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Small Business Tips for Building Competitive Benefits Programs
Health coverage might become less of a differentiator

By Stephen Miller  7/22/2010

Only about one-third of small business workers—those at organizations with fewer than 500 employees—are "very satisfied" with their benefits offerings, and only about half are "very satisfied" with their current job, according to the small business supplement to MetLife’s 8th Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study.

“As the U.S. economy emerges from recession, there are big expectations for small businesses to provide the engine that will drive the American economy,” said Scott Beck, vice president of the broker and consultant strategies group at MetLife, a provider of insurance and financial services. “Retaining top talent and increasing employee job satisfaction are two strategies that may help small business employers face this challenge successfully."

According to survey findings, 43 percent of all employees say that benefits are a very important reason why they remain with their employers. But that number drops to 31 percent for employees at smaller companies.

While health care legislation has grabbed the attention of small business owners and brokers, it is important to recognize that health coverage may become less of a differentiator when it comes to hiring, retaining and motivating workers," added Beck. "Non-medical benefits—like dental, disability, life insurance—and voluntary offerings will likely play an increasingly significant role in driving employee loyalty, retention and engagement.”

MetLife's report, Building a Better Benefits Program Without Breaking the Budget: Five Practical Steps Every Small Business Should Consider, outlines steps that small business owners can take to strengthen their non-medical benefits program and optimize benefits value. These include:

Manage costs for dental, disability and life insurance while increasing employee loyalty. Many small business owners underestimate the value that their employees place on non-medical benefits like dental, disability and life insurance. While 59 percent of small business employees say these benefits contribute to their feelings of employer loyalty, only 34 percent of employers recognize this.

Employers can control their budgets while still offering benefits that drive loyalty. The cost of dental benefits, for example, can be managed more effectively by:

• Ensuring that plan design reflects current, research-based treatment protocols.

• Reducing options that are underutilized and undervalued by employees.

• Focusing on preventative services.

Deliver budget-conscious wellness programs to aid productivity and help control medical costs. While 61 percent of large employers offer wellness programs, just 22 percent of small companies offer these programs. However, 67 percent of small businesses believe that wellness programs are effective at reducing medical costs. Low-cost options to help create a culture of health and control long-term expenses include:

Leveraging local health organizations and associations that can help to educate employees on healthy behaviors.

• Providing convenient access and time off to participate in wellness programs like weight loss, exercise and smoking cessation.

Help employees become financially secure and support productivity goals at the same time. About one in five small business employees admits that in the previous 12 months he or she took unexpected time off to deal with a financial problem or spent more time than he or she should at work to deal with personal financial issues. Moreover, 64 percent of small businesses believe strongly that employees’ productivity is impacted when they are worried about personal financial matters. Small businesses can consider:

• Tapping into local financial institutions and services to provide retirement and/or financial planning options during work hours.

• Providing access to web-based financial resources for their employees.

Simplify benefits communications for greater benefits effectiveness. Only one in five small business employees believes that his or her employer’s benefits communications educate employees effectively about their benefits programs. Best practices for benefits communication include:

Using multiple channels and removing jargon.

Making messages relevant to key life events or life stages (see How to Develop an Effective Benefits Communication Strategy).

In addition, employers can beta-test communications to listen and learn from their employees prior to launching a full communication campaign.

Leverage small business workplace advantages for increased worker loyalty. The MetLife study found a loyalty gap in that nearly two-thirds of small businesses feel “very loyal” toward their employees but only about one-third of employees feel that their employers have that strong sense of loyalty. Small businesses can reduce this gap by:

Fostering an environment where work/life balance, which garners employee loyalty, is the norm (See SHRM Urges Employers to Embrace Workplace Flexibility).

The 8th Annual MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2009. The employer survey was based on 1,503 interviews with benefits decision-makers at companies with staff sizes of at least two employees. The employee survey was based on 1,305 interviews with full-time employees age 21 and over at companies with at least two employees. Of the interviews, more than 900 took place with decision-makers at companies with fewer than 500 employees, and more than 500 interviews took place with employees who work for these small businesses.

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

SHRM Urges Employers to Embrace Workplace Flexibility, HR News, July 2010

Controlling Health Costs: Success Tips Shared, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2010

Design Levers Used to Promote Healthy, Cost-Effective Behaviors, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, June 2010

How to Develop an Effective Benefits Communication Strategy, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2009

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