When we brought home our NEW cockapoo puppy, Cali, our two older dogs were less than enthusiastic. Our husky, Torik, was patiently annoyed, but our big Akita, Connor, strenuously objected to the rambunctious puppy from the beginning. Cali jumped at Connor's face, chased his tail and ran circles around a dog that was five times her size. In response, Connor barked and growled - we were fearful that he would injure her.

We engaged our local dog trainer, who worked with the three dogs for a couple of hours before Cali finally figured out that she owed Connor some respect. As soon as she found the right balance between her puppy playfulness and his authority, they became fast friends.

Similarly, finding the right balance between providing a high quality benefit program and the amount deducted from employee paychecks has been especially challenging in recent years. Lately, though, we've seen a noticeable swing in the direction of shoring up benefit programs slashed during the depths of the recession and revisiting employee contribution levels.

Clients who, 24 months ago, dropped employee contributions, upped deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket payments are finding that qualified, savvy shoppers are actively comparing benefit programs as they search for future employment.

If you haven't revisited your employee contribution strategies in the last 12-24 months, here's a quick checklist for benchmarking how competitive your employee payroll deductions are.

Contributing Editor Laurie S. Miller is president of Miller, Buettner & Parrot, Inc., an employee benefits consulting firm. She can be reached at lmiller@mbbenefits.net.



Contributions checklist

1. Gather three-to-five years of internal company employee contribution history, including contributions by employee tier (such as employee, employee plus spouse, employee plus child(ren), and full family).

2. Gather three-to-five years of benefit program changes.

3. Prepare a table indicating the contribution by year, and the benefit program changes made during that time period. Besides deductibles and copay changes, include items such as the implementation of a wellness program or a spouse carve-out program.

4. Gather information from a number of sources to benchmark your employee contribution scenarios. Your broker/consultant or third-party administrator should be able to provide this information. If you belong to an HR group such as the Society for Human Resource Management, they often have benchmarking data. A quick survey can also yield results.

5. Develop a consistent strategy. An example may be a percentage-based cost-sharing - such as 70% employer contribution and 30% employee contribution. Another strategy is for the employer to provide a flat amount, or defined contribution, and the employee is able to buy up to their preferred level of coverage.

6. Accurately communicate the employee contributions for new hires and to employees during open enrollment.

7. Re-evaluate the employee contribution levels when market needs dictate.

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