Eight steps to a successful voluntary benefits program

Voluntary Benefits Team

Voluntary products have always been an important component of an employee benefits portfolio. But a perfect storm is brewing and moving voluntary benefits closer to the center of a comprehensive benefits strategy. Key drivers include:

  • The continuing rise in medical and health insurance costs.
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its focus on increasing consumerism in both medical care and insurance coverage.
  • The varied benefit needs of multi-generational employees.

Employers are coming to understand that voluntary products will help reduce and control health and welfare benefit costs, meet the needs of their existing workforce and help attract and retain quality employees. While interest in voluntary products is rising, and employers are designing benefit portfolios to include them, their work is essentially wasted if new product offerings aren’t effectively communicated to the workforce. A recent study by MetLife1 found that a third of employees are not actively engaged in their annual benefit plan enrollment, even when employers are communicating with them. To encourage workforce engagement in benefits, especially if a program is incorporating voluntary products, employers need a plan. These eight steps can help you achieve a successful voluntary benefits program:

  1. Offer voluntary benefits based on what you know about your employees.
    What kind of benefits do your employees want and need? Needs can arise from workforce demographics, life events, or gaps in your core coverage that cause plan participants to experience significant out-of-pocket financial risk. Payroll services administrator ADP2suggests surveying your workforce to determine their preferences. Then add voluntary products to your core plan to address those needs. After that, increase engagement in your benefits plan through frequent communication (more on that in a minute). A survey of employees in the MetLife study mentioned earlier found that engaged employees are more than twice as likely to agree that their employers offer a range of benefits that meet their personal and household needs.
  2. Offer voluntary benefits based on what you know about your competitors.
    Voluntary benefits can help differentiate your organization among your competitors. Begin by benchmarking the benefits offered by other employers in your industry and geographic region. This process will help you compete for and retain quality employees. Your voluntary benefits should fall in line with those offered by your competitors or even be enhanced to allow you to hire the top talent in your industry and get a leg up on your competitors.
  3. Management buy-in and commitment is critical.
    Buy-in from the top of your organization will go a long way to ensure that the voluntary benefits program you provide is considered by employees in light of their own needs and personal situations. Your executives, department heads and line supervisors can be great advocates for your benefits package. Help your managers understand the value of your voluntary benefits and encourage them to spread the word. Without buy-in from the top, a voluntary program will likely be doomed from the start.
  4. Pre-rollout planning is essential.
    Planning sets the stage for a successful voluntary program roll-out. This process includes:

    • Choosing the right carrier partners.
    • Designing a multi-year plan of voluntary benefits with a maximum of two or three products offered in any single year.
    • Deciding when to offer benefits during the year, either at your regular open enrollment or
      off-cycle.

    Once decisions are made, develop a formal implementation plan that identifies the parties involved in the rollout (the benefits broker/consultant, carriers, the enrollment company, third party administrator, etc.). The plan should include dates for each step in the rollout and assign accountability. Conduct a pre-rollout logistics meeting or conference call with all parties involved.
    Pre-planning will help you deal with challenges, such as employees who require benefits information in a language other than English or translation services during educational or enrollment meetings. Be sure to develop a timeline. Set expectations for each party and have everyone sign your implementation plan.

  5. Facilitate ease of enrollment with channel of choice options.
    Incorporate multiple enrollment channels to cater to the needs and tastes of your workforce, especially if it is multi-generational. Advances in technology have created enrollment platforms to suit just about any demographic. Some employees may be more comfortable enrolling through a call center while others will prefer to use websites or smart phone options. Do what you can to accommodate everyone; they’ll respond with better engagement.
  6. Before you attempt to enroll employees, educate them.
    Educational group meetings and one-on-one counseling sessions are vital to a successful voluntary program roll-out. During a group meeting is where employees usually get their first glimpse of voluntary products and that setting allows them to ask questions before enrollment is under way. One-on-one sessions with voluntary product counselors can help employees understand how certain products will fit their personal needs.
  7. Repeat yourself.
    The first rule of a benefit program roll-out: communicate often. The second rule: keep it simple. The MetLife study found that employee engagement increased when employers communicate about benefits throughout the year. More than 40% of respondents who were engaged in annual enrollment said their employers had communicated about their programs throughout the year. Employees typically require at least three communication touch points during a voluntary benefits roll-out because they need time to review plan information and process it. In addition to one-on-one sessions and group meetings, send a benefit announcement letter from your CEO or president. Provide personalized benefits booklets. Hang posters and hand out flyers. Include notices with payroll. Send emails. Ask your broker or carrier to host a webcast.
  8. Conduct a post-enrollment follow-up.
    Employee enrollment information must be communicated quickly to carriers to ensure the underwriting process is started. Once underwriting is done, deduction reports must be generated and submitted to the employer and payroll provider. Conduct a post-enrollment follow-up meeting to assess what worked in your program and what didn’t work and use the information to plan for future strategies. A final assessment and rating of the carrier, enrollment counselors, and the whole process should also be done. And remember to survey employees for their feedback, because soliciting the workforce’s opinion about benefits can result in, you guessed it, more engaged employees.

Following the steps outlined above will help you create a benefits strategy that addresses the needs of your employees and successfully implements voluntary benefits into your portfolio.

1MetLife’s 11th Annual Study of Employee Enrollment Trends
2 ADP’s Seven Steps to a More Successful Open Enrollment


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©2015 Corporate Synergies Group, LLC. No part of this material may be republished or distributed without prior written consent.