stressed out on the job as well.

According to SHRM’s Financial Wellness in the Workplace Survey, 38 percent of human resource professionals say their employees have greater financial challenges now than in the early part of the 2007 recession. These HR professionals also felt that personal financial challenges affected seven out of 10 employees’ job performance.

Employer-sponsored financial wellness benefits can include tools to help employees better handle their finances. Benefits include budgeting software, financial education programs and company-matched savings plans. Employers could also offer services to help employees save money, such as discount purchasing programs; access to a credit union; short-term loans; or financial assistance for college expenses.

Other Popular Benefits

Some voluntary plans focus on lifestyle choices. Employers can help employees balance work lives with personal lives through services such as onsite daycare, subsidized eldercare, legal support or adoption assistance.

Our voluntary benefits experts can help you evaluate your options and show you how to create a plan that gets your employees excited, boosts productivity and differentiates your program.