If you're a business owner, navigating the world of benefits can be as daunting as it is critical to attracting and retaining employees.
That's where someone like Craig Maloney comes in. With more than 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, he is president of Hammonton-based Univers Workplace Solutions — a top benefits communications, enrollment and administration solutions provider.
He also leads a firm that is second on NJBIZ's list of the top employee benefits companies in the state, ranked by number of employees covered in New Jersey. That's why NJBIZ caught up with Maloney to discuss some of the most important, and often overlooked, considerations companies should investigate when looking for a benefits provider for their workers.
NJBIZ: What are some pieces of key information you look for on your end when starting a relationship with a new company?
Craig Maloney: If I were consulting with an employer, I'd really want to understand their high-level strategy around how benefits fits into their total rewards approach. You want to understand where they fall within the compensation strategy realm and then you want to figure out how benefits could complement or augment those strategies.
Within the benefits, it really comes down to many, many factors around industry, the makeup and demographics of their employee base and what that looks like. Ultimately it comes back to the business goals, retention and how they would work the compensation and benefit strategies into those overall goals.
NJBIZ: What are some common mistakes companies make when choosing a business partner to roll out a benefits plan?
CM: When an employer is looking for a partner, sometimes it makes sense to move beyond the traditional criteria of, 'Are they local?' or 'Do I know them?' and move onto other criteria like, 'Are they familiar with my industry?' or 'Do they have experience in transitioning benefit strategies similar to what I'm looking for? Do they have these communication abilities?'
Those are some of the key foundations in picking the right choice in a vendor.
NJBIZ: What are some other key areas a company should look into before making any decisions on a vendor?
CM: In terms of evaluating a potential consultant in this marketplace, I'd really focus on these three key areas: Make sure you're using data at your fingertips to make the informed decisions about benefits and strategies. There are many sources of data out there right now: insurance carriers, brokers and consultants; even your payroll systems have data that can influence what you might want to develop as a benefit package. So, I would make sure I understand the data and use the data to substantiate a strategy. That's No. 1.
No. 2, I would understand exchanges. There are many different exchange solutions in the marketplace and there are many different definitions of exchanges. You really have to sort through all the marketing materials to truly understand what the value propositions are and how they would impact your strategy as an employer. Not every exchange is going to be a reasonable solution for every employer and not every employer would fit nicely into one of the exchange models. So, do your homework on exchanges.
I, personally, think exchanges is a big time buzzword going on out there, but there's not a lot of true buying. People who are buying them are buying them because there are administrative benefits, but the uptake on exchanges has been slower than expected because people are confused and can't differentiate between value propositions. They're stuck in the mud trying to figure out what's right for them as an employer.
NJBIZ: What's the third key area you'd examine?
CM: The enrollment and education solution needs to be very specific to your employee population. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to educating and enrolling employees. For one company, self-service might be the way to go: Enroll through your website and everything is fine. But, in many cases, having a very thoughtful communication plan and then having the right conversation to help that employee understand their benefits is critical. The average employee today is still very confused about benefits, and if employers don't take the time to engage and educate them, no employer benefit strategy will be successful.
NJBIZ: What are some specific instances where customization plays a huge role in a program's success?
CM: Wellness is just one part of benefit delivery strategy. Wellness is one way. Creating high deductible health plans with (health savings accounts) is another, but wellness is one that is very, very common. And it's very common to have a very specific, unique or customized wellness strategy.
Wellness plans themselves are not that unique, but the strategies and the communications components around it are what make it appealing to the individual, what you need to do as an employer to capture the mind of the individual so they pay attention to this wellness plan.
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Sound mind, sound office
Walk loudly through the halls of organic meat distributor Applegate, and you might run the risk of disturbing more than a worker’s productivity.
“We offer on-site meditation classes and we have our own meditation room that employees can use during their own time when we don’t have classes,” said Meera Chhedi, the company’s benefits coordinator.
The company’s Bridgewater headquarters also contains a space where it provides on-site yoga classes once a week.
These offerings for its employees, focused on health and wellness, are an effort made by Applegate to create an office environment that is an extension of the products it sells, but also the type of worker that is attracted to the company.
“These employee activities are a mirror of our core beliefs, our mission and our brand,” Chhedi said. “The type of employees that we have here are already very health-oriented and come from a mindset of health and wellness.”
There are even exercise balls available in the office, among other options, as an alternative to stiff desk chairs.
“I’m not sure what the correct term is for this, but we have those spin chairs, where — if you sit on it — it’s a real strong ab workout,” she said. “You can take a quick break and use those exercise balls or those chairs in your space.”
Applegate also holds a Fitbit challenge for its employees, one in which each employee interested in participating is given one of the wearable, wristwatch-like devices. The challenge not only reinforces the company’s focus on wellness, but also provides opportunity for team-building among its employees.
“We arrange the teams based on different departments and employee work locations to bring employees who may not necessarily work together regularly to give them a chance to do so in a fun way that brings about the health and wellness message,” Chhedi said. “I get a vibe every week of employees collaborating and doing things together, posting blogs and using tools to communicate with each other better.”
Chhedi said the employee engagement is strong, with roughly 67 percent of the company’s workers participating in the Fitbit challenge.
The rest, we assume, may be too busy meditating. — Andrew Sheldon