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Form a benefits users group to help make better decisions

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in HR Management,Human Resources

Balancing the annual benefits budget is one of your most important tasks. Why go it alone?

Get employees involved in the process of deciding which benefits to keep and which to ditch. They’re the ones who can truly tell you which perks are worth investing in and which you can do without.

The right kind of employee input can increase benefits participation, raise satisfaction levels and make it easier to accept necessary cutbacks.

Your best bet for engaging employees: Convene a team of workers to serve as a benefits users group. Such a group can serve as a sounding board for employee concerns, and help you make benefits choices that will be widely accepted by other employees.

“Including employees helps to shape the thinking process and establish the priorities,” says Dave Johnston, principal with Johnston HR Consulting, a communications firm.

Follow this list of do’s and don’ts to achieve the maximum return from your benefits users group.

3 things to do

1. DO build a diverse team. Extend the invitation to employees from across the company. To gain diverse viewpoints, seek members of varying ages and lifestyles—for example young singles, those raising families and those approaching retirement. Include both hourly and salaried workers.

Team members can be powerful ambassadors once you roll out your benefits package to the employee population at large. Workers will have questions about benefits and how you chose the final package. Having representatives from throughout the organization will make it easier to provide good answers.

As tempting as it may be, don’t exclude opinionated, outspoken employees. They could become your biggest advocates. “Engage the whiners and complainers, because once they understand the problem, they’re less likely to criticize the solution,” Johnston recommends.

2. DO focus on solutions, not open-ended debate. Outline the factors on which decisions must be based: “We need to cut annual benefits spending by 10%.” Then explain the various cost drivers.

Next, present a short menu of possible solutions—perhaps switching from a PPO to an HMO, eliminating dental insurance or decreasing subsidies for family health coverage. Spell out the potential savings for each option.

By keeping the choice of solutions short, you’ll focus the conversation and avoid chasing pie-in-the-sky options that just aren’t practical.

3. DO encourage team members to solicit feedback from co-workers. As you go through the process, have them gather wider input.

Note: These conversations kick-start the rumor mill. Be prepared to quell rumors about draconian benefits cuts. Make sure team members have the information to address contentious issues.

3 things to avoid

1. DON’T exclude spouses and significant others. Because benefits decisions impact the entire family, invite selected family members to participate in the users group.

2. DON’T provide too much cost detail. Offering specifics about the increasing cost of chronic illnesses, major claims or retiree benefits may cause a backlash. Provide just enough information so employees can understand the problem, but not enough so they link cost increases to one individual or a group of employees.

3. DON’T shut down the pipeline. Once you’ve made benefits decisions, engage user group members as advocates. Convene the team quarterly to discuss how well various benefits are working and track results. That will give you a big leg-up when you start making benefits decisions next year.

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