Benefits Plan – a Key Element to Company’s Strategy

We’re an employee benefits provider to small businesses across Canada, but we also need to provide employee benefits or our own growing team. GroupHEALTH’s Vice President of People and Culture, Simon Blunden is an expert at both sides of the benefits business: as a provider, working at GroupHEALTH, and as a “client”, leading our benefits strategy. We asked him how we manage our own benefits and the best ways that small business owners can “optimize” their benefits plan.

1. What is your role, and what responsibility do you have for GroupHEALTH’s benefits?

Simon Blunden | Benefits Plan – a Key Element to Company’s Strategy | GroupHEALTH
I am the Vice-President, People & Culture for the GroupHEALTH Family of Companies. In this role, I oversee our Human Resources and Payroll teams four-six divisions. My role also includes responsibility for employee learning & development, talent acquisition and benefits functions.

2. How are the benefits used to support GroupHEALTH’s strategy?

Our employee benefits program is a key element to our overall total rewards strategy and is critical to our ability to attract and retain employees.

3. Who do you think is responsible for an organization’s overall benefits strategy?

I think it depends on the size of the organization. We are a medium-sized employer growing rapidly and employing over 600 employees across Canada and so we have an established Human Resources function. Typically the benefits strategy is determined by HR in consultation with senior leadership. That will, of course, look a bit different depending on the size of your company. If your company has an HR department, it can be a valuable resource in helping determine a company’s overall benefits strategy.

4. How does GroupHEALTH use its benefits in attracting and retaining talent?

Our benefits plan is a key component of our overall Employee Value Proposition. For those not familiar with an EVP, it’s simply what a company offers to its employees by way of rewards, benefits and perks in return for their commitment and performance.

Because our own business is in the benefits industry, it becomes even more important for us to have an attractive benefit offering to our team. We continually highlight our benefits plan to potential candidates as one of the many reasons that people would want to work for us. We also make sure that our benefits plan has a wide range of offerings that our employees (and their families) can take advantage of; it becomes another reason for our team members to stay.

5. What are the must-haves that an employee benefits plan needs to attract good new candidates?

Traditional benefits such as extended health, dental, life insurance and disability coverage are all table stakes and what most candidates would expect from an employer at a minimum. Beyond that candidates look for flexibility in a benefit plan allowing them to choose their coverage levels based on their needs. Not everyone’s situation is the same, and so having a benefits plan that provides flexibility in coverage is key.

For example, a 20-year old single employee will value different benefit coverages compared to a middle-aged, a married employee with three kids. This is where flexible benefit plans and/or health spending accounts can really be an attractive offering. It’s also important to remember that when candidates look at benefit plans, they are also looking at the “full package” meaning traditional benefits, retirement benefits, time off benefits and other perks a company offers.

6. What’s changed in employee benefits over the last few years that you think employers need to know about?

There are a couple of significant changes that employers should be aware of.

The most important one, of course, is cost. If not designed properly, the cost of benefit plans can rise well beyond the rate of inflation, and I’ve seen employers get caught up in the vicious cycle of increased premiums which means it becomes more expensive to offer benefits to employees. Fortunately, there are many innovative products to help contain costs – and GroupHEALTH offers (and include as part of our own employee benefits plan) features to help control short and long-term costs without reducing coverage.

In addition to this virtual healthcare and central dispensing pharmacies have become essential products, particularly in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. An employee plan that includes virtual healthcare and a central dispensing pharmacy offers the ability for an employee (or their covered dependent) to have a medical consultation by cell phone and even get their prescriptions delivered to home or work without even having to leave their home or office.

A lot of providers (ourselves included) are switching to a mobile platform for plan members to access their benefits through their mobile devices. Gone are the days when you give employees a 100-page benefit booklet and paper forms. Everyone wants convenience to access their benefit plan information as well as the ability to make claims through their mobile device.

Lastly, we’re seeing a big shift in focus to wellness. While traditional benefits are great when employees and their dependents fall ill, we like to also take a more proactive approach with our benefits plan by having a solid wellness program that caters to our employees’ financial, physical and emotional well-being.

7. Small businesses, in particular, can be challenged to choose a good benefits plan for their employees? What would you advise them to look for?

I think it’s important to know your employee base and demographics to understand what benefits are most important to your team. As I mentioned previously if you can choose a plan that provides flexibility with coverage this is critical to appealing to different demographics. You want a plan that balances competitive levels of coverage, but that also has controls and measures in place to help the company contain costs.

8. GroupHEALTH talks a lot about cost contained benefits plans? What does GroupHEALTH do to cost contain its own benefits plan?

At GroupHEALTH we believe in drinking our own champagne and so our employee benefit plan includes many of the products and services we offer to our clients! Here are just a few examples:

  • Our Extended Health and Dental plan is an ASO (Administrative Services Only) plan, meaning we pay the cost of claims ourselves, plus a small administrative fee for claims adjudication. The effectiveness of this strategy will depend on each business’s needs, but for GroupHEALTH this has proven to cost-effective…
  • Our disability coverage includes an early intervention service so that employees who are off work due to a non-occupational absence have the support they need in obtaining the appropriate medical services and a safe and early return to work. This has been effective in reducing our disability premiums.
  • Our employee benefits plan contains a central dispensing pharmacy whereby employees (and their covered dependents) get higher levels of coverage for having prescription medication filled through one provider that is then couriered to the employees’ work or home. This helps us contain prescription dispensing fees as well as drug markup fees.
  • We offer our employees a Health Spending Account (HSA) where the HSA credits vary depending on the employee’s benefit plan choice. While this provides flexibility to the employee, the HSA credits all have set limits which provide us predictability with certain health and dental expenses.

There are many other technical cost containment programs within our own benefits plan, but suffice to say we believe very strongly in offering competitive benefits to our team members that are sustainable; after all, we’re just like any other business that has to carefully manage our expenses.

9. You were once a client of GroupHEALTH: what was your experience as a client?

Before joining the GroupHEALTH team, I was the Director of Human Resources and Labour Relations for a large US transportation company with operations in Canada.

My relationship with GroupHEALTH started back in 2014 when I transitioned our employee benefits plans for our Canadian employees to GroupHEALTH. My experience was nothing short of exceptional. Right from the first time, I interacted with GroupHEALTH through the sales process, through the plan implementation, and then the ongoing administration of our plan.

It was the first time in my HR career that I felt a true partnership with my benefits provider. Everyone I interacted with at GroupHEALTH took the time to understand our needs, work with us to overcome our challenges, but most importantly offered an exceptional plan member and plan administrator experience. As a result of my positive experience as a client, I was, of course, ecstatic when the opportunity presented itself to join the team.

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