Growing Together Spring 2023
Attention to Employee Benefits Fuels Workforce Performance
Maintaining the right workforce in California agriculture is an ongoing process of evolution and change. A major part of continually solving that equation lies in offering employees the right benefit choices and participation options. Because workforce needs change so frequently based on things like general economic conditions and agricultural supply and demand, it’s a year-round process for Samantha Hanley at Grow West.
There are normally clear signs that indicate whether the Vice President of Human Resources and longtime Grow West team member is offering the right benefits — whether insurance or financial savings options — to meet the needs of the 350-plus-member Grow West team. If she picks up on one of those signs that the company’s options aren’t meeting employees’ needs, Hanley acts quickly because she knows that there’s a straight line between such company benefits and the performance of the workforce.
“A lot of employers offer benefits but don’t educate their employees on what will work best for them. It’s like ‘here’s your open enrollment period, now choose,’” Hanley said. “We go through every option so everyone understands the costs and how things work. We want them healthy, want them engaged and serving our customers and want to make sure they have the best tools and resources so they can be on the job.”
Benefit management is a year-round process
It’s with that mutual benefit in mind — for Grow West’s productivity and its workforce’s financial, physical and emotional health and wellness — that Hanley spends most of the year identifying the right insurance and retirement savings programs for the company’s workforce. She knows a combination of low utilization of company-offered programs and high absenteeism means she’s not presenting the right employee benefit options. That’s why she works with specialized benefits suppliers to identify the right plans and programs for the diverse Grow West workforce. It’s an ongoing process that evolves and changes frequently.
“We plan all year-round. January 1 is the start date for our insurance policies, and we’re working throughout the year, whether meeting with our benefits suppliers, hosting educational sessions for our employees, making selections and working through open enrollment, which happens in November. It’s constantly on our mind,” Hanley said. “We make sure everyone on the Grow West team knows we offer benefits and that they have a lot of options at their disposal.”
Hanley and her team’s attention to things like plan utilization — whether for health insurance or retirement savings — helps keep down costs and ensure Grow West offers benefits that will contribute to a fully functioning workforce.
“When workers are informed about their benefits options, they can really evaluate what they need and plan for how much they need to save and spend on health care costs. We may not think offering a dental plan is that important, but if your overall health suffers because of a dental issue and you don’t have coverage, it is going to affect your ability to work,” Hanley said. “If you start seeing high absenteeism, there may be a correlation to the plans you offer. We evaluate our staff’s needs, account for their feedback on what we’re offering and make adjustments.”
Offer options and keep costs down
Current economic conditions — namely inflation — exert financial pressure on many employees, adding to the need to examine closely the plan design for both savings and insurance benefits. The use of these benefits often influences the general health, happiness and job performance of the team members. When money is tight, it’s common to see a decline in voluntary participation in benefit programs like retirement savings and health insurance. That’s why Hanley spends so much time ensuring plans are designed so they’re financially viable for every employee.
“You sometimes start seeing people passing on voluntary benefits as inflation increases. If we provide a cost-of-living increase of three percent but benefits go up in cost by seven percent, that’s going backwards,” she said. “We must be mindful of expenses and account for them in plan design. There are ways to help with that instead of saying ‘take it or leave it.’ We work year-round to offer a diversity of plans, options and levels of participation.”
Hanley cites the addition of employer-paid dental and vision insurance plans offered to Grow West employee benefits as a case in which a plan can help offset rising general coverage costs. The company also offers flex spending and health savings accounts, and diverse retirement savings options including Roth and traditional 401(k) plans.
Listen to your workforce
Regardless of the specific employee benefit, Hanley said there are three things she considers in identifying what will be most cost-effective and functional for the entire Grow West team:
- Account for overall utilization rate. Check regularly to ensure benefits are being utilized. If participation rates are falling, it’s a sign the benefit should be re-examined. Under-utilized benefits often aren’t cost-effective on a company-wide basis.
- Verify employees know their options and plan design. Review plan designs regularly to ensure they’re easy to understand for the entire workforce. Clearly spelling them out often leads to higher benefit utilization.
- Create opportunities for employee feedback. Whether it’s having informal conversations or developing a formal process of forms and meetings, accounting for employee feedback is massively important to a company’s ability to offer well-designed benefit plans.
Contact Hanley at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in learning more about how you can optimize benefits for your employees.