Special Report: Benefits “Supplemental Security”

By Andrew R. McIlvaine
Human Resource Executive May 2010
Page 40-44

The most popular voluntary benefits today – especially at organizations where the average employee paycheck is far less than what Draper’s [Draper Laboratory, a nonprofit science-and-technology firm based in Cambridge, Mass.] workers earn – are those pertaining to financial security, says Jim Mooradian of Jim Mooradian & Associates, an insurance brokerage in Boston that specializes in voluntary benefits.

“We’ve seen a dramatic shift in interest to benefits – such as accident insurance – that are designed to help you if something unforeseen happens in life,” he says.

Five years ago, these products were further down the priority list, says Mooradian.  However, as employees assume a greater share of their benefits costs, they’re more concerned about their exposure to unforeseen circumstances, he says.

“it might be something as simple as their kid breaking an ankle during soccer practice or something as severe as having a heart attack or receiving a cancer diagnosis – whatever the case, things like short-term disability, long-term disability and accident insurance are seeing a big upswing,” he says.

“Job security is the No. 1 thing on the minds of American workers, but right after that is, ‘What would happen to my family if I got hurt, if I got cancer?’”

At Town Sports International, a New York-based operator of fitness clubs nationwide, more than 30 percent of the company’s 2,500 benefits-eligible employees signed up for accident insurance during its most recent enrollment period, says Tom Brzostowski, director of compensation and benefits.
“I was a bit surprised – pleasantly surprised – that so many of our employees signed up for voluntary benefits in this economy,” he says.

TSI, which offers a voluntary benefits package which also includes enhanced disability insurance and universal and term life insurance, views the benefits as a way to make life easier for its employees without necessarily increasing the organization’s costs, says Brzostowski.
Having a dedicated point person – whether it’s an HR staffer or a brokerage representative – meet individually with employees to discuss core and voluntary benefits is crucial, says Dickerson.
During the enrollment period, TSI enlisted Mooradian’s firm to help explain chances made to the company’s core benefits plan, he says.

The company had recently switched medical carriers and wanted to take the opportunity to explain the change to employees and ensure they were fully informed about all of the company’s benefit offerings, including its voluntary benefits.  Representatives from Mooradian’s firm sat down with employees for face-to-face discussions about their options.

“We felt that having one-on-one dialogues would really help our employees get their questions answered, says Tom Brzostowski [director of compensation and benefits at TSI].
The effort yielded a pleasant surprise: TSI had anticipated that anywhere from 56 percent to 60 percent of employees would sign up for its core benefits package; ultimately, nearly 75 percent signed up.

“We had a nice increase in the number of employees signing up for core benefits, and that’s what we were hoping for,” he says.

Having Mooradian’s team conduct the briefings was important for other reasons, too, says Brzostowski.

“I have a staff of three people in our benefits department, so meeting with employees at all 165 of our locations, within a very short timeframe, would’ve been challenging, to say the least,” he says.
Having one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss voluntary benefits lets his staff perform a sort of educational function that the insurance industry was once rewarded for, but no longer does, says Mooradian.

“Thirty years ago, the insurance industry was a great educator about life insurance, and that was done face-to-face,” he says. “You’d get a guy from Prudential or MetLife to come to your house, sit down with you and your spouse and take you through, one by one, the points of how it worked.  But the world’s changed since then – the cost and commission structure of that era can no longer be supported.  So, explaining this stuff to people in the context of the worksite is a good way to get this type of education to folks who otherwise wouldn’t get it.”