As benefits expand, employers need to properly vet providers and manage programs

Authored by Nicole Olszyk

One of the biggest trends in employee benefits is for employers to be much more involved in an employee’s life than ever before. Although many employees like to keep a strict divide between work and life the two are becoming interdependent; many employees expect more help from their employer in a variety of ways. 

Where traditionally employers may have offered health insurance, tuition assistance or childcare assistance, the list of monetary benefits has expanded to include options such as pet insurance, infertility education and services, diabetes care, or repayment of student loans. In addition, employers are increasingly offering assistance to employees to help them navigate the myriad number of choices they face if they want to use any given benefit. 

Lifestyle accounts

Employers who become more innovative in the types of benefits they offer get an added benefit themselves – their employees will then be more likely to share with their network the ways their employers are creatively offering benefits to help them navigate life. This word-of-mouth marketing, in turn, can aid in recruitment of new employees. 

A new and up and coming niche benefit right now is a lifestyle account: employers provide a taxable sum of money to employees intended for a significant lifestyle change, such as a down payment on a house, or a wedding, or a vacation. The benefit is designed to meet a wide variety of needs for employees at different phases of life, but to be used specifically as a lifestyle enhancement, not to pay for ordinary expenses. 

Vetting service providers

An employer may offer a service to help employees choose a daycare provider or senior care for an elderly parent. Health benefits may also include support options for mental health, such as real-time connectivity to education and help. Today, employers may even offer specific programs to guide employees through professional development both in and out of the workplace. 

A challenge to employers who are trying to go above and beyond to expand their benefits is properly vetting providers or companies that support niche benefits. Companies offering unique benefits or new types of platforms for managing benefits are rushing into a market that also features benefits providers with established records. An employer must discern if a particular provider is a right fit for their employees. Employers should consider getting references from other companies that use a provider of a particular benefit or setting up a pilot program with a small number of employees before establishing a new benefit for all employees.

Proper management of benefits

When considering any new benefits, employers must properly manage it. This includes monitoring performance metrics and ROI, measuring how many people are using the benefit, and performing internal surveys of users to see what their experience was like. As benefits packages expand and the back office management of eligibility, billing and data management becomes more complex, this can turn into an opportunity for the employer to work with an external benefits administration partner; they can help an employer provide better benefits without getting bogged down in the details.

Employers also need a communication strategy for their employee benefits, with a cadence of regular benefits information released to employees beyond what is made available during the open enrollment period. This will better ensure that employees are aware of the range of benefits they can tap into at any point of the year, or as their life situations changes.

The starting point for any review of existing and possible new benefits is assessing your workforce and identifying the items that are getting in the way of employees doing their job successfully. You don’t want to provide benefits just because they are trendy. You want benefits that improve employees’ work/life relationship. If a particular benefit is not performing the way you want it to, reassess and offer a new option that has more value to employees and the organization.