Competitive benefits and educating employees about them is a key to staff retention

By: Bill Zolis

One of the interesting trends that we see emerging from the great shake-up in the employment market that is taking place as Covid restrictions are ending is the growing importance of benefits plans across the board in areas of recruitment, retention, job satisfaction and the well workplace.

We are seeing that benefits are more important than ever, that they are becoming a big part of the competitive edge for employers, and that educating employees about their benefits is just as important as offering them in the first place.

Now a major survey put out by RBC Insurance had put some remarkable numbers to this trend that we have seen growing for the last few years.

The headline of the story is that 73 percent of young Canadian employees, aged 18 to 34, are open to the idea of changing jobs and moving to a new employer that offers what they see as better benefits. This is particularly significant considering the fact that it has long been the popular wisdom that younger people are less concerned with benefits than their older colleagues.

Workers aged 35 to 44 were almost as likely to be willing to move for the sake of better benefits at 69 percent, according to the survey.

This is happening at a time when the labour market is about as tight as it has ever been: unemployment – the number of people looking for work – is currently reported as 5.2 percent, a rate we haven’t seen this low since 1976. The number of available workers is down 6 percent from pre-pandemic numbers, most likely due to people who have left the labour market. On the other side of that equation, the number of current job openings is running at about 70 percent higher than before the pandemic hit us at the start of 2020.

Of course, if around 70 percent of workers are willing to contemplate changing jobs in order to get better benefits – which, for many, would not be difficult in the current high-demand job market – they should be equally willing to stay where they are if they feel they have very good benefits in their current jobs.

So what do people in the survey consider to be the most desirable features of a great benefits plan? Again, the results from the survey are no big surprise to any of us in the benefits management business, but they do strongly confirm what we have been talking about for some time.

The top three things reported in the survey are as follows:

– Better coverage and support for mental wellness (things like employee assistance plans (EAPs) and online or telehealth counseling) was listed by 88 percent of respondents,

– Health spending accounts were cited by 80 percent,

– Flexibility and the option to add additional coverage to align with personal financial objectives was reported by 79 percent.

Another interesting finding of the survey was that employees who have employer-provided benefits plans are generally happier with their work than people who do not have benefits. They rated job satisfaction at 64 percent, six points higher than non-benefits workers, well-being at 10 points higher, and physical and mental health at 8 and 7 points higher respectively.

However, offering benefits is not the whole story when it comes to achieving the objectives of your benefits plan – employee satisfaction, retention, building the well workplace and so on. Making sure your employees know about it is just as important.

A survey I saw from the U.S. found that less than half – 48 percent – of employees knew all of the features of their own benefits plans, and that only 40 percent could recall ever receiving any information or education on the subject from their employers.

I think part of the reason that some employers don’t do more to educate their employees about their benefits is rooted in some pretty old-fashioned thinking – that benefits are an expense to be minimized, rather than an investment to be capitalized on to the fullest extent possible.

It’s a fair bet that other employers looking to recruit your best people are talking about their benefits plans and making them a key part of their recruitment strategy. Which means that promoting and fully explaining the benefits plan you have worked so hard to build and tailor to the needs of your employees should be a big part of your retention strategy.

There are a great many ways to inform and educate employees about their benefits. Here are just a few:

– An annual, one page statement of benefits, listing the key facts and linking to more detailed information, sent to every employee.

– An online resource explaining the full benefits program.

– Lunch-and-learn sessions.

– Company newsletter articles.

– E-mails to all staff.

– Presentations about benefits at employee events.

Another very effective strategy that some employers have used to educate their employees about benefits – and to promote their benefits plans in the process – is to use an employee survey. This can be tailored to measure employee perceptions about benefits, to measure their level of satisfaction, to identify elements that are popular and gaps that could be addressed, and so on. It can be an important part of tailoring benefits to the particular needs and preferences of the work force and it can provide important information for future planning. (But be careful what you ask for – open ended questions can raise expectations that you might find difficult to satisfy.)

As more and more surveys and studies are showing, it’s important to offer the benefits that employees are telling us they want. And it’s just as important to make sure they know about it when we do.


July issue, Live Well, Work Well. Great tips for living well in the summer!


I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at

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