Learn how to get the most out of your benefits program.

Your first assignment when you get any new job is to fill out forms. You want to know more about the health insurance, dental insurance, 401k, disability, and anything else offered. But how does your employer determine which benefit forms will end up in that stack?

Employers first focus on their industry as a whole, according to Brent Longnecker, a compensation expert for the United States Department of Labor and the vice president of Resources Connection, a project-based professional services firm specializing in human resources.

Next, individual companies focus on the type of employees they are interested in attracting. For example, some companies study their industry and determine that their workforce in general is aging. These companies may put more emphasis on health care and retirement related benefits when designing benefits packages. Other companies are interested in attracting more young people to their industry. These companies tend to put less emphasis on retirement and choose health care plans that focus on preventative health care.

Industry Specific Benefits

Surveying and mapping industry profit margins tend to fall into the mid-range, but employees tend to be highly specialized and interested in good benefits, according to Longnecker.

“People in this industry are more meticulous. Engineering and surveying people want good benefits and are more interested in having these things taken care of than people in many other industries,” Longnecker says.

But which benefits are most important to you? If having free time is a top benefit on your priority list, you may want to consider a public job. According to POB’s 2001 Salary Survey, which appeared in our April 2001 issue, public sector jobs weighed in heavily in favor of fully paid vacation time and paid sick leave, with 91.4 percent of employers offering it in both categories. Public sector jobs also offer more fully paid retirement plans at 41.7 percent compared to private sector jobs at 32.9 percent. The public sector is slightly less generous than the private sector regarding fully-paid continuing education, health insurance, life insurance, profit sharing, dental and vision insurance. Only 32.1 percent of the respondents reported offering fully paid continuing education and 40.8 percent offered fully paid health insurance, compared to private sector jobs at 52.1 percent for fully paid health insurance and 55.4 percent for continuing education.

According to the survey, the majority of private companies offer fully paid vacation time, paid sick leave, continuing education, health insurance and life insurance. Fewer fully pay for retirement plans (32.9 percent), profit sharing (39.8 percent), dental insurance (31.5 percent) or vision insurance (23.7 percent).

Hoffman-Prieur & Associates Inc., a private firm with approximately 30 employees in Van Buren, Ark., is one fairly typical example of a firm that offers a variety of benefits. Employees are offered major medical coverage for themselves and their families including hospital medical bills and office visits, according to Melody Brown, an accountant with the firm.

“The company pays for 95 percent of an employee’s medical coverage, and the employee pays five percent of their own coverage,” Brown says.

The firm doesn’t pay for dental coverage, but does offer life insurance and a Cafeteria Plan, a medical cost-savings plan with a tax advantage. Vacation time is offered after a year, and personal time is taken into consideration, but there are no paid sick days.

The company also covers continuing education on many different fronts, such as job-related memberships and association dues, license renewal fees, and half of the tuition of any job-related college course with proof of a passing grade.

Employees of Hoffman-Prieur & Associates are eligible for the majority of benefits offered, including health insurance and paid holidays, after 90 days.

American Surveying Consultants, P.C., a private firm based in Chicago, Ill., offers co-paid health insurance that begins with the date of employment. A Cafeteria Plan that offers tax benefits, a week of paid sick leave per year and a 401k match plan are also available, according to Kathy Myers, a bookkeeper with the firm. As is typical with most private surveying firms, the firm does not cover vision insurance. It does, however, offer a profit sharing plan and a week’s vacation up to five years. At five years an employee may earn two weeks vacation. Continuing education is firm-paid if pre-approved, and a $25,000 life insurance plan as well as short-term disability are available.

Detailed Communication

In spite of what a firm may be doing to offer good benefits to employees, it may find that providing the benefits alone may not be enough. Information about benefits shouldn’t stop after employee orientation. The need for regular and detailed communications about benefits is important to those in surveying, according to Longnecker.

“Employers need to have good communications because people in this industry aren’t as visual and they want a lot of communication on how to use their benefits,” he says.

Benefits information should also be well organized, researched and put into easily understood formats in order to cut back on the time employees need to spend researching and investigating what is available to them.

So don’t despair when faced with a mountain of forms on your first day at a new firm. Ask for help. Your new employer should be more than willing to provide it.

View the POB 2001 Salary Survey at www.pobonline.com Product Surveys.