Perceived barriers keep small businesses from offering benefits

Perceived barriers keep small businesses from offering benefits

It’s no secret that small businesses have a lot to offer: collaborative cultures, less bureaucracy, more relaxed attitudes and, in many cases, they provide employees with the chance to build something from the ground up.

That said, small businesses may be lagging behind when it comes to benefit offerings. Only 46% of small business employees said their company offered a range of benefits to meet their needs, compared to approximately 75% of employees who work at mid-sized and large companies, according to the 14th annual MetLife U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study.

Perceived barriers keep some small businesses from adding benefits – from the time it takes to administer them, to the lack of perceived value, to the return on investment (or lack thereof). But these barriers are myths. In fact, small business employer and employee responses to the MetLife Study debunked these three myths and, in fact, provided evidence that offering benefits reaps rewards. By offering benefits, employers can build stronger relationships with their employees, engender loyalty and, as an added bonus, boost productivity.

Myth No. 1: Employees at small businesses aren’t interested in non-medical benefits. With much focus currently on the Affordable Care Act, small business employers may be tempted to assume that employees only care about medical benefit offerings. However, this could not be further from the truth. Dental coverage, for example, is high in demand — and highly utilized — by employees.

In fact, when ranking benefits they were interested in but did not already get from their employers, small-business employees ranked dental the No. 1 benefit after medical, according to the MetLife Study. Three-fourths (74%) of small-business employees said they were interested in receiving dental benefits, followed by a retirement plan (71%), prescription drug coverage (66%), and then vision insurance (63%).

Providing dental benefits clearly pays off for small business employees, but it pays off for small business employers as well. By offering dental insurance, small business owners can lay the foundation for a healthier, more productive workforce.

“Ultimately, benefits don’t have to be a headache for small-business owners.”

According to the National Association of Dental Plans, employees who receive dental care are less likely to have larger health complications down the road. In fact, the association even found that people without dental benefits reported higher incidences of other illnesses: they were 67% more likely to have heart disease; 50% more likely to have osteoporosis; and 29% more likely to have diabetes.

In addition to negatively impacting employees, for employers, these illnesses can mean a loss in productivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 164 million work hours are lost each year due to dental problems alone. MetLife’s Study confirms this drain on productivity. Approximately one-third (30%) of small business employees said their productivity at work suffered because they’ve had to delay medical or dental care due to the cost.

Myth No. 2: Benefits aren’t going to be a factor that attracts and retains employees, especially in a small business. Given the robust benefit packages provided by large corporations, small-business owners may feel that their benefit offerings cannot compete in the war for talent, so they do not bother. However, small-business owners with such an opinion are short-changing their businesses, as benefits are a key to attracting, retaining and driving loyalty among small business employees.

When it comes to attracting talent, benefits matter. According to a 2014 study from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 76% of employees state that benefits are a very or extremely important factor in their decision to accept or reject a job offer. This insight is critical for small-business owners who may find recruiting high-quality employees a difficult task. MetLife’s Study found that over two-thirds (69%) of employees at mid-sized companies said they chose to work for their employer because of the benefits offered to them. In contrast, under half (46%) of employees at small businesses said the same, showing the opportunity for small business employers to use benefits as a recruiting tool.

Benefits also play a role in retention and loyalty. The MetLife study found that over two-thirds (64%) of small-business employees said that having benefits customized to meet their needs would increase their loyalty to their current employer. Additionally, over a third (38%) of small-business employees said that dental insurance is a key reason they remain with their employer, and 34% said the same for vision.

While benefits may not be the sole reason that small business employees join or stay at their jobs, they clearly make a difference.

Myth No. 3: Administering benefits is too time-consuming. One of the most prevalent misperceptions about benefits is that they are too time-consuming. This belief is especially popular among small-business owners, as they tend to be the ones administering their company’s benefits, whereas larger corporations have a dedicated human resources team, or outsource all or several benefit administration functions. Seventy-two percent of business owners surveyed by the National Small Business Association said they were primarily responsible for handling benefit offerings, whereas 24% delegated it to staff and just 4% outsourced the responsibility.

However, according to the MetLife study, employers at small businesses found the benefit administration process to be much less cumbersome than did those at mid-sized and large companies. In fact, only 18% of small-business employers were confused by the benefits review and selection process, compared to 29% of those at mid-sized companies. Similarly, under a quarter of small business employers (22%) said the benefits selection process was too time-consuming, compared to 32% of those at mid-sized companies and 25% at large companies.

“Over a third of small-business employees said that dental insurance is a key reason they remain with their employer.”

Additional good news for small-business employers is that there are many resources and tools that they can turn to for help in understanding the benefits process. Employers can consolidate multiple coverages with a single carrier to reduce administration and increase efficiencies. They can also explore new channels, such as private exchanges, to identify opportunities for increasing benefit choice while reducing administrative burdens.

Ultimately, benefits don’t have to be a headache for small-business owners. Rather, they can add significant value to employers and their employees. By understanding these potential misperceptions and re-evaluating beliefs about benefits, small-business owners will not only get more out of their benefit offerings but will simultaneously boost employee productivity and loyalty.