An employer’s guide to curating a suite of voluntary benefits

In an art gallery, people often recognize and appreciate the arrangement of the pieces as much as the works of art themselves. When employers offer voluntary benefits, they’re hoping that employees appreciate the offering. Above and beyond that, if plan members recognize the program as a customized suite of benefits that supports their unique needs, even better.

Another conclusion drawn by employees is the implication that the employer, in choosing each particular benefit, also endorses the provider and offer — whether that’s true or not. It’s for these reasons that employers should be very careful about which options they select to make up their organization’s suite of voluntary benefits. The language describing the benefits can be adjusted to be optimally perceived by employees, but it’s still best to design the program to include benefits that inspire confidence — or at least not controversy.

Read: Voluntary benefits an emerging option for employers

An excellent place to start would be conducting a confidential survey of employees to find out about their needs and wants in supplementary benefits. The results of these surveys can eliminate certain options right away and can also highlight new areas of interest.

Begin with insured options — a group plan can only go so far to offer comprehensive coverage and still remain sustainable for the plan sponsor and members. Some voluntary benefits that employees may appreciate during these tumultuous times include:

  • Telemedicine — it allows employees to reach a medical professional (usually a registered nurse as the intake, initial diagnosis and/or case manager) at any time and receive peace of mind through diagnosis and treatment if required.
  • Medical diagnostic assistance — it provides plan members with a complete medical review of the condition and either initial diagnosis or confirmation (second opinion) depending on the issue with the use of specialists and any number of required tests.
  • Critical illness insurance — pays the insured applicant a lump-sum amount to cover any costs of living as a result of the covered condition: medical bills, a well-deserved vacation or income replacement, for example.
  • Travel health insurance — While it’s unlikely many employees are travelling these days, expect travel and related interest in this benefit to increase once vaccines have been rolled out. It’s one of the most valuable and variable products for employees to have access to when leaving the province or country — it can mean the difference between a minor blip in vacation plans and major financial hardship. 

Read: How the coronavirus pandemic’s new normal is shaping total rewards

When offered in addition to a group benefits plan in place, these additional voluntary options will likely fill most of the gaps in employees’ health coverage. If an employer chooses to work with a benefits consultant — either their group plan consultant or another specialist — preferred provider relationships are often in place that can save on the employees’ end, as well as exclusive offers that aren’t offered directly with the providers. 

In addition to insured options, other products and services can be included in the suite of voluntary benefits that offer everyday assistance. These include: financial planning guidance and/or tools to help personalize the retirement planning experience; discounts on vehicle rentals, which can be appreciated while travelling or locally to assist in a move or pickup situation; and preferred rates at national hotel chains so when travel is required, savings and choice for a safe, healthy trip are at employees’ fingertips.

The way voluntary benefits are packaged will also have an impact on employees’ reception of the whole program so employers should pay attention to details such as name, accessibility/portability, frequently asked questions and any technical support related to the hosting platform. The right information received at the right time will ensure employees have a positive reaction and value the offering, so ongoing communication — though not required — is also recommended to maintain activity and prolong the impact of the launch.

As with a gallery wall of expressive work, some forethought and careful execution will hopefully result in appreciation of the voluntary benefits suite from all demographics.