How do advisers help their clients recruit and retain top talent while reigning in benefit costs? Both concerns are frequently cited as top employer priorities, posing advisers with a delicate balancing act: cutting cut benefit costs in a way that doesn’t undermine talent management.

The challenge for advisers, says Tom Polenzani, director of employee benefits at Bolton & Company Inc., is to offer a meaningful package to draw and retain talent in the face of runaway cost escalation. “That’s why it is so important to have a strategic adviser who helps your firm plan for the future by developing creative and attractive benefit programs,” he maintains.

Perks that target millennials are a good example of meaningful benefits that can be provided at very low cost. These include things like allowing employees to take the day off on their birthday, more generous maternity leaves and sabbaticals. “What we’ve really helped our clients with is to look at how they handle vacation and paid time off,” Polenzani reports.

Employers, Polenzani says, also can get a lot of mileage by offering concierge services, pet insurance or discounts on home and auto insurance policies. The aim, he explains, is to simplify the life of employees, help them leverage their buying power as consumers and tie it to the workplace.

“That’s why a lot of Internet startup companies offer lunches, and they have a game room,” Polenzani notes. “If their dry-cleaning gets delivered at work, that’s an extra thing their employees don’t have to worry about. These are all things that seem inconsequential or minor, looked at individually. But when you put a whole program in place, they can really make employees life a lot easier.”

There’s no underestimating the importance of these sorts of benefits, Polenzani emphasizes. “It goes back again to hiring and retaining your talent. These are the concerns that keep HR professionals awake at night.” This also squares with what’s on the minds of CEOs and CFOs, regardless of whether they work for publicly traded or private companies, he adds.
No escaping benefit costs

Yet, in the larger scheme of things, employers’ hands are largely tied with regard to containing benefit costs, argues veteran HR executive Paul Wong. “Core benefits are residual expenses that we cannot walk away from,” says Wong, who most recently worked for Mercy Health, a hospital system serving Ohio and parts of Kentucky.

Competing in the talent wars “will saddle employers with the cost of delivering benefit services,” Wong observes. “We need to find ways to continue to afford to provide those benefits just to stay afloat with government regulations.” And with millennials becoming the dominant age group in the workforce as of last year, Wong says employee expectations around benefits will continue to grow.

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"Employers know that if they lose an employee, it might take them a year to two years to find someone, train them and get them up to speed."

Polenzani stresses that creative approaches to benefits can give employers a competitive edge in terms of recruiting new hires or retaining top talent.

“Employers know that if they lose an employee, it might take them a year to two years to find someone, train them and get them up to speed,” the benefits adviser observes. “If they have to give them a little extra time off, that’s a lot cheaper and easier than [having to replace them]. And though that’s not in our typical, old-school job description as consultants and advisers, we have to be up to speed on it and be able to give clients some good ideas and advice.”

It’s up to brokers and advisers to understand these concerns and work with clients to develop a long-term solution. “We’re not going to eliminate those costs,” Polenzani says, “but we can help rein them in and control them.”

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