This summer I went to Disney World with my family. I wanted my kids to visit the home of the Mickey Mouse Club in person. Yes, I know they can learn about Mickey Mouse on TV and the Internet but there was something special about the in-person experience. What does this have to do with employee benefits? Let me explain.

As you find yourself working longer hours with greater responsibilities, the possibility of getting out of the office to attend benefit association meetings is probably difficult, if not impossible. However, you can probably make the time if a meeting is performed in the virtual world. But, don't overlook the value of making time for the "brick and mortar" associations as well. They can provide a level of personalization and satisfaction not achievable in the Internet world.

 

Virtual associations appealing

The new demands of the benefits workplace, coupled with the opportunity to multitask while listening to a benefits meeting/presentation, has made the "virtual" association concept appealing to benefits professionals.

Jovita Klatt, president of the Orange County Compensation and Benefits Association, recently performed a study about why in-person meeting attendance has been decreasing. The No. 1 answer: the inability to get out of the office.

Her solution? Offer compensation and benefits webinars throughout the year to maintain interest in the association and to perhaps even generate some new membership opportunities.

Many benefits associations use guest speakers. Unless truly interactive, the value of the benefits topic presented can be achieved just as effectively virtually as it would be at a face-to-face meeting.

 

New ways to network

You don't necessarily need to "go somewhere" to get relevant information anymore. There are new ways to network, such as connecting with current and past colleagues and joining groups on LinkedIn, and the virtual world also provides ways to gain pertinent benefits information by simply sitting at your computer and reading the information sent to you by Employee Benefit News and other reputable sources.

 

Keep an eye on tomorrow

Yes, you have a job today. But what abut tomorrow? "Brick and mortar" benefits associations offer an opportunity to advocate for your future.

Often times, recruiters will attend benefit association meetings, and this is your opportunity to meet them in person and introduce yourself. You never know (especially in this market) when you might need their services and having a personal relationship will certainly help you along the way.

As a prior corporate employee benefits director, I found it invaluable to meet and interact with peers at local associations where we could compare stories, exchange business cards and feel comfortable reaching out to the other in the future, whether to exchange ideas or discuss the best way to handle a benefits issue.

Attending in person also provides more of a chance that your full attention will be paid to the presentation.

One can make the argument that attending virtually (with the opportunity to multitask) is better than not being able to attend at all, but the point I would make here is that employee benefits have become increasingly complex, so there is a good chance any topic presented will require particular attention and focus that can't always be maintained at a desk.

 

Local associations

Having lived in various areas of the country working in employee benefits, I always had the opportunity to physically join a local benefits association, so odds are there is an association close to you that offers networking opportunities and professional development.

If you're unsure, I encourage you to reach out to one of the major employee benefits associations. The Society for Human Resource Management, for example, has more than 575 affiliated chapters that offer local activities. The purpose of the chapters is to provide a local forum for your personal and professional development.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, meanwhile, has 48 chapters in the U.S. and Canada, so you're likely to find one near you.

From a cost perspective, associations generally care more about getting bodies in the door than making money per se, so you should be able to find one whose costs are reasonable.

As we packed to leave Disney World, my kids couldn't stop talking about getting Minnie Mouse's autograph, meeting Pocahontas and being high fived by Chip and Dale in the parade at Magic Kingdom. They still couldn't wait to watch their Disney movies on the plane, but it was obvious there was nothing like the in-person experience.

Contributing Editor Ed Bray, J.D., is director of compliance for Burnham Benefits Insurance Services. He helps corporate clients establish and maintain regulatory compliance for their health and welfare benefits plans. He can be reached at bray@burnhambenefits.com.

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