Because of the implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, voluntary benefits are getting plenty of attention as employers examine how they can adjust their offerings. But they’re also starting to realize that benefits packages, including voluntary benefits, could help with retaining and recruiting employees in addition to softening the blows that could accompany health care reform.


MetLife’s 13th annual U.S. employee Benefit Trends Study, released in May, “found employers ranked employee benefits objectives directly pertaining to employee factors such as retention as extremely important,” according to a MetLife news release. “In fact, 41 percent of employers ranked retention as their top employee benefits objective, potentially indicating a growing war for talent. This is not surprising given the lowest unemployment rates since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008.”


Voluntary options can help, especially if both brokers and employers are thinking about creative, appealing options: some non-traditionals include low-interest loans or student-loan contributions. “Low-interest loans (can) help bridge short-term financial needs,” writes Mike Nesper for Employee Benefit Adviser, including emergencies or the loss of a spouse’s job. Often, these options are smarter financially for the employees than using credit cards or taking a loan from a 401(k).


Employees of all generations — but especially the youngest workers — are saddled with student-loan debt, and employers might consider a direct contribution to that debt as a voluntary benefit. That’s important, writes Matt Burns for Employee Benefit News, because “companies across America are… scrambling to discover the secret formula for engaging this slippery generation.”


The world of voluntary benefits provides an excellent opportunity for brokers to connect with employers and a chance to provide value — and usefulness — to the employees they’re working to retain. These options give brokers an opportunity to connect and work with clients “outside of the hectic months when employers are re-enrolling in health care plans,” Nesper writes. They should focus on engagement and education, Burns writes. “Benefit advisers have a unique opportunity to swoop in and guide their clients toward better engagement, utilizing what they know best — employee perks and benefits,” Burns writes.


Millennials, especially, may not adopt voluntary benefits unless they understand them. And in fact, MetLife’s most recent study found 53 percent of all employees say they’d like more help understanding their benefits. Burns suggests that brokers and advisers take this opportunity to teach employees about voluntary benefits by focusing on the benefit, eliminating barriers to entry and emphasize that they’re educating, not selling, Millennials on their product.


Brokers should also provide that education through channels employees, especially Millennials, will use — and that means going mobile, Burns writes. “If your benefit offerings aren’t mobile accessible, then you’re already at a strategic disadvantage,” he writes. “Once mobile is in place, traditional communication methods can thrive — email, the corporate Intranet video and online enrollment pages.”