Knowing this, companies are offering more voluntary, or employee-paid, benefits in addition to the perks that workers have come to expect from their employers, such as health insurance and a 401(k) plan. Voluntary benefits are a win-win for companies, as they give their employees a discount on desired services or products and involve little or no cost to the employer.
More importantly, employees are saying they’d like more voluntary benefits to choose from, according to the MetLife study. Almost half of the respondents at mid-size companies (50-99 employees) said they’d like a larger benefits “pool” from which to select.
In addition to fairly well-known voluntary benefits like employee assistance programs, legal advice, and health club discounts, one such product that more employers are requesting is pet insurance. “Pet insurance brings another layer of stress reduction and peace of mind for employees coping with high demand lifestyles and work-life challenges, and it helps in recruiting,” says Kathleen Schoeffler, human resources director for Providence, R.I.-based Citizens Financial Group.
Others are following suit. More than 1,600 companies now offer Veterinary Pet Insurance Company’s pet insurance coverage as a voluntary benefit, a 100% increase since the end of 2003-and a dramatic upsurge from six years prior, when a paltry 15 companies were on board. Presently, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is the nation’s oldest and largest licensed provider of health insurance for pets, which helps attract big-name companies like Viacom, WAMU, Nokia, Chipotle, and Procter & Gamble, all of which offer the pet perk to their workers.
Why is offering something like pet insurance important to benefits administrators? First of all, they know that workers are more productive when taken care of in all aspects of their lives, all the way down to health coverage for Fido and Fifi. Furthermore, employers realize that healthcare costs, even for pets, can put a serious dent in a worker’s finances.
“We’re here to help protect our customers’ financial well-being,” says Carl Formato, president of WAMU, which offers VPI pet insurance to its employees. “Pet insurance takes the financial burden out of the equation so pet owners can make the best health care decisions for their pets based on medical information, not money.”
The trend of uncommon employee benefits doesn’t start and stop with pet insurance, however. Companies are beginning to take a long, hard look at current events and trends, and are basing their offerings on what’s new and important to their workers. Some companies, for example, partially reimburse employees who purchase a hybrid, or “clean fuel,” vehicle. Other companies are taking note of the heightened attention to personal finance issues and have started offering perks like Section 529 education savings plans or financial planning services.
The advantage of offering such voluntary benefits doesn’t solely profit the employee, however. These benefits are easy to administer and relatively hassle-free, and they don’t cost the company much aside from nominal administrative expenses. Companies with more than 500 employees can also set up payroll deduction for monthly premium payments. Policies are fully portable, too, meaning that employees with a VPI pet insurance policy are able to visit any licensed veterinarian, anywhere. For companies with offices scattered amongst several states, the portability factor enables a nationwide offering to its workforce.
Voluntary benefits offer employees a discounted price on the service as well, ensuring that they’re getting the best possible rate available. Some companies go that extra mile and offer additional deductions; Chipotle, for example, contributes to their employees’ monthly premiums for VPI pet insurance, in addition to providing the group discount.
In most cases, it costs nothing to offer these services to employees. Not only are companies extending the benefit or discount to their employees, but they are viewed as keeping current with trends in unique benefits. As such, they are considered an employer that genuinely cares about its employees and their families. By offering a pet insurance benefit, for example, the company is recognizing that the human-animal bond is stronger now than ever before, and that they are committed to doing whatever it takes to make their employees and their pets happy and healthy.
As VPI and other businesses continue to sign up companies that have decided to add a new, unique offering to their benefits packages, the response we are hearing from these employers is encouraging for workers. They are listening.
Human resources and benefits managers who are interested in adding appeal to their employee benefits package with the addition of a voluntary benefits platform can call 714-989-5647 for information on how to get started.
About the Author
Bill Gorman is Manager of Group Sales/National Accounts for Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI). Gorman joined VPI in 1998 and spearheaded the group sales department with the mission to add pet health insurance to nationwide employee/corporate group benefits packages and third party administrator (TPA) platforms. Following his posts with Aetna Life, Kemper Insurance Companies, and National Casualty Company, VPI hired Gorman to introduce the novel concept of pet insurance as a new voluntary group product to large corporations, associations, and TPAs.
Gorman and his wife are proud pet parents to a perky short-hair cat that answers to Spike.