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What Is An Employee Benefits Plan?

An employee benefits plan refers to compensation provided to employers in addition to regular wages or salaries. These benefits are designed to help attract and retain employees and, in some instances, protect their well-being.

Common employee benefits include:

  • Health insurance: Covers medical, dental, and vision care, and may extend to mental health services and prescription drugs.
  • Retirement plans: Examples include 401(k) plans, pensions, and other savings initiatives that help employees prepare for retirement.
  • Paid time off: Encompasses vacation, holidays, sick leave, and personal days, with some companies offering sabbaticals.
  • Life and disability insurance: Protects employees and their families in cases of unforeseen life or health changes.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAP): Provide counseling and support for personal or work-related challenges affecting mental and emotional well-being.

In the U.S., some employee benefits—for example Social Security and Medicare—are legally required. 

Any other benefits offered will be tailored according to organizational and employee needs.

Why Is An Employee Benefits Plan Important?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employee benefits for private industry workers averaged $12.77 per hour worked in December 2023. This works out to 29.6% of total compensation ($43.11 per hour).

Benefits plans are a significant cost to organizations and can make a real impact on workers’ lives, so getting them right is in everyone’s interest.

Employee benefits are important for:

  • Attracting and retaining talent: Competitive benefits packages make an organization more attractive to potential employees. They also help retain existing employees, reducing turnover and the associated costs of hiring and training new staff. 
  • Compliance: As mentioned above, some employee benefits are required by federal or state law.
  • Health and wellness support: Benefits such as mental health services and wellness programs can help support employees' overall health and well-being. This can lead to reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Tailoring benefits to meet the diverse needs of a varied workforce can foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace, which is increasingly important in a global market.

How To Develop An Employee Benefits Plan

1. Assess needs and preferences

As with all business X employee initiatives, a good place to start is with the wants and needs of both.

  • Analyze benefit utilization data: Asses enrollment numbers and usage rates of different benefits and request regular utilization reports from benefits providers. 
  • Conduct surveys: Gather feedback from current and potential employees to understand what benefits are most valued.
  • Analyze workforce demographics: Consider the needs of your workforce, including age, lifestyle, and family status, to tailor your benefits package.
  • Benchmark against industry standards: Research the industry and benchmark your benefits package with industry standards and competitors.
  • Assess other HR metrics such as turnover, engagement, and absenteeism.
Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

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2. Define objectives

Determine what you want to achieve with your benefits package, such as attracting talent, improving retention, or enhancing employee well-being and productivity.

3. Budget planning

Establish a budget for your benefits package. Consider the total costs, including employer and employee contributions, and how these expenses will fit into your overall payroll budget.

We’ve seen that the average is 29.6% of total compensation, but market research will come in handy here.

4. Research and select benefits

  • Core benefits: Start with core benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings plans, and paid time off.
  • Additional benefits: Consider adding other benefits based on employee feedback and your objectives, like dental and vision insurance, life insurance, flexible working hours, wellness programs, and professional development opportunities.
  • Legal requirements: Ensure that your benefits package complies with all local, state, and federal laws.

5. Choose providers

Obtain quotes from several providers for each benefit. Consider factors like cost, coverage options, provider networks, and customer service.

It also pays to evaluate the administrative requirements and support each provider offers.

6. Design the enrollment process

Decide on the enrollment period and how employees will choose their benefits. Consider using a benefits administration platform or software to simplify the process.

7. Communicate with employees

Make an employee benefits communication plan to communicate the details of the benefits package to all employees..

This will include information on what benefits are available, how they can enroll, and any costs associated with each option.

It’s also recommended to offer sessions and materials to help employees understand and make the most of their benefits.

8. Implement the benefits package

Work with your chosen providers to implement the benefits. Ensure all administrative processes are in place for enrollment, changes, and claims.

9. Monitor and evaluate

Regularly review the benefits package to assess its effectiveness and employee satisfaction and keep an eye out for any changes in laws and regulations that could affect your benefits.

10. Adjust as Needed

Be prepared to make adjustments to the benefits package based on feedback, changes in your workforce, and financial considerations.

Best Practices For Designing Your Employee Benefits Plan

Your employee benefits package will evolve to suit the changing needs of your business and workers. 

Here are some best practices to help you create an effective benefits plan.

Make benefits inclusive

Making employee benefits inclusive involves designing and offering a benefits package that caters to the diverse needs of all employees.

  • Diverse employee input: Actively seek input from employees of various ages, genders, ethnicities, and other backgrounds to understand different needs and preferences.
  • Cultural competence in benefits administration: Ensure that those administering benefits are trained in cultural competence to effectively support all employees.

Make personalization easy 

Personalizing employee benefits can greatly enhance their value and appeal to a diverse workforce. Here are ways employers can make benefits personalization easy and effective:

  • Flexible benefits plans: Implement a flexible benefits plan that allows employees to choose from a variety of options. This can include a 'cafeteria-style’ plan where employees allocate a set amount of benefit dollars to the options they prefer.
  • User-friendly technology platforms: Utilize technology such as benefits administration software that allows employees to easily view, select, and change their benefits. Ensure these platforms are intuitive, accessible, and provide clear information about each option.

Communicate about benefits regularly 

Regular communication about employee benefits is crucial for ensuring that employees are aware of and understand the benefits available to them.

  • Welcome kits for new employees: Provide comprehensive benefits information in welcome kits for new hires. This should include detailed descriptions of all benefits, how to enroll, and who to contact for questions.
  • Regular email updates: Send periodic emails updating employees on any changes or additions to the benefits package, reminders about enrollment periods, and tips on how to make the most of their benefits.
  • Intranet or employee portal: Maintain an up-to-date section on the company intranet or employee portal where all benefits information is readily available, including FAQs, contact information for benefits providers, and instructional videos.

Measure and monitor benefits usage 

You can measure and monitor the usage of employee benefits effectively through various methods:

  • Data analysis and reporting: Utilize your benefits/compensation management software to track enrollment numbers and usage rates of different benefits. Regularly reviewing this data can provide insights into which benefits are most and least popular.
  • Utilization reports from vendors: Request regular utilization reports from benefits providers. These reports often include detailed statistics on how employees are using their benefits, such as claims data for health insurance or participation rates in retirement plans.
  • Cost analysis: Monitor the costs associated with each benefit. Comparing the costs to the utilization and perceived value can help determine the return on investment (ROI) of each benefit.

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By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.