Four ways to start the benefits year off on a good foot

The beginning of a new year is a great time for employers to reflect on their benefits plans and take steps to get in ahead of potential challenges.

Here are four ways to set the benefits year off on a good foot:

1. Review the company’s benefits philosophy

Every organization should have a philosophy that drives the design and structure of the plan, as well as decision-making about direction and business exceptions. Employers should review the benefits philosophy periodically to ensure its tenets are still relevant to the organization as it changes and evolves over time, and that the plan still matches that philosophy.

Read: Using benefits plan design to drive employee engagement

Questions to ask include:

  • Does the program align with the organization’s intentions in terms of what and who is covered?
  • Is the philosophy addressing organizational challenges, such as rising disability costs due to mental-health issues, high turnover or low employee engagement?
  • What are the projections for growth or reductions in the workforce for the coming year? Does the benefits philosophy still make sense in this context?

A high-level review of why an organization has a benefits program in the first place, and what it’s trying to accomplish, can be a helpful exercise, instructing activity and direction for the coming year.

2. Take stock of wellness.

If wellness is an area of focus, take inventory of the elements already in place. This can be especially helpful if parts of the wellness offering are based in different areas of the organization.

While benefits like fitness classes, an onsite gym or an employee assistance program are visible, employers should be considering other offerings as wellness. These include a retirement program that offers financial planning to members, a physical space with areas for meditation or prayer, a safe place to lock up and store bikes, volunteering opportunities and a donation-matching program.

Read: Wellness tips for motivating apathetic employees

These all fall into the wellness category — and employers should consider this when adding new benefits and assessing the success of current programs.

Additionally, employers should take a deep dive into data to see what disease states are driving their benefits plan costs. The higher prevalence of specific chronic diseases can create an opportunity for a greater impact.

3. Look ahead for key dates

As strategic planning conversations take place internally and with advisors, employers can plan ahead and plot out key milestones. Questions to ask include:

  • Is it a re-enrolment year for a flexible benefits plan?
  • When does the payroll team require contributions and rates?
  • How will benefits plan management dovetail with other company initiatives?
  • Will there be blackout periods or times when teams will be focused on other priorities?

Taking a look down the road at the start of the year can keep a company organized and on track when internal teams get busy.

4. Take on a few administrative chores.

Employers should be putting their benefits plan through a few regular administrative clean-up tasks, including:

  • Ask employees to update their enrolment forms by confirming their dependants and beneficiaries;
  • Check plan members’ dates of birth against any termination ages for benefits under the plan and make sure payments for any terminated or reduced benefits aren’t going through;
  • Ensure the booklets posted or handed out to employees are the most current version;
  • If the plan includes benefits that have been collectively bargained, ensure the contract terms and coverages are aligned with provisions set out in that agreement; and
  • If the organization applies for an employment insurance premium reduction, check that the disability plan design meets the eligibility requirements, including EI benefit maximums for the new year.

Read: Age discrimination in benefits plans unconstitutional, tribunal finds

Alongside strategic planning, taking on activities like these ones early on in the new year, can set an employer and benefits plan up for success, allowing organizations to be more proactive when it comes to decision-making.