Are You Sure You Want to Ask Employees What They Think About Their Benefits?

Are total rewards redesigns the new black? They seem so fashionable that companies are jumping on the benefits redesign bandwagon faster than you can say reallocation.

And, while we are usually big, big fans of talking to employees as much as possible, it is seldom a smart first step when you go down the total rewards redesign path.

Total rewards redesigns are just that — taking a new look at the full picture of total compensation, across all benefit programs and sometimes including all compensation programs, too.

Do employee preferences influence benefit plan design?

For many companies, they spring from a realization that benefit programs are way above or below market in some areas versus others. Or, they arise from the realization that no one understands an overly rich legacy program while they are feeling slighted by a less-than-average benefit in another area.

In these cases, it might be tempting to jump right to a big employee survey. Many firms offer very sophisticated conjoint analysis and focus group techniques to get down to the nitty gritty preferences and values of your employee population.

But, proceed with caution. You only want to ask employees for their input on your benefit plan design if their preferences actually can be used to influence plan design.

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Before you dive into employee surveys, first do some deep examinations of your benefit plans, market competitiveness, budgets, strategy, etc. Define the objectives and budget constraints before you start asking employees for input.

You only want to ask employees for their feedback if your ultimate plan design decisions can be influenced by that feedback. Too many organizations rush into focus groups or in-depth surveys, which both inevitably set the expectation that employees have a say in the benefits redesign.

In reality, budget, market competitiveness or other factors usually end up driving the changes. This only sets you up for a tougher communication effort when you might be seen as actively ignoring the input and preferences of your employees.

Jennifer Benz is Chief Strategist and Founder of Benz Communications, a San Francisco-based consultancy that focuses on custom, comprehensive benefits and HR communications services. Jen is an active member of the Council for Communication Management, the International Association of Business Communicators, the Northern California Human Resources Association and Women in Consulting. Contact her at