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A tough economy means tough decisions for HR: Which benefits do we offer and which should we stop? At the same time, we all know that an organization’s benefits play an enormous role in attracting and retaining valuable employees.

So we seek a happy medium: We transfer some benefits costs—and the decision-making about them—to employees. That saves our organizations money, and it also frees up time for HR to spend on value-added activities such as staffing, organizational development, performance management and recruiting—rather than on benefits administration.

It is possible for an organization to keep or even add employee benefits while tightening its belt and saying no to labor-intensive new products. How?

Offer more voluntary benefits, which require little to no administration by HR and are paid for entirely by employees who choose to accept them. By working closely with your insurance carriers, you can identify voluntary benefits opportunities in dental, life, disability, long-term care and other insurance.

Here are seven strategies for successfully adding or retaining these popular voluntary benefits:

1. Choose a provider that offers decision-support tools,
such as a web site that can compare the coverage an employee has today with what he or she could get from adding coverage—and how much it would cost. Ask your provider to make an online calculator available to help employees determine how much coverage they need and can afford.

2. Offer voluntary benefits during an off-cycle enrollment period. You’ll get more takers when employees don’t have to focus on making complicated decisions about their medical and retirement benefits. If possible, offer enrollment in one voluntary benefit at a time.

3. Communicate with employees of different age groups with messages targeted toward their life stages. Young singles, for instance, have different needs for their life insurance than working parents.

4. Play up the reasons why employees get a good deal if they buy insurance through your organization rather than on their own. Tout the lower group rate and the access employees have to online decision-making tools.

5. Offer to deduct the premiums from employees’ paychecks. This makes it convenient for the employees and reinforces the notion that this is an employee benefit, not something the workers have to deal with on their own.

6. Arrange for benefits that cover the employee’s dependents as well as the employee.

7. Allow for online enrollment.
The convenience alone may spur greater participation.

Employees like to buy insurance through their employers, especially when they can choose which ones they need and which ones they can live without. They appreciate that their employers have chosen and vetted the insurance provider, arranged for group discounts and will deduct premiums directly from their paychecks.

It’s safe to say that everyone would prefer to have more benefits paid by the employer, but in tight times, that’s not always possible.

Bottom line: Just offering voluntary benefits leaves employees with the impression that it’s convenient to get them through their employers. The opportunity to purchase them actually nets out as a positive because employees appreciate being able to conveniently buy competitive coverage.
James Gemus is VP of Life Product Management for Prudential’s Group Insurance. Contact him at James.Gemus@prudential.com.

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