Should you let employees design their own benefits?

Personalized perks are the future of staff incentives – but don’t ask what they want unless you can deliver

Should you let employees design their own benefits?
Between wellness spending accounts and points system that let staff choose their own rewards, organizations are increasingly seeing personalized benefits as key to enticing top workers.

But while letting employees have a say in designing benefits has its payoffs, an expert says employers should be aware that asking staff for input – then failing to deliver – can backfire.

Accompass associate vice president of benefits and health Amy Gasparini says workers can have a “really important opinion on helping to shape changes or give suggestions, especially if you have a range of young to old, they all can bring different ideas to the table”.

“The one thing to keep in mind, however, when you start to solicit employee feedback or commentary, is there becomes that expectation that action will be taken based on the feedback that they’ve provided,” she says.

“So a company, HR, whoever’s soliciting that information needs to be prepared to be in a place to act on some of the feedback that has come back, otherwise it becomes pointless to ask for that feedback, if you’re not going to be able to incorporate some of it into your planned changes or your culture.”

While traditional comprehensive plans of health, dental, vision and the like remain popular, Gasparini says there a growing interest in other incentives.

“What they’re looking at is additional items such as gym subsidies or gym memberships; personal financial planning; wellness or healthcare spending accounts, programs or dollars so that people can use those funds for what they want, versus just what the benefit plan has to offer,” she says.

However, before deciding on a new direction for benefits, companies need to understand what is important to their employees, as well as what fits within their budget.

“We would encourage maybe doing a focus group or an employee engagement survey to see what is of value to employees. Are they possibly willing to give up one thing for something else that they value more?” Gasparini says.

Employers should also take stock of their demographics – existing and desired – in designing benefits plans: “Do we have mostly single people, is it mostly family people, what is the average age range, is it more female-dominant versus male-dominant, because then [maternity] leave programs could be important.

“It goes above and beyond just what traditional benefits their competitors are offering, but what other incentives there are to bring on the talent that they want.”

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