There is a range of benefits you can offer to your employees. Different firms create different bundles of benefits, and the range of options is pretty broad.
Some firms create a standard package for every employee. Some allow employees to pick and choose from a variety of benefits, putting together their own package on an employee-by-employee basis.
Benefits include traditional offerings like health, dental, vision, short- and long-term disability, and life insurance as well as retirement options like 401(K) plans and other opportunities to defer income. Some firms offer flexible spending accounts, and some provide health savings accounts. There are firms with creative benefits ranging from paid parking to carpool and bicycle-commuting reimbursements to allocations of time for flex time, family leave, and vacation packages of different varieties.
Some firms have the purchasing power to negotiate better deals than others based on the number of employees involved. Some firms have opportunities to purchase benefits through membership associations, allowing them to buy benefits usually only available to larger entities. Some firms are stuck with very limited choices.
Which employee benefits should you offer? Which benefits make a difference to your employees? Which benefits help you retain employees and keep them happy and productive?
Some will argue that younger employees care more about benefits like vacation time and less about retirement-related benefits like 401(K) matching. Some will argue that a more mature team cares more about health insurance and provisions in retirement plans that allow for loans for a kid’s college tuition. Different employees care deeply about different benefits.
It’s confusing when you try to read your employees’ minds and determine what matters to them. You’re likely to fail.
Thankfully, you don’t have to read their minds. There’s a solution at hand.
Stop worrying about what benefits they want and start asking them. Talk to your people about benefits and find out what they’re thinking. That’s the best way to make sure you’re offering a decent package that has the desired impact.
Sit down with your people and find out what their priorities are and tailor the benefits to meet the needs of the group. You’ll likely find that your people think about benefits differently than you do. That’s important to know.
At the outset of your discussion, make it clear that changing benefits is complicated. Let them know that changes can take a year as you cycle though the expiration of old plans. Let them know that tax laws affect the choices you can make and that your budget isn’t unlimited. Don’t turn the session into a shopping trip: keep it on a brainstorming level rather than allowing it to turn into a decision-making session. Don’t make any promises.
You’ll start to learn what matters to your people. Don’t argue with them; don’t explain why it’s important to plan for retirement or how critical it is to be protected from catastrophic health issues. Just listen to your people and find out what they’re thinking and how they prioritize their needs.
Once you know what matters to them, you can start the process of shifting your benefits to meet their needs. You won’t ever find affordable benefits that precisely meet the needs of every employee, but you can start and move in that direction.
As your benefits more closely match the needs of your employees, you’ll achieve the goals of increased productivity and higher employee retention. Expect a slow process with incremental change. You’ll move your purchasing in the right direction.
Don’t assume that you’ll get your benefits exactly right at some point and you’ll be finished with this issue. That’s not the nature of the game. You’ll be forever tweaking benefits. Your workforce will change. They may age, and their concerns may change. Over time, you may hire different types of people, and their needs may be different from earlier employees. Keep checking in and measuring the mood of the group. Each year, you’ll make a few more changes and stay current with the needs of your group.