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What Does Winning With Voluntary Benefits Look Like?

Do you ever feel like it’s just about impossible to keep tabs on how well your company’s benefits programs are performing?

Many HR professionals are so zoned in on optimizing their primary benefits, like health insurance or paid vacation, that they don’t have much time or energy to assess or promote those programs employees have to make a proactive choice to participate in.

Choosing benefits is always a big effort. Each choice takes plenty of time and money to make, and it hurts to see any benefit fall through the cracks because of a lack of promotion or engagement with employees. Since this dilemma is all too common, it’s valuable to look at how to win with these often less-broadcasted benefits.

Focusing on Voluntary Benefits

The benefits that workers must elect to use can affect the success of your business just as much as the primary ones. Voluntary benefits have a big impact on morale, employee wellness, and bottom lines.

However, getting a good measure of success in voluntary benefits is challenging. To bring some clarity to the matter, let’s discuss what winning looks like with some of the most popular programs.

Life Insurance

This benefit can ignite debate. However, if you are going to offer a life insurance benefit, there’s only one sure way to help your employees win, and that’s by offering level term life insurance.

This rules out offering whole life or universal life policies. Although the latter types are often hyped as vehicles to save money for retirement, they’re actually a horrible investment for that purpose or for any other.

Conversely, term policies are very affordable and provide workers’ beneficiaries with much greater payouts in the event of an untimely death. Here are several key features to include with this benefit:

  • Clear Information. Educate employees on the appropriate amount of coverage. The rule of thumb is to get a policy with a payout of 10–12 times your income.

  • Time Frame. These policies should typically cover a 20- to 30-year term.

  • Further Action. Be sure your team is aware of the need for a will that specifies how the life insurance should be paid out to beneficiaries.

Gym Membership Programs

Many employees want access to gyms and fitness facilities, and offering one can be a win-win for both workers and companies. Here are a couple of tips to drive real engagement:

  • Don’t just dole this out to everyone with a blank check arrangement. It’s better for your budget and for your workers’ wellness that you require some kind of minimal demonstration of their commitment. A great way to do this is to reimburse them after they’ve paid for the membership, which will ensure that most of the participants are actually going to exercise.

  • Run an annual weight-loss contest and include cash prizes or extra time off for those who lose the most or log the most steps.

Identity Theft Protection

Have you ever considered the impact ID theft is having on your team? It’s a growing problem that’s not only a headache for individuals, but also for employers. This kind of crime becomes more common every year. In 2017 hackers made off with the personal data of nearly 148 million Americans in one fell swoop! (1)

Considering this ongoing threat to your workers’ financial, medical, tax, and Social Security status, fixing an ID theft issue could take your employee hundreds of hours. That’s why offering theft protection is a great idea as a voluntary benefit.

Look for a program with these features:

  • generous repayment for stolen funds and expenses

  • live support customer service

  • proactive monitoring and alerts

  • coverage against medical, IRS, Social Security, financial and criminal theft

Financial Wellness

It would be impossible for anyone working in HR not to notice how poorly most Americans are faring in their personal finances. Study after study confirms this impression. To cite just one example, CareerBuilder announced in 2017 (1) the following devastating list of financial facts:

  • 78% of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck.

  • More than a quarter fail to save any money from their monthly pay.

  • Most are in some form of debt.

  • High earners are not immune to this kind of lifestyle—even among six-figure earners, 10% live paycheck to paycheck.

Adding a benefit to help employees address these issues is more pressing than ever. First, we’ll talk about what we don’t recommend.

401(k) Workshops

As popular as these have been for decades, they’re not among the programs we’d recommend you offer. The issues preventing seminars from working appear to be threefold:

  • For most people, diving into the topic of investing for retirement is usually premature. That’s obvious in light of the widespread debt and lack of savings mentioned in the earlier statistic.

  • Assuming that many if not most of your employees aren’t in great shape financially, they’ll most likely be reluctant to discuss that fact in front of their colleagues. (And who can blame them?) Without discussion, true growth is limited.

  • Workshops are hard to measure. A one-time or quarterly meeting with sparse attendance doesn’t provide enough regularity to move the needle.

Mobile Programs: Engaging Workers for Behavior Change

So how can you be effective in helping workers truly turn their lives around financially? Instead of impersonal lectures, you’ll see much greater financial wellness engagement as well as morale if you can provide employees with a simple, step-by-step plan to fix their current financial situation. This program should include excellent content in both written and video formats, budgeting guidance with the necessary tools provided, and mobile access to maximize convenience and learning.


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And for your benefits team to win in this area, you’ll need a program that includes aggregate reporting of:

  • total participants

  • overall progress with the plan

  • employee engagement

  • a running tally of total debts paid off and money saved

Incentivize Your Wellness Program

In addition to offering behavior-driven content, what’s the best way to drive participation and hold engagement with your program? The answer is incentives.


We’ve seen contests drive up participation in the short term and grow engagement in the long term. Not only do companies see a spike in users during contests, they typically also see a significant number of those new users stick around for more learning and progress with the program over time.

The best contests will include prizes your workers would actually want to win. Offer cash, meals or the opportunity to win extra time off. And add to the fun by grouping coworkers or departments together on teams. Tracking points is fun on both the individual and team level of competition.


Your workers will also be more motivated when they’re actively setting goals in the program. This is about a lot more than 401(k) participation or even account balances. You want to see as many employees as possible setting goals around

  • regular budgeting

  • debt elimination

  • emergency funds

  • college saving

  • investment

Ideally, you’ll find vendors who can help you to determine the best practices for helping employees build and accomplish those goals, from contests to seasonal campaigns and even customized reporting.

How Much Can I Really Expect?

It’s fair to ask how much a financial wellness benefit, even one offering laser beam focus on the core issues of money behavior, can really help your business. How much can you really expect with the right program?

The answer is nothing less than a huge victory for all parties. When workers receive the right tools in a behavior-change financial wellness program, they quickly realize less stress, which leads to greater productivity at work.

You can also look forward to reduced turnover. The sad fact is that most American workers are actively seeking a new job or watching for a better opportunity. (2) The right wellness benefit can reduce that number for your company, not only because employees will be in better shape financially but also because they’ll feel greater trust in and gratitude toward your organization.

Studies have also shown that as financial wellness improves in companies, they enjoy a 24.6% decrease in unplanned absences. (3)

Make Sure You’re Winning With Your Voluntary Wellness Program

At SmartDollar, we’ve seen how the right financial wellness program can benefit both workers and companies. And nobody makes it easier for you to measure success than SmartDollar—through personal progress tracking and points for employees, and overall performance reports for employers.

Want to learn more about bringing SmartDollar and real financial change to your team? Contact us now for a demo.


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Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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