Dealing with the compliance and regulatory challenges of the Affordable Care Act and other employment legislation hasn’t left employers much time in recent years to deal with broader benefits strategy issues but the two areas – compliance and strategy – go hand-in-hand.

Speaking at the Society of Human Resource Management’s annual conference in Orlando, Fla., this week, Sheldon J. Blumling, a partner at Fisher & Phillips, explained that strategy and compliance may have more similarities in benefits programs than many HR professionals might think.

“They are two things that intersect a lot and, frankly, work together,” said Blumling. “And in my view, you kind of have to have an interest in, and a handle on, both to do your job at a maximum value for your company.”

And with the ACA and other paid leave laws crisscrossing in almost all regions, Blumling noted that “compliance is a necessary evil” for every benefit plan sponsor. Although, he added that employee benefits have always been a key value-add and incentive piece in attraction and retention.

Also see: IRS regulations clarify employer ACA reporting requirements

“The reality is that in order to compete for that talent you need to offer a rich benefits package, and if you offer a rich benefits package, you’re going to have a lot of complexity to deal with,” said Blumling, chair of the firm’s employee benefits practice group. He advises that HR and benefits decision-makers ought to “maximize the bang for the buck for your benefits, [and] make sure your people are fully appreciating that benefits package that you’re giving them.”

“You can spend a lot of time and money putting together a great benefits package,” he said. “You’re in tip-top shape when it comes to the compliance stuff, but if people aren’t perceiving the value [then] what are you really getting out of it?”

Meanwhile, according to Mary Schafer, vice president of HCM strategic communications in ADP’s strategic advisory group, employers need to be transparent in their benefits decisions in order to truly open employees’ eyes.

“There really is a tie [between] the benefits that you offer to your employees and their satisfaction,” Schafer said during the SHRM conference. “Employees really want to know ‘What is the decision my company is making? Why are they making these choices for us? How does it affect me and my family?’ There is that expectation that we [benefits professionals] will be open and honest with our associates.”

Also see: When one-size-fits-all benefits communication fits no one

Strategically, it makes sense for employers to have a good communication plan when it comes to benefits and annual health plan enrollment periods, Schafer said. With 84% of leaders saying disengaged employees are one of the three biggest threats facing their business, benefits programs present a vital opportunity for employers to translate the real value of those benefits.

The generational diversity of today’s workforce – with several generations working together – can complicate benefit communication efforts, but Schafer encouraged leaders to think outside the box and not get discouraged, even if that first pamphlet didn’t drive many employees to the company’s benefits website.

“It takes an average of seven times for someone to digest a message, understand it and take action on it,” she explained, while joking that “just when you think you have beaten a dead horse about communications around benefits or HR, you can now beat that horse a couple more times.”

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