Balancing your annual benefits budget and setting benefits priorities are some of your most important tasks. Why go it alone?
More employers are getting their employees involved in the process of deciding which benefits to keep and which to ditch. Employees are 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, or BUG. 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.
Follow these do’s and don’ts to get the most from your BUG.
Building a BUG: 3 do’s
1. DO build a diverse team. To gain a diverse viewpoint, seek members of varying ages and lifestyles—from young singles to those raising families to those approaching retirement. Include hourly and salaried workers.
When you roll out new benefits changes, these BUG members can be powerful ambassadors. If workers have questions about the benefits or why you chose the final package, having representatives from throughout the organization will make it easier to provide good answers.
Don’t exclude opinionated, outspoken employees; they could become your biggest advocates.
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 to an HMO, eliminating dental insurance or decreasing subsidies for family coverage. Spell out the potential savings for each option.
By keeping the choices of solutions to a minimum, you’ll focus the conversation and avoid chasing pie-in-the-sky options.
3. DO encourage team members to solicit feedback from co-workers. These conversations will kick-start the rumor mill. So be prepared to quell gossip about draconian benefits cuts. Make sure BUG members have the information to address contentious issues.
BUGs beware: 3 don’ts
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. 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 BUG members as advocates. Convene them quarterly to discuss how well various benefits are working. That will give you a big leg up when you start making benefits decisions next year.
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