Employee benefits have always been crucial. However, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that thanks to the pandemic, taking care of employees is now more important than ever.
Workers have had to completely reevaluate whether their jobs and careers are actually providing them with a good way of life. Job seekers are looking for more incentives to join companies, and established employees are looking for more incentives to stay put.
If workers, and companies, have learned one thing over the past year and a half, it’s that working isn’t just about making money anymore. Employees need to know that the company they work for is there to support them through good times and bad. And comprehensive employee benefits packages are one of the most effective ways a company can say to its employees, “You are here for us. And we are here for you.”
Arkansas Money & Politics recently checked in with the experts at four Arkansas companies that deal with benefits in one way or another to see what post-pandemic employee benefit plans are looking like now, ahead of what is sure to be an interesting open-enrollment season.
Robbi Davis, The Robbi Davis Agency
Robbi Davis is president and CEO of The Robbi Davis Agency in Little Rock, an independent, full-service insurance agency specializing in employee benefits, Medicare supplement/drug plans and individual health insurance. Davis and her staff provide a full market evaluation unique to individuals’ needs or employees’ needs, as well as the best recommendations.
AMP: Given recent circumstances, are more employers looking at adding Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s)?
Davis: Our agency has had an influx of employers over the past few months inquiring about employee assistance programs. The majority of the inquiries have come from smaller employers with fewer than than 50 employees that traditionally have not offered EAP’s. COVID-19 fatigue is a real thing. We serve as the broker for a dental clinic that had a long-term employee resign recently because she just couldn’t continue with the stress of the ongoing COVID-19 protocols required in her office.
AMP: Will open enrollment look the same this year?
Davis: Open enrollment looked different for us last year. We had to quickly implement new protocols, and we will continue with those changes for this upcoming open enrollment season. We are conducting the majority of our renewal consultations with employers via Zoom calls and will conduct open enrollment for the employees via a web-based enrollment portal that includes a recorded educational video tailored to each employer group. The ability to attach a recorded video to the enrollment portal is vital since employees need to be fully educated on their employee benefits. We also schedule interactive Zoom calls for employees to join so they can get their questions answered.
Stephen Bankson, USAble Life
Stephen Bankson is Vice President of Life, Disability, and Supplemental Underwriting, Product and Commissions at USAble Life in Little Rock. USAble offers a wide range of benefits including dental, life, accident, disability and more. The organization works closely with leading health insurers across the United States to deliver a suite of products and services that meet the health and financial wellness needs of customers.
AMP: Is life insurance a necessary component to a competitive benefits package?
Bankson: Employers are increasingly looking at benefits such as life insurance to be competitive in attracting and keeping employees. The pandemic has brought a heightened awareness of life insurance benefits and employees recognize the value, which makes it a vital benefit for employers to offer. More employees, particularly those under 40, are opting in or selecting higher amounts during annual enrollments.
AMP: Are more employers including ancillary benefits in their overall benefits packages?
Bankson: The top three supplemental health benefits employees are interested in signing up for (if offered) are life, accident and critical illness. Life insurance is one of the lower-cost benefits and is easier to administer than some of the other ancillary insurance benefits. A $50,000 benefit often costs fewer than $10 per employee per month. Due to its low cost and ease of implementation, life insurance is often the first benefit a new or small firm implements.
Eric Eidson, Arvest Wealth Management
Eric Eidson is a vice president and Senior Retirement Plan Relationship Manager with Arvest Wealth Management, serving the Little Rock and Fort Smith markets. He works closely with retirement plan sponsors to assist with ﬁduciary and compliance responsibilities, investment selection and monitoring and a customized education plan for participants.
AMP: Is a retirement plan a necessary component to a competitive benefits package?
Eidson: In today’s labor market, a competitive retirement plan is an absolute prerequisite. This includes both 401(k)s in the for-profit market and 403(b)s for nonprofit employers (sometimes a Cash Balance Pension plan or 457 Deferred Compensation plan is paired with the primary plan). With that said, it takes more than simply offering a plan or adding a match to make a retirement plan competitive: Employees need to understand the benefits to make it truly beneficial.
I always enjoy meeting with a first-time saver to help them understand the differences between pre-tax and Roth contributions, or the basics of investing. I often hear, “No one ever took the time to explain this to me.” When I do, it’s a win-win situation for the employee and the employer. The employee is bettering themselves for the future, and the employer has a grateful employee.
AMP: How important is life and disability coverage?
Eidson: Life and disability insurance are also key components to most benefits packages, and they’re often even more overlooked than retirement plans. Americans are chronically under-insured, and many times their only life and/or disability insurance coverage is through their employer-sponsored group plans. This means that a carefully crafted insurance plan can provide employees a needed benefit, and may even spur some employees to seek additional insurance outside of their employer-sponsored plan.
David Todd, Sunstar Insurance of Arkansas
David Todd is COO/President of Benefits at Sunstar Insurance of Arkansas, headquartered in Little Rock. After 20 years in the business, he and his team at the Todd Agency merged with Sunstar in May 2019. He is licensed in life and health, as well as property and casualty.
AMP: In what ways have benefits evolved over the last decade? How have employers’ and employees’ priorities changed over time?
Todd: Many organizations understand that they have to offer attractive and flexible benefits to attract and keep the best candidates, and that requires continually looking at ways to improve benefit packages. Benefit packages need to be looked at not only as just medical or dental insurance, but as a whole for happy and productive employees. These benefits can certainly be insurance products like medical, dental, life and disability, but they should also now include items like wellness benefits, telecommuting and professional development opportunities that provide and improve work/life balance.
AMP: Given what recent circumstances have taught us, is the traditional employer health coverage model still viable?
Todd: Absolutely. As reported by both the Kaiser Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau, employer health coverage is by far the most prevalent option for more than half of the U.S. population. Employer-based coverage is far from perfect and needs to continue to adapt and to improve; however, it still provides more options and better cost controls than any other forms of health coverage.