Great benefits keep employees happy and productivity high. Seeking to recognize companies that go above and beyond in what they offer, for the past 10 years Principal Financial Group has named what it says are the 10 best companies for employee financial security - an award that recognizes companies that offer "extraordinary benefits."

The employers that won "best" recognition this year went through a rigorous selection process. More than 700 organizations were nominated and judged by an independent panel composed of past winners, financial advisers and others. The 700 were whittled down to 30 companies that went through a blind interview and scoring process.

To explore what it means to offer the best benefits package, EBA spoke with an adviser to one of the winning companies, The Home Builders Institute, an offshoot of the National Association of Home Builders that provides training, mentoring, curriculum development and job placement services to support the housing industry, and to a vice president of Principal Financial.

 

Todd Miller Miller & Shook Washington, D.C.

Why is it important for a company to offer for good benefits?

I think that it's two-fold. For one, good benefits are a marketing tool to get people in. [This was particularly important] for the Home Builders Institute - 10 years ago, they had a very aging, stagnant work population.

The programs that were instituted, specifically the health and wellness and voluntary benefits, started a culture that did two things. One, it brought those older employees back to a point where they could be engaged. Second, it changed the culture because new people were coming in who were younger.

They [employees] clamored for this; this is what they needed, this is what they were looking for. It has really created a dynamic work population at HBI. Over the last 10 years, they've become a very hands-on, tightly knit group of people.

What can brokers do to help make their clients successful?

It has to be more than spreadsheets and dollar costs and premiums. It has to be something that engages employees in health and wellness. It has to be something where the employees see the high-level ivory suite executives taking advantage of this and becoming part of it. That's the key.

How should brokers make sure employers offer the right benefits? And will it cost them more to do so?

That's kind of a double-edged scenario. Because a lot of employers do think, "What am I on the hook for, what is this going to cost to me?" The fact of matter is there are discount and wellness dollars available from a lot of our insurance carrier partners. They say, "Oh, if you're going to be this dynamic, if you are going to take the lead in this as the employer, we have $5,000, $7,500 or $10,000 available to you that we would like to contribute to your wellness program."

It's a way to complete the circle. The employer is getting something that helps them launch a wellness program, a carrier is getting something where claims are going to be [decreased], and it's just a win-win.

Describe your relationship with the Home Builders Institute. Do you usually suggest specific benefits, or do they come up with ideas?

It's been a great collaboration over the 10 years with everybody involved. The Home Builders team is very dynamic, and they will bring things up that they've heard. I'll bring things up that I've heard. We immediately get our carrier partners in to brainstorm how we can bring these things to fruition. It's been a wonderful collaboration.

So collaboration between the employer and broker is important?

It's really important, and certainly there are some companies that are more willing to get onboard and go down that road. That's more where a marketing strategy comes into play.

The thing I keep telling my clients is that it cannot be about basic premium dollars. Companies have got to bring something else to the table. They have got to bring that collaborative spirit with them.

 

Luke Vandermiller Principal Financial Group Des Moines, Iowa

Why should a company offer good benefits?

There are a variety of reasons why it is important for companies to offer good benefits. At the top of the list, benefits have been proven as a very effective way to attract and retain employees. It also shows employees that [their company] has made a pretty significant investment in what they think is their most valuable investment - their employees.

One way employers view the payoff is in retaining employees. Any business owner will tell you that something that really costs me money is when employees leave. That has a pretty big impact on their business.

What types of benefits, including financial, health and wellness, are most important to offer?

It's a combination of all. What the "10 best" judges are really looking for, number one, is the range of benefits. Does the plan cover all the bases, across the spectrum? They also look at the depth of those benefits and at what employers really contribute to the cost.

Is a sense of financial security part of that?

It's critical that employees have a sense of where they are in terms of their financial well-being. Employees who feel like they are in a good position to hit their retirement goals are more productive, and they spend less time at work worrying about their financial well-being. I think it's pretty critical.

How have the winning companies changed over time?

We've seen the investment that the "10 best" companies are willing to make has remained constant, if not increased.

One of the trends we've seen is companies getting more strategic in how they structure their benefits program. I think we've seen companies have gotten more targeted, more specific and more creative.

The other thing that's been very consistent . . . companies place a very high premium on education and communication about the benefits.

What role does the adviser play?

Advisers play the most important role. [They have] knowledge of the local market. They bring a lot of expertise to the table in terms of design and how to make the employers dollars go as far as possible.

When an adviser sits down one-on-one [with employees], it helps with communication. The adviser can tell them exactly how their retirement benefit works and what they can expect if they keep contributing an increasing amount to the plan. It's life-changing for the employee to get that type of education.

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