The average employer pays between $3,000 and $6,000 per employee, per year, for a benefits program, depending on plan design and demographics. On that basis alone, wouldn’t you like to know if you are getting the most value out of your investment?

Now, add in this common complaint: benefits program costs continue to rise due to the usual culprits of new and expensive drug therapies, an aging workforce, reduced government coverage and more. Put the two together and the argument for assessing your investment becomes even more compelling.

Plan sponsors need to not only heighten employee awareness of the value of their benefits programs, but also need to probe employee perceptions about those programs before implementing any changes. As such, before you tolerate cost increases, tighten management controls and/or reduce coverage, step back and do some research with an employee benefits survey. A carefully planned and executed survey will help you to better understand how to strategically allocate the benefits plan budget while preserving—or even increasing—employees’ perceived value of the program.

To help you get started, consider the following factors when building your survey.

Determine your goal
It may appear simple to just “ask some questions,” but you need to determine what the worthwhile questions are—and these will only reveal themselves after you’ve established your survey’s objective. Is the goal to pinpoint how well employees understand and value the plan? Is the company tightening its financial belt and you want an intelligent re-design, taking into account employee preferences? Or perhaps you want your program to help you attract the best employees in your industry—but you first need to understand how your program is perceived “on the front line.”

Establish that goal and filter every question through it. If the answer to a question will help you to achieve your goal, keep it; if not, lose it.

Keep it confidential
When you guarantee confidentiality, you increase honesty. Employees need to feel confident that you will not trace a negative response back to them, and answers must not be influenced by fear of consequences. You may have to use an online survey system or third-party to conduct the survey. While you may know there won’t be any negative outcome based on responses, employees must believe it, too.

Exercise restraint
Resist the temptation to probe all things at once. Giving in to the idea that once you’re asking about one area, you might as well ask about another can create an unfocused, unwieldy survey that may backfire when respondents become annoyed with the length and detail. Answers that otherwise would have been neutral may become tainted with a dose of negativity. To avoid compromising the results’ honesty, be mindful of length, difficulty and the time required for completion.

However, this can be challenging in an employee benefits survey where participants are asked to rate, comment on and compare benefits features. To increase the survey’s success, communicate the following:

  • the importance of the survey;
  • how answers to the survey will affect decisions about the benefits program;
  • the value of employees’ input; and
  • if applicable, the possibility of a prize or other incentive. (Prizes can go a long way toward encouraging individuals to complete a survey. But remember that an outside party should handle the prize draw, and survey respondents should be notified as such, so as not to infringe on confidentiality.)

Be directed by the survey’s goal (see first point above), which should restrain you from asking unrelated questions. And accept that if the scope of your investigation is too vast, you can break it up into digestible mini surveys over time.

Use the survey as a communication tool
When framed carefully, an employee benefits survey becomes a valuable communication channel that can be used to communicate benefits and human resources messages. For example, if your program is a generous one in your industry, say so, or if you think employees value flexibility—but you don’t know if they realize it might mean forfeiting or reducing something else in the program—explain as such and, in so doing, reinforce the message of personal ownership over benefits usage.

Don’t ask about something you are not prepared to deliver
If you provide a laundry list of potential benefits options, employees may think those are future possibilities. Be careful not to establish false expectations and ask only about what you can realistically deliver.

Determine distribution and language
Determine the survey’s dissemination ahead of time. A written format for a large employee population will be cumbersome, both to circulate and tabulate, whereas online surveys facilitate confidentiality and make for easier tabulation, filtering of results, creation of graphs, etc., for any population size. You can also arrange for employees to have the option to complete the survey from home, to make it more convenient for them. And, if a significant portion of the employee population speaks English and/or French as a second language, note that you may require translation or an interpreter.

Once the survey is done
After the answers are in, share the results. If you don’t follow up to your employees’ survey answers, it is like asking your friend a question and then just walking away. Carry on the conversation by doing the following:

  • thank employees for the time they invested in answering the survey;
  • remind them of the survey’s importance;
  • provide a high-level statement of survey findings; and
  • let them know the next steps.

This last stage of the survey is your opportunity to engage employees in an important dialogue about a program that is of great personal value to them and that represents a significant company investment.

Benefits surveys: Part of a larger engagement strategy
Ideally, employee surveys should be part of a larger, proactive employee engagement strategy. According to Marguerite Thompson-O’Neal, vice-president of human resources with Purdue Pharma, “Many of the employers I worked with over the years achieved ‘top employer’ status. I attribute this to success in employee engagement. And one of the most important tools [for] facilitating the employer/employee dialogue (a fundamental component to engagement) is that of a survey, in that it asks employees for their opinions.”

Last year, Purdue Pharma launched a company-wide employee engagement survey that included benefits-related questions. “While our benefits program ‘scored’ well, a certain message came through loud and clear—namely, that employees wanted more flexibility across the organization,” said Thompson-O’Neal.

“So, we took that message and applied it to our benefits program by asking ourselves, ‘How can we increase our program’s flexibility while maintaining its robust nature, yet without spending more?’ This led us to examine a few flexible options and implement the one that made the most sense. I believe benefits are included in the employee engagement paradigm and that is part of why we enjoy both positive engagement and recognition as an employer of choice.”

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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Over the years numerous union employees working at the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation “MPAC” have previously and repeatedly written the government and various parties about their unfair and unjust split pension situation as a result of a past government divestiture and pension decisions not of their own making or choice. As they have always indicated, in any avenue of resolution for such perspective pensioners its obviously very important to ensure continuation of their existing entitlement to the post-retirement health and dental insured benefits associated through their past OPS service and credit in the OPTrust Plan.

While Bill 236, the Pension Benefits Amendment Act, received Royal Assent in May 2010, it only allows for a one-way transfer of assets to the successor employer’s plan… and were divested employees to consolidate their service under the successor employer’s plan “OMERS” their eligibility for insured benefits under the original Provincial plan “OPTrust” would be discontinued. The Province has advised MPAC on previous occasions that they would not extend the insured benefits to retirees who no longer meet the eligibility criteria. In fact, four years ago in June of 2008 the Minister of Government and Consumer Services had written the Chair of MPAC’s Board of Directors about just such a pension transfer scenario, advising in part “If divested MPAC employees withdraw or transfer their OPS pension assets and thereby terminate OPS pension entitlement status, they will forfeit access to future post-retirement insurance coverage.”

The ultimate test of the regulatory system governing pension plans is how well it works in practice. With respect, under the circumstances it seems to me this only pension transfer option inherently comes with what amounts to an illogical, unfair and hefty penalty being imposed on such workers/perspective pensioners… the forfeiture of their existing entitlement to post-retirement health and dental insured benefits associated through their previous OPS employment and credit in the original plan “OPTrust” ! As such, this is not a viable option for most and, in fact, I wonder if the Superintendent would even actually consent to such a transfer knowing individuals might be so directly or indirectly detrimentally impacted.

Saturday, December 29 at 11:07 am | Reply

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