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Basic Employee Benefits Best Practices

No two companies’ benefit plans are identical, nor should they be. Benefit plans are as unique as the companies that create them and the employees for whom they provide financial security, health assurances and lifestyle perks.
There are, however, some best practices that can transcend all plans.

• Design a benefit plan that helps to achieve your goals and those of your employees.
When creating or redesigning a benefit plan, consider what you hope to achieve for the company and your employees. Do you want a plan that provides financial security or promotes wellness? If you aren’t certain, think about your existing employees as well as those you may hope to attract. What is most important to them?
Almost every employee probably wants health insurance and some sort of savings plan, but younger workers may also value education reimbursement while working parents may want childcare or flexible schedules.

If you aren’t sure what is most important to your employees, ask them. A thorough benefits survey can help clarify your employees’ values and correct misconceptions.

• Educate employees on their benefit options.
Benefit plans have little value if employees don’t participate in them. Take time to educate employees on the various benefit options your plan provides so they can make smart choices when enrolling in the plan. If possible, provide one-on-one opportunities with benefit experts who are capable of answering their personal questions.
When employees fully understand their benefits, they are more likely to use them to their fullest potential. Plus, employees will better appreciate the value of their benefits and how they contribute to their total compensation.

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• Use benefits as a recruiting tool.
When you’re competing for topnotch talent, compensation alone may not give your company the edge it needs. Use your benefit plan to enhance your company’s appeal. Incorporate plan features that target the type of employee you want to attract. For example, if you want to attract hardcharging employees who are focused on the long-term success of the company, consider initiating a profit-sharing plan that rewards employees based on the company’s performance. Highlight those aspects of your plan when interviewing job candidates, screening out those who are more concerned with their immediate gain than in contributing to the business’ bottom line.

• Initiate a wellness program to minimize health care costs.
With recent changes to federal health care regulations, employers are under more pressure than ever to provide health insurance for their employees, so you can bet most employers are looking for ways to reduce those pricey premiums.
Just as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, a well-designed wellness program can be an effective remedy for high health care costs. Promoting fitness and healthy lifestyle choices can help your employees prevent injuries and avoid serious illness down the road.

A wellness program doesn’t have to include an onsite health club or expensive gym memberships. It can be as simple and inexpensive as supporting your employees in a walk for charity, hosting a health fair or sponsoring a companywide weight-loss challenge.

• Reward retention.
The value in retaining critical employees is beyond measure. Not only can the cost of continued turnover do serious damage to your company’s bottom line, but maintaining your business’ institutional knowledge and a consistent point-of-contact for your customers is priceless. With this in mind, design benefit features to encourage longevity and reward retention. Provide options for every stage of your employees’ lifecycle, from the time they are hired to the time they retire. Recognize and reward employees’ tenure with benefit features that grow in value over time.

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• Maintain a constant commitment to benefits.
When things get tough, it is natural for employers to consider cutting employee benefits to reduce costs. Don’t automatically assume this is the most effective cost-cutting measure, because the fallout can be hazardous. Providing a sound benefit plan for your workforce, especially when times are tough, gives employees a sense of security and reminds them that you are still committed to them. As a result, they are more likely to remain committed to you and the company long after an economic upturn.

Too often benefit plans are a source of stress for employers. It doesn’t have to be that way. If employers adhere to a few tried-and-true best practices when designing their plans, they can offer a benefits package that provides employees long-term security, boosts morale and makes a powerful statement about the company’s commitment to its workforce.

JOHN ALLEN is president and COO of Houston-based G&A Partners.

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