According to the federal government, Americans work about eight hours a day. Now, I say "according to..." because the government actually put out a study last month confirming what we already know: we spend a third of our lives at work.
The workplace is our second home. Our employer is our second family. That is why the safety net employers provide for employees matters.
Employees consistently rank health benefits as important-sometimes even more important than salary.
But a new survey from MetLife shows that small businesses are not as good as large businesses at providing meaningful benefits to employees-not surprising given that small businesses are hit with higher health care costs and fewer small businesses can even provide health benefits.
For those who can offer benefits, however, MetLife has weighed in with five practical steps on how to improve the benefits companies provide. But those steps look like a way to sell-you guessed it-more insurance. So I'm providing my own counter-suggestions.
1. MetLife says: that "many small business owners underestimate the value that their employees place on non-medical benefits like dental, disability and life insurance." That may be true but no small business owner will spring for these add-ons if the most important benefit-health care-is driving them out of business.
Counter suggestion: All employees want free benefits. But if you can't provide them for free try to provide dental. After that, remember: an employer can provide benefits without having to contribute any money toward it. Making the insurance available is the next best thing if you can't subsidize the premiums.
2. MetLife says: Deliver wellness programs to control health care costs.
Counter suggestion: If you are going to provide wellness program, know that not all wellness programs are the same. Check out this post for a primer on what to look for in a wellness program.
3. MetLife says: Help employees plan for retirement. Connect employees with local financial institutions.
Counter suggestion: A good idea if that local financial institution can do more than reap profits by, say, helping people secure home loans at low interest rates. Otherwise, your employees are better off if you offer automatic enrollment in a 401(k) plan or, better yet, profit sharing.
4. MetLife says: Simplify benefits communication.
Counter suggestion: Nobody cares about benefits unless you change them-ie. make them more expensive. If you do this, you need to hold meetings with employees. Social media, email, paper can help employees when they sit down to enroll but reassurance begins with face-to-face meetings.
5. MetLife says: Leverage small business workplace advantages for greater worker loyalty.
Counter suggestion: What MetLife is trying to say is that small businesses are more like families than large corporations-especially since many are in fact run by families. It's easier to score big with small, inexpensive treats that keep moral up, like providing Sony Play Stations or foosball tables to blow off steam; good food for lunch on Fridays; free massages during lunch once a week and so on. Here's an article I wrote about how to provide benefits on a shoestring budget.
The bottom line for small business is that health care is the most important benefit and the most expensive. Provide that and everything--anything--else is icing on the cake.