In today’s benefits world—where a company’s workforce can span three distinct generations—it’s no surprise that your core benefits menu isn’t going to please everyone all of the time, or even some of the time. According to a 2015 study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, 30 percent of workers are only somewhat satisfied with the benefits offered by their current employer, and 20 percent are not satisfied.
If you’re like 80% of employers,* you already enrich your core benefits offerings with an assortment of voluntary benefits. Voluntary benefits have supplemented core benefits in one way or another since the 1960s. When deployed successfully, they can wield tremendous power, single-handedly improving employee satisfaction, increasing your employee value proposition (EVP), and distinguishing your company among its competitors for the best and brightest employees.
But unfortunately, in most companies today, voluntary benefits remain misunderstood, are frequently forgotten, and go largely unused. With all that voluntary benefits have to offer—to your company and your employees—isn’t it time to make them part of your employee value proposition?
They’re voluntary for some, essential to others
Voluntary benefits comprise a wide range of services and programs that are offered through the employer, but typically paid for by the employee. Ideally, employers work with carriers to design voluntary benefit plans that pick up where core benefits leave off, offering additional protection or a service that’s a priority for all or a specific segment of your workforce. Where voluntary benefits are concerned, one size will not often fit all.
Typically, voluntary benefits fall into one of two categories: traditional and non-traditional. Traditional voluntary benefits support health and wellness, including medical and financial health: life insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, critical illness coverage, accident or injury policies, and the like. Non-traditional voluntary benefits comprise convenience products—and may be things employees can purchase as a consumer—such as insurance for their home, pet, and automobile, or identity theft coverage. Ideally, employers select these programs and services because they’re ones that will resonate with different populations within your workforce.
To get a handle on the benefits that are most important to your employees, you have several options. Industry research and your knowledge of your workforce can help you align products. And, if you have the resources, you can survey your employees or even run focus groups with them to find out what’s important to them. The most effective voluntary benefits programs are those that appeal to the different segments of a company’s workforce demographics, including income level, age, and marital status.
Although employees pick up the tab for voluntary benefits, they’re attractive for many reasons—reasons that need to be promoted more regularly:
- Value—Employers often can negotiate a group rate that’s less than employees would pay if they purchased the benefit on their own.
- Convenience—Employees can pay for these benefits through payroll deduction, and select what’s best for them from already-vetted options in one place.
- Flexibility—Voluntary benefits often include programs and services that you can choose if and when you need them, such as educational, legal services, and the many services offered through an employee assistance program.
Increase communication to increase value of voluntary benefits
However, it doesn’t matter how hard you work to customize voluntary benefit plans for your workforce if your employees don’t know they’re available to them when they need them. Voluntary benefits rarely get the attention and promotion of core offerings, despite their value. To enhance their value and get better engagement, voluntary benefits should be communicated year-round, and included in new hire and recruitment efforts. In addition to promoting the value, convenience and flexibility of voluntary benefits, explain them in ways your employees can understand. That often means sharing examples of how various employees may use them and who will get the most value from each benefit.
This is a simple truth: Used benefits are valued benefits. Communicate regularly with your employees about voluntary benefits to ensure they’re top of mind—and get used when employees need them.
For more information on how to communicate year-round, see our white paper, Creating Results with Benefits Communication and listen to our webinar, Creating Results: Three steps to success with benefits communication.
* Voluntary Benefits and Services Survey: A Fresh Look at Enriching Core Benefit Plans, Towers Watson, 2013