BY TIM MINARD
What’s the difference between a good benefits program and a great one? That’s a critical question—and one that’s been addressed every year for the past 10 years by an independent panel of benefits experts who’ve been commissioned to shine a spotlight on programs they deem are the best.
The Principal sponsors the effort which recognizes small to medium-sized organizations that excel at helping employees build their financial futures through excellent benefits programs. The winners are called The Principal 10 Best Companies for Employee Financial Security.
What the judges learn as they evaluate the entrants—and what we at The Principal learn from studying the winners—could help you strengthen your client relationships and make your clients’ benefits programs more effective. You can also solidify relationships with your best clients—and potentially get national recognition—by nominating a client for the 2012 program.
The companies that offer the best benefits programs generally also have strong relationships with benefits financial professionals. “Our broker is a critical part of our process—when we plan, when we create our strategies, whether it’s wellness or how to design our benefit plan. And he’s been a key part of our communications for our staff,” says Renee Christoffer, senior vice president of administration at Veridian Credit Union, one of The Principal 10 Best Companies in 2011.
Today’s benefits financial professionals increasingly focus on employee education as a way to help their clients get the most out of their investments in benefits. Many financial professionals, for instance, offer targeted retirement education to different employee groups—either on their own or by teaming with retirement plan service providers.
Often, one-on-one assistance is made available—a tactic that we’ve seen proven to boost retirement plan participation and deferrals.
The winners believe long-term relationships with their benefits financial professionals bring even greater value. “We have long-standing relationships with our brokers,” explains Julia Pilleri, assistant controller at AIRINC, one of The Principal 10 Best Companies in 2011. “Because of that, they have a very thorough knowledge of our benefits and how we treat our employees. When we make benefit decisions, they know that we look at not just the numbers but also how employees will be affected.”
What are the key ingredients of a successful benefits program? When studying the program’s 100 winners, we’ve noted that they share these characteristics:
- Thorough education. Even the best benefits programs won’t be valued by employees if they don’t understand the benefits. The best companies provide education year-round and in a variety of ways—and they often include employees’ spouses or partners in the education process.
- Two-way communication. The best employers don’t just talk to their employees about benefits. They also listen. This helps employers perfect their benefits, address confusion, and boost morale.
- A focus on the business strategy behind benefits. Those picked as the best know that top-tier employee benefits pay off for the business as well as for the employees. The payoff comes in the form of decreased turnover, improved productivity, great customer service and more. In fact the 2012 winners’ average annual voluntary turnover rate is 9.3 percent compared to the national average of 21.2 percent.
Over time, the winning organizations’ benefits strategies and tactics have continued to evolve and improve. Consider these top trends:
- A shift from “do-it-for-them” to “do-it-with-them.” Benefits programs have shifted from the employer making most decisions to employees facing more choices and personal financial responsibility. These winning firms continue to share significantly in the cost while working with employees to help them make the best use of their benefits.
- From cookie cutter to customized. Today, more of these winning companies customize their benefits programs for specific employee needs and demographics.
- Security is now financial and physical. Our winners use a holistic approach to financial security with an increased focus on wellness. This helps to lower healthcare costs for both the companies and the employees.