An employee benefits package is a vital tool for companies to attract and retain talented employees. It can also improve workforce health and engagement. But with four generations of people in today’s labor force, putting together a well-crafted plan that meets the needs of all employees can be a challenge.
With the cost of employee benefits rising, employers need to make decisions about their employee benefits package. A plan that does not engage employees or meet their needs will result in low participation. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to making sure your plan has the right offerings: ask your employees what type of benefits they want. The key elements of this approach are what you ask about and how you ask.
What to ask workers about your employee benefits package
Simply asking employees, “What do you want?” is not enough because this question will not provide quality information to put together an effective plan. Most employees will respond with the basics, (medical care, a retirement plan, dental, vision, etc.), while others will get more specific, such as senior care, child care vouchers, fertility benefits, education assistance, and so forth. Another problem is many employees don’t have enough information about the benefits currently available, so they may not know what to ask for.
The solution is to ask targeted, personal questions that provide the information you need to make informed decisions about what to include in your plan. For example, ask questions that encourage employees to:
- Describe the circumstances of their lives that relate to employee benefits
- Provide data about how they use your benefits plan
- Identify areas of need that are not currently offered in the plan
Employees may not be able to identify specific benefits. However, having them describe areas of need in their lives allows you to understand what’s important to each demographic. Then, with that knowledge, you can offer a range of benefits that meets their needs.
How to ask employee benefits package questions
Before we get to the questions themselves, its important to remember that healthcare information is very personal and much of it is protected under HIPAA. You must tread carefully or else risk getting non-responses, or possible legal action if your questions cross a line.
To get direct feedback from your workforce on how people view your employee benefits package, use surveys, focus groups and meetings.
Online surveys are the most effective approach for several reasons. They can be easily set up online, and they make it easier to track and analyze results. Most important, online surveys allow employees to be anonymous.
Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about personal and family health issues in front of others. Employees are usually willing to ask questions about benefits and plan administration in open meetings. But they’re not likely to provide the personal information you need to make informed decisions about what types of benefits people want. Anonymous surveys allow employees to safely provide the feedback you need to develop an effective employee benefits package.
Focus groups tend to work best when addressing a few specific issues, such as the enrollment process or how the company could communicate plan offerings more effectively. These should be led by HR personnel who are involved in plan administration.
Meetings can be company-wide, departmental or by teams. Having at least one member of each age-group demographic in the meetings allows you to see the variety of different needs within your workforce. It also gives employees a better understanding of why certain benefits are offered and what their colleagues are thinking about in terms of benefits.
8 questions to ask when building a benefits plan
Here are eight questions to ask that can help you make smart decisions about your employee benefits package.
1. How often did you see your primary care doctor this year?
This question gives you a picture of the overall health of your workforce. For example, if employees have frequent visits to primary care doctors it may indicate the need for preventive care or health improvement programs. Supplementary questions about visits to medical specialists and the reasons for those visits can provide insight into insurance needs that are not being met under your current plan.
2. Which insurance plan are you enrolled in?
This question can shed light on whether cost or coverage is the bigger issue for them. High-deductible plans usually have lower premiums, but they may also offer less coverage. Lower-deductible plans tend to have higher premiums but may offer a broader range of coverage. A good follow-up question is, “How well did the plan you selected meet your needs?”
3. What are your expected healthcare needs in the coming year?
This helps to determine what employees need beyond basic primary care medical services. For example,
- Is the employee planning to have a child?
- Do the kids need braces?
- Is someone looking at a major surgery?
- Does an aging parent require long-term care?
When you know the answers to these questions, you can point employees toward the appropriate healthcare, dental, or caregiving plan. Dependent Care Assistance Plans are great for those with young children or who are caring for elderly parents. Flexible Spending Accounts, Health Reimbursement Arrangements, and HSAs are excellent benefits for covering out-of-pocket healthcare costs.
4. Have you enrolled in any of our plan’s supplementary benefits?
These are benefits that go beyond your core offerings of medical, dental, vision and retirement. They can include life insurance, pet insurance, gym memberships, paid maternity leave, student loan assistance, and more. This question will identify which supplementary benefits are being used and which you can drop due to lack of interest. You may also want to ask about supplementary benefits not in your plan that employees would like to have.
5. What are your biggest expenses beyond the basic cost of living?
Benefits are a way of showing employees you care about their well-being. The wages you pay employees should be enough to provide for daily living expenses. But many workers have additional expenses, such as paying off student loans or care for a special needs child. Understanding these needs can identify opportunities to support employees in ways that are very meaningful to them.
6. How would you rate our company’s current benefits plan?
List all the different benefits you offer and have boxes rated 1 – 5 employees can check off. Be sure to include an N/A option for plans employees haven’t enrolled in. Also, leave a space for employee comments or questions.
7. How well do you understand each benefit offered?
Many employees don’t take full advantage of benefit plans because they find them confusing and hard to understand. Again, have boxes employees can check to rank their level of comprehension, as well as room for comments and questions.
8. How well did we do with the enrollment process?
Many employees find open enrollment confusing due to election time frames, benefit choices, amount of information, etc. After each enrollment period, ask questions like:
- Are you satisfied with the choices you made during open enrollment?
- Did you have time and information to make good decisions about your benefits?
- What did you find difficult about the enrollment process?
- What other information could we have provided to make open enrollment easier?
- Which benefits would you like to see added for next year’s plan?
You work hard to create an employee benefits package that meets the needs of your employees and your business. Asking the right questions in advance greatly increases your chances of success.