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Leveraging Employee Benefits in a Sluggish Economy

Recruiting and retaining talent becomes even more difficult in an economy with slow projected growth. As an employer, one strategy is to leverage employee benefits to stay competitive and attractive to potential and existing employees. Our Vermont office has had first hand experience on how to navigate this economic climate.

Last month, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Economic Conference in Burlington, with more than 300 in attendance. We heard some sobering statistics about Vermont’s economic outlook. The room fell silent as Art Woolf, a professor of economics at the University of Vermont, presented data on our state’s declining – and aging – population. We already have a tough labor market and a dwindling tax base, and the situation is projected to worsen. But the news wasn’t all bad – organizations like the Vermont Futures Project are tackling these issues head-on, and Governor Scott has committed to an agenda of economic advancement for Vermont. There is hard work to be done and we will all need to pull together.

With economic growth still sluggish, our employees face ongoing financial challenges, and worries over health and finances erode productivity. This is where your employee benefits plan can come into play.

Benefits are crucial for attracting and keeping good employees and benefits can play a vital role in protecting your people from medical and financial disaster.

Here’s what we know:

Good Benefits Attract Good People – When recruiting an employee, whether from in-state or out of state, rate of pay is obviously a primary concern. Second on the list is usually the employee benefits program. Beyond the usual health plan, insurance products like dental, vision, life, and disability insurance are all enticing and important to offer. Disability in particular is of tremendous value, as it is very expensive to buy on an individual basis, but relatively inexpensive when purchased as a group. Of course the health plan will enter the conversation, and it is vital that your plan keep pace with the innovative products in the marketplace today, such as Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Many employees are now looking for one of these plans as an option for their financial security.

Then there are the non-insurance benefits – things like generous leave policies, flex time, wellness programs, Employee Assistance Programs, ID Theft protection, and student loan financing. The new mandatory paid sick-leave law in Vermont will give your leave policy a boost which, while confusing to implement, will ultimately make you a more attractive employer. The list of potential employee benefits is a long one, and a survey of your staff may be helpful to discover what your employees want and need the most.

Protect your Employees from Financial Ruin – Many of us are aware that the only thing standing between our current lives and bankruptcy is a handful of insurance policies: namely health insurance, disability insurance, and life insurance. Most people will not be bankrupted by dental or vision needs, but a six-figure hospital bill would be devastating for almost anyone. Likewise, we take our ability to earn an income for granted, and a disabling injury or illness could remove that ability indefinitely and the stream of paychecks would grind to a halt. The benefits you provide your employees are invaluable in the sense that they provide the protection most people could not afford to buy on their own. More than ever, employees need a creative and well-structured benefits plan to plug the holes in their financial lifeboat. Even offering employee-paid benefits such as accident insurance is a great service to employees, as the policies and rates are not available to individuals.

Having a sound employee benefits plan is important now more than ever. Your benefits should be a pillar within your overall corporate strategy to attract, retain, and protect your most valuable asset – your employees.