The Keenan Blog

Timely and informative posts written by our experts.


Voluntary Plans Offer Employees a Custom Upgrade

November 11, 2021 by Megan Gardner

Today’s competitive employment market is causing employers in every segment to rethink strategy for attracting and retaining top talent. Higher salary offers and generous signing bonuses have still left organizations with enormous staffing gaps. Employers with many front-line and high-risk workers – including schools, health care organizations and municipalities – are especially impacted. The dynamics are complex, and it requires a closer look at what employees are seeking from their jobs.

Many who have been on the front line during the pandemic have realized the degree of risk they were exposed to as they provided vital services in our communities. Some have reconsidered how valuable their paychecks really were and left for employment where they are less exposed, or self-employment. Still others landed in a bind when the opportunity came for a return to the workspace, because they were unable to find child care or found it unaffordable. While they may not be consciously thinking it, employees are likely looking for ways to better manage unpredictable contingencies in protecting their security and finances.

Employee benefits play a huge role in personal risk management. As a part of total compensation, health and welfare benefits are perceived as having high value in relation to their cost. Helping employees to see the real value of their benefits and making those benefits relevant to their security and family situation can be a powerful tool in attracting and retaining the employees you need. The challenge is that every employee is unique, with different needs for health care, income continuity, education expenses, property protection, tax planning and retirement savings. Flexibility is a key element in offering a highly competitive employee benefits program.

Even for basic health care benefits, options may be critical in addressing the range of your employees. Some want coverage with a low employee contribution, others a maximum choice of providers, and others prioritize minimum out-of-pocket expenses. Providing these under a Section 125 cafeteria plan leverages value by allowing employees to pay their contributions with pretax dollars. Even more flexibility is possible when employees get to choose how they allocate their premium allowances to customize their benefits and select coverage that is most valuable to them.

Speaking of Section 125, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) for child care, health care, and transportation expenses can be among the most attractive features for employees to manage their expenses in returning to work.

The ultimate in benefit customization comes in the form of voluntary plans. When employees can pick and choose from a menu of specialized coverage and amounts, they are able to create a financial security portfolio to suit their needs and budget. As an employer, you have an advantage in offering these employee-paid plans because they are not easily available or affordable on an individual basis. Guaranteed approval amounts or simplified underwriting under an employer-sponsored voluntary offering provides greater confidence for employees in considering them. The possible range of plans allows employees to truly address their specific risks and family situation, including:

  • Supplemental Life
  • Home and Auto
  • Accident and Hospitalization
  • Cancer and Dread Disease
  • Veterinary Expense
  • Long Term Care
  • Supplemental Retirement Savings

The more flexible and diverse an employee benefits offering within your total compensation program, the better it can help you to attract and retain the employees you need.


About Megan Gardner
Megan Gardner provides benefits consulting and overall strategic planning for employee benefit programs. Before joining AP Keenan, Megan had more than 12 years of employee benefits experience, including as the Benefits Administration Manager for the University of California as well as the Division Chief of Employee Benefits for the County of San Bernardino. She has extensive experience working on plan design analysis, funding methodology, implementation of self-funded and fully-insured medical programs, including specialty carve-outs, carrier consolidations/replacements, and project managed implementation of online eligibility and self-serve enrollment tools.