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Four Common Mistakes in Voluntary Benefits Programs

Voluntary benefits  have never been more popular and that’s no surprise to benefits professionals.  In a group health era characterized by high premiums, high deductibles and high health care costs, employees need every advantage they can get in managing a growing financial burden. 

Participation in voluntary benefits has skyrocketed. In 2017, it’s mushroomed by 567 percent in the Midwest; 208 percent in the South; 138 percent in the West; and 59 percent in the Northeast, according to a new analysis  by Benefitfocus.

That’s pretty telling. And it speaks to the role these benefits play in providing employees an increasingly necessary financial safety net. 

Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement. The challenge is for employers to do a better job in structuring their Voluntary Benefit programs and educating employees on their value.  Doing better means employers will not only do their workers a service, but they’ll gain from the enhanced loyalty and improved productivity that will result.

So what common mistakes do employers make when building a Voluntary Benefits programs? For starters, here are the first four.

1.      Don’t Forget: Core and Voluntary Benefits Are Connected
Think creatively in structuring your overall benefits portfolio. The most effective Voluntary Benefits programs are well-thought out as part of an overarching  benefits strategy , one that ideally spans several years and is refreshed in good time. The strategy should support the organization’s health and performance objectives, bridging the gaps that group benefits may leave, and address the pain points of particular employee demographics. The strategy should also consider ways to add value. For example partially or funding Voluntary Benefits can ultimately reduce everyone’s costs. 

2.      Don’t Limit Your Plan to Traditional Benefits
Yes, it’s easier to just put a handful of popular benefits out there and assume a sufficient number will enroll, but that’s really not the most effective way to optimize enrollment. In today’s  multi-generational workforce , different segments have different pain points. While some general rules of thumb can serve as a guide, your best bet is to conduct an audit that allows you to drill down into what benefits are being most and least utilized and why. An employee survey combined with one-on-one conversations can also help you pinpoint what Voluntary Benefits would resonate most in the future.   

3.      Don’t Overwhelm with Too Much Choice
It’s easy for your employees to become overwhelmed and confused if there’s too much to choose from. Start with core products like employer-paid and voluntary dental, disability, life and vision benefits. Phase in additional voluntary benefits as per your demographics’ needs, and your audit and survey findings. But keep it manageable. Only add two or three to the mix annually and monitor enrollments to make sure they are meeting needs. 

4.      Don’t Neglect Your Employee Communications Strategy
Too many organizations don’t do enough to inform and educate employees about the voluntary benefits they’re offering – explaining their role and how they fill a gap that may exist in their group coverage. Or they only do it once a year (during the enrollment period) when a sustained