Keep the current medical coverage or upgrade to a more comprehensive plan? How much to put in flexible spending accounts? Increase life insurance coverage for a spouse?
HR departments across the country scramble in November and December to ensure employees read the materials and make any changes by the deadline.
In some organizations, open enrollment is a dry process with little communication and lots of paperwork. This lackluster approach squanders the once-a-year opportunity to shine a spotlight on an employer’s generosity. When perusing benefits and perks options, people should get excited. They should have the feeling that they are valued and that their employer goes the extra distance to reward them for their contributions.But rather than just focusing on the nuts and bolts of this annual ritual, why not maximize the open enrollment period as part of your company’s employee retention strategy?
Keeping your best employees is especially critical right now. The unemployment rate has been hovering just north of 4 percent for several months. Many sectors — accounting and finance, legal, IT and office administration, to name just a few — have a much lower jobless rate, down in the 1 to 2 percent range, not a good environment for hiring replacements for people who leave. One way you can make it less likely your top performers will begin to look elsewhere is offering an enticing and creative package of perks.
Here are some ideas for piggybacking on the open enrollment period to remind employees of all the pluses of working for your company:
Creative Perks to Generate Buzz
• Unlimited vacation days
• Mental health days
• Bereavement days
• Paid sabbaticals after X years of service
• Days off for volunteer work
• Identity theft insurance
• Pet insurance
• Travel insurance
• Discounted car insurance
• Egg freezing and infertility treatments
• Gender reassignment treatments/surgery
• Student loan repayment
• Employer matching for college savings plans
• Stipend for travel, wedding, birth/adoption
• Interest-free loans
• Allowance for office furniture and work clothes
• Assistance toward home down payment
• Free/subsidized child care
• Nap room
• Pet-friendly office
• Laundry service/dry cleaning
• Game room
• Onsite massage, acupuncture & chiropractic
• Life coach/professional organizer
• Ski passes
• Workweek that ends at noon on Fridays
Also, make open enrollment a big deal. Kick it off with a benefits fair. Encourage employees to bring spouses (perhaps they’re the decision-maker in the relationship). Have a public area where people can talk to HR reps and your benefits vendors, find out what’s available, ask questions and weigh options. Woo employees with goodies such as company swag, healthy snacks, free blood pressure checks and the like
Since the open enrollment period typically lasts 30 to 45 days, so should your efforts, which are really a marketing campaign. You could take a “Did you know?” approach. Create posters highlighting your coolest perks and place them in visible places like the break room, elevators and bathrooms. Many employees find out about benefits once during their orientation, and useful perks are never highlighted again.
Most employers already list their major benefits — health, dental, vision, life and disability insurance — on their website. During the open enrollment period, shine a spotlight on valuable perks with banner ads, pop-up windows or a feature box above the fold.
Some employers allow workers to roll over unused vacation days. Others have a use-it-or-lose-it policy. A few intrepid companies even offer unlimited paid time off. Whichever approach you have, encourage employees during open enrollment to take care of themselves by taking sufficient time off.
Benefits are no good if no one uses them, and employers must keep up with the times. Survey your teams on how beneficial or seldom-used certain offerings are, and then use their suggestions to refine future perks. Top performers want to work for employers who are responsive to their needs, especially in the area of work-life balance.
What other companies are doing
This year, research by my organization, Robert Half, asked executives in the United States and Canada about their company’s benefits and perks. Not surprisingly, the top benefits — defined as noncash benefits paid indirectly to employees — are related to insurance: medical (95 percent), dental (89 percent), life (88 percent), vision (81 percent), accidental death and dismemberment (79 percent) and disability (78 percent). The majority also have an employee assistance program (65 percent) and offer tuition reimbursement (56 percent).
When it comes to perks, defined as additional privileges beyond benefits and financial incentives, the results ranged more broadly. The most common ones had to do with time: flexible scheduling (62 percent), telecommuting (34 percent) and a compressed workweek (17 percent). Other top extras were regular social events (39 percent), onsite gym or gym access (25 percent) and free or subsidized meals (13 percent).
To many managers, perks and benefits are practical ways to attract and retain talent. But for employees, there’s an emotional component as well. When you offer a smorgasbord of attractive add-ons, you’re demonstrating you value your people and respect who they are outside of the office. So make the most of open enrollment — not only to help staff make insurance-related decisions, but to remind them of the many other reasons your company is a great place to work.
Dawn Fay is senior district director of staffing firm Robert Half for the greater New York City area. She is responsible for managing Robert Half’s professional services divisions in more than 20 locations, including offices in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Connecticut. She joined the company as a staffing manager in 1996 and has held roles as a division director, regional manager, branch manager, metro market manager and regional vice president before stepping into her current role. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.