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Benefits managers have a seemingly simple task: Retain and attract talent with robust workplace medical and retirement plans as well as other perks that make employees’ lives easier.

But between holding down costs, balancing compliance issues and managing the complexities of a multi-generational workforce, the job often is easier said than done.

That’s what a panel of plan sponsors had to say when discussing benefits strategies this week at the NAPA 401k Summit in Las Vegas.

“We want to be an employer of choice,” said Matthew Gertzog, deputy executive director of the American Society of Hematology. “In order for us to get the best and the brightest, we need to put together strong pay and a strong benefit package that appeals to young employees all the way to those approaching retirement.”

At the same time, he said, “there are limitations. There are only so many hours in the day.”

Compliance is the biggest concern for Katie Drayo, director of benefits with the Cott Corp.

“There is a lot going on there,” she said. “ERISA compliance plan requirements, making sure we are meeting deadlines — that’s what keeps me up at night.” But cost is the biggest concern from the company’s perspective, she said. “The cost conversation happens every day.”

That’s why it’s important for plan sponsors to find the right partner in their benefits adviser so they can get the help they need, panelists said.

“What I’m looking for is true consulting,” Gertzog said. “They can role-play, do if-then scenarios, best practices … tell me what they know. It defines what a consultant is all about.”

Gloria McCamley, director of human resources for the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, agreed.

“Bring me real-life stories; tell me how [different benefit strategies] worked out with other organizations,” she said.

McCamley noted that coming up with a flexible and robust lineup that will benefit different generations is a big priority for her firm. For example, many members of the sandwich generation in her workforce are simultaneously taking care of their children and their aging parents — so they need benefits that will help with both scenarios.

“The more flexibility we can give with all our benefits — not just with retirement, but with our health plan, disability, work/life perks — the better,” she said. “We need to continue to offer these to get the most out of our workforce.”

Keeping plan sponsors updated on industry trends and changes also is crucial for a good adviser, the panelists agreed. As is having a keen understanding of what is important both for the employer and for its employees.

“I look for reassurance, expertise, confidence. Someone who is going to be provocative by questions they ask, questions they get me to ask or by actions we take. We need to give employees the tools they need,” Gertzog said. “And our partner needs to commit to understanding the challenges [I have] by reassuring [me] that I’m on the right path.”

Also vital is an adviser a plan sponsor can trust. Drayo, for example, said she trusts advisers to know when to make decisions proactively.

She noted she “doesn’t want to be in the middle of [a] conversation” if advisers and providers are largely in agreement on certain issues. “If they both come to me and show that they’ve talked to each other, they agree on it, and [explain] why, I’m OK,” she said. “It’s the trust in the relationship part that matters.”

Similarly, Gertzog noted he expects his adviser to be an “advocate and a leader. They’re empowered to make decisions that will result in good outcomes.” To that extent, he told a room full of advisers, “you are representing our best interests, even when we are not at the table.”

“In many ways, advisers are like therapists,” Gertzog said. “[They] understand our past and present context but have a future focus. Keep confidences, stay current of the trends, push back on assumptions one might make and be there to celebrate when you have achievements.”

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