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Benefits becoming more important in hiring, retaining employees

Whether an employer is large or small, human resources professionals agree that employee benefits are becoming more important in attracting and retaining employees, along with boosting morale.

At Four County Electric Power Association in Columbus, Connie Otts says benefits are very important in this day and time with the need and cost of health insurance.

“It’s most definitely important. Many employees consider benefits as important as salary,” she said. “We’ve had some employees or their family members with cancer and heart disease who couldn’t have made it without their insurance. In some cases, they would be bankrupt without it.”

As the HR and benefits administrator at the 155-employee investor-owned cooperative, Otts works to keep information about benefits in front of employees at all times. “Annually, we provide them with a fringe benefits sheet of what they’re receiving and the value of it,” she said. “It’s easy to lose track of what the employer is paying and the value of it.”

Otts is president of the Golden Triangle Chapter of the State Human Resources Managers (SHRM) Council. She says the small businesses she knows about are having a more difficult time providing benefits than larger ones. “A lot has to be passed on to the employees with small businesses,” she said. “An electric cooperative is different because it’s non profit. We’re very team oriented and appreciate the longevity of our employees.”

Pam Johnson has been working with benefits at the University of Mississippi where there are 2,300 benefits-eligible employees since 1998 and says fringes play a large role when someone decides to take a position there.

“They’re part of employees’ income,” she said. “Benefits can boost employee morale and sometimes determines the longevity of employees. If benefits end up being costly, have reduced coverage or more out-of-pocket expense, employees may look for jobs elsewhere. And, in some instances they may not retire but stay to maintain health insurance. Benefits definitely play a role.”

Johnson feels that health insurance specifically is a necessity as healthcare costs keep rising. She is following the issue as states look at legislation for benefits regarding dependents by increasing the age of dependents and the length employees can keep them on their insurance plans.

“I think we will see some action on these issues in the next few years to help employees cope with healthcare costs,” she said.

Benefits also play a crucial role for employees at Viking Range Corporation in Greenwood, where the package covers a wide range of employees’ well-being. Beth Tackett, director of human resources, says it is one of the best all-encompassing employee packages available.

“It includes medical, dental, vision and a prescription drug plan; life insurance and long-term disability; and a large number of voluntary plans available to all employees at discounted group rates,” she said. “These include short-term disability, critical illness, cancer and flexible savings accounts, which allow employees to set aside funds for medical expenses and dependent daycare at a tax savings.”

Best of all, Tackett thinks benefits give employees peace of mind knowing their families are taken care of by their employer. “These benefits are another way for Viking Range Corporation to show its employees their value to the company,” she said. “You’re not just an employee; you are a family member.”

She says the best part is the company’s ability to eliminate much of the bureaucracy involved with traditional insurance plans because it’s a self-funded plan.

“If an extenuating medical situation should arise, Viking employees and their insured family members have the opportunity to seek treatment at premiere medical facilities throughout the United States,” Tackett said. “In addition, Viking has the ability to confirm health plan coverage at a moment’s notice so that immediate treatment can be administered to our employees.”

Amanda Ford of Gulfport has been working in the employment business for 18 years and says a question about benefits is one of the first jobseekers ask.

“I know many people who work at places just for the benefits,” she said. “I know it from personal experience, too. My husband works at Northrop-Grumman and had foot surgery after Katrina. He used his insurance while he was off work and it made a big difference for us.”

Ford, branch manager of Multistaffing Services, is a past president of the Harrison Hancock Chapter of the SHRM Council and says employee benefits are often discussed at meetings. The HR professionals talk about what employers can do to make benefits better as employers look at ways to increase benefits.

“For one thing, employers could pay a larger percentage of benefits after a certain number of years of service by employees,” she said. “Another benefit we’re seeing a lot of on the Coast now are sign-on bonuses. That’s been big after the storm. What incentives are being offered — that’s playing a big role. Even kids flipping hamburgers consider what they’ll get in signing bonuses and benefits.”

She blames the difficulty of filling job vacancies on the lack of housing in the area’s post-Katrina world. “If we don’t solve this housing problem, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said. “It’s a must for a stable labor force.”

Multistaffing provides all kinds of jobs for clients and all seem to be short handed now. “Back in the ‘80s, I had people with degrees begging to be cashiers and now I can’t fill those jobs,” Ford said.

She has been recruiting out of state for skilled labor at $25 per hour. “The first question out of their mouths is where can I live?” she said. “Right now, we’re trying to not be in survivor mode.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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