Last month, a statement from McKinsey Consulting declared that "social innovators are bringing bold new approaches to the difficult problems that plague the world. The next disruptive force in social innovation will involve a new, more rigorous approach that funnels resources to where they can do the most good."

In the employee benefits arena, such a disruptive force might at first glance appear to be counterintuitive. After all, many employers currently are restricting employees' use of social media sites.

However, a bold approach might be to let employees use social media to be more efficient in time-consuming activities so they can spend more time on business. This time of year, what's more time-consuming than holiday shopping?

Online shopping is what has given Groupon a market valuation of $17 billion in less than four years. More than 140 million employees every day receive a special discount offer from Groupon via email or online; however, only 20% of ever purchased a Groupon discount offer and about 10% have purchased multiple discount offers.

Although the marketplace is getting more crowded - with offers from Living Social, Amazon, Google and more - clearly there is room for growth.

When pay increases are smaller then ever before, giving employees an option to save up to hundreds of dollars each month on holiday shopping - while preserving valuable productive work time - makes good financial sense.

Enter access to online discount shopping as a voluntary benefit. It will save employees time, money, frustration and help them be more efficient using social media. Further, most online and offline discount shopping systems can be provided at no or little cost to the employer. There's usually no need for payroll deduction, onsite group meetings, one-on-one enrollments, and no need for selling.

Some of the top consultants and brokers quietly have been offering an discount shopping benefits, including world's largest brokerage firm Marsh. Rob Shestack, Marsh's national practice leader, has been promoting an online tool for employees of Fortune 100 employers to shop and get heavily discounted deals.

The key to finding a quality employee benefit discount shopping provider is looking for a partner that has:

* Operated for more than four years.

* Ratings from the Better Business Bureau and Dun & Bradstreet.

* A financially stable history with many existing clients and merchants in their network.

* More than 400 online merchants and more than 1,000 offline merchants in their network.

* No funding from a multilevel network marketing as their sales and distribution source.

* The ability to provide total customer support.

Rob J. Thurston, president of the HR Consulting Group, has implemented and designed some of the nation's largest-selling employee benefits software systems. Currently, he is working on developing several advanced technology systems for both HR and for employee benefits. Thurston can be reached at 888-438-9445 or




Online discount shopping tips

*Set a budget. The same speed that lets you compare so many items can also present you with so many options that you lose sight of your budget.

* Research the product before you buy. Rarely will you come across a product that you can't find more about online.

* Beware impulse shopping. With the Internet powering your search, the speed and ease of your shopping can also let you make snap decisions that you regret later.

* What's the overall price? Make sure you tack on any shipping and handling charges to get an accurate picture of the cost.

* Plan ahead. Remember that you will have an incredible amount of discount shopping information at the tips of your fingers. Focus on the needs you mapped out so you don't get lost.





Although many companies continue to tighten their financial belts, when it comes to voluntary benefits, employers are much more employee- focused, as opposed to cost-driven.

Seventy-five percent of employers say their top reason for offering voluntary benefits is to expand the benefits options available to employees, with 42% offering voluntary benefits to fulfill an employee need, and 30% offering them at employees' request, according to a study released by Prudential.

Eighty-five percent of employers say they offer one or more voluntary benefits, including life insurance (63%), disability insurance (56%) and dental insurance (52%). Ranking lower were critical illness insurance (35%) and long-term care insurance (33%).

The study found a correlation between voluntary benefits offerings and employee satisfaction. For employers, employee satisfaction is the top gauge of success (47%), followed by achieving a certain set participation rate (34%).

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