Stephanie Dwilson

Providing an Overview of Employee Benefits

When communicating benefits to employees, it can be easy to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. Yes, your employees should know about that quirk in their enrollment or the one exception in their health plan coverage they might otherwise overlook. But without a well-rounded overview of their employee benefits as a whole, they could miss out on even the big stuff.

Here’s a quick look at the topics you might want to discuss when sharing an overview of your benefits packages.

1. Health Insurance Options

When discussing health insurance, explain the type of plans you’re offering. Do your employees know whether they’re about to enroll in a PPO or an HMO — and if they do, can they say why that’s the best choice for them?

With PPOs, HMOs or any other types of plans you may offer, be sure your employees understand what tradeoffs they might be making in terms of costs and access to care. Provide a concise list of premiums for each plan, out-of-pocket maximums and local primary care doctors within the network.

2. HSAs and FSAs

If your plans come with a tax-advantaged savings account, make sure your employees know what it is and how to use it. Health savings accounts (HSAs) allow employees to put a portion of their paychecks into savings accounts tax-free. When that money is later used for qualified medical expenses, it can also be withdrawn tax-free. HSAs are only eligible for use with qualified high-deductible health plans and have yearly contribution limits. Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are similar, except they don’t require a high-deductible health plan first, and most of the funds don’t roll over from year to year.

Qualifying medical expenses might include deductibles, copays, prescriptions, vision and dental care, chiropractor bills and even acupuncture or fertility treatments, as well as certain personal care items. When you bring these accounts up to your employees, talk about how these accounts can ultimately lower their premiums and help them save on taxes.

3. Supplemental Insurance

In addition to basic health insurance, you may also offer a number of supplemental add-ons and specialty benefits. These might include popular benefits that don’t come with your standard plan options, such as dental care, as well as supplemental insurance plans to cover accidents and hospital stays.

Instead of covering an expense upfront, supplemental plans may pay a fixed amount for each day that employees are in the hospital or can’t work. These plans can be a big help if your employees are out of work for a while or have a high deductible.

List all these options in a simple document or email, and then provide a brochure or webpage that explains each option in more detail. Take your employees through how they can go about signing up for these options. Do they need to meet with someone in person or can they sign up online?

4. Retirement and 401(k)

Every year, provide an updated retirement benefits guide explaining your employees’ options. If you offer a 401(k) for your employees, take them through how to access it and change their contribution. Should they choose a traditional or Roth 401(k), if given the option? Encourage your employees to meet one on one to discuss how they can maximize their retirement options.

5. Time Off Packages and Sick Days

Time off packages seem simple — you just take the time off, right? — until your employees actually go to take advantage of their options.

Outline the basics for your staff. How much flexibility do they have? Are there any major restrictions they should keep in mind? Provide a written document laying out how to sign up for vacation days, how early they need to have their requests in, whom they should notify when their request is approved and whether or not their vacation and sick days roll over from year to year.

Encourage them to actually take time off if they’re not feeling well or need a break — “presenteeism” hurts more than it helps.

6. Flextime and Remote Work

When discussing time off packages, you’ll also want to make your flextime schedule and remote work policy clear. Flexible work could happen every once in a while, like when day care falls through, or it could be a predictable part of an employee’s schedule, in the case of someone who lives far away coming and leaving work an hour early to avoid rush hour.

According to the Harvard Business Review, flextime can reduce employee stress and increase productivity — but make sure your staff is familiar with the ground rules so they can use it effectively. Be clear that deadlines won’t change and employees will still need to attend meetings.

7. Employee Assistance Programs

If you have an employee assistance program (EAP), don’t let it fall through the cracks when you’re talking about your benefits package. EAPs are confidential services — typically offered by third parties like health insurance carriers — that help staff deal with a variety of issues such as financial advice, elderly care, day care, legal advice, domestic abuse help and even substance abuse counseling.

Clearly explain how the EAP works, that it’s confidential and that you want your employees to use the service at any time, without limiting themselves.

Intertwined with all of the above discussions should be a focus on how these employee benefits and perks are meant to promote a culture of wellness. When you invest in your employees, you’re investing in the success of your business, and they should know that you’re there as their advocate. Make sure your employees have a solid foundation of knowledge when it comes to their benefits, so that as you dive into the details later on, they’ll be prepped to ask all the right questions and make the most of their benefits.

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