Benefit packages: Think outside the box

Power of Two

Andrew McNeil (, 707-992-3789) and Rosario Avila (, 707-992-3795) are senior benefits advisers at Arrow Benefits Group in Petaluma.

Read their previous columns.

It’s common for an employer to offer a traditional employee benefits package. Depending on the industry, employees expect their employer to offer medical, dental and vision. That’s just not enough anymore.

When it comes to the North Bay market, traditional fully insured coverages are just “off the shelf” products. In other words, this type of coverage is virtually identical across most employers.

While it’s difficult to customize them to meet your specific needs, when competing for talent, how can you use traditional benefits to set your organization apart?

You could offer a better plan than most employers do, but what if others follow suit? You could contribute more than most, but others can do the same.

To attract and retain top-tier talent, you will have more success by focusing on what candidates and employees most desire in a benefits program.

Traditional benefits have become expected. Taking your benefits program “outside the box” to develop a program tailor-made to employees’ unique situation is what leading organizations do to catapult themselves above competitors in the talent war.

Here are our top five examples of “outside the box” benefits that an employer can use to strengthen their program and differentiate themselves from others:

1. Focus on mental health

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) have long been an employer’s solution for offering mental health resources.

Unfortunately, standard “off-the-shelf” EAPs are often a forgotten benefit that have low utilization. With a well-designed EAP, tailored to the needs of your workforce, utilization is increased, and employee outcomes are improved.

In a post COVID world, mental health resources have been pushed to the forefront of what employees need and expect in a benefits program. Creative ways we have seen employers enhance mental health resources include, providing apps that can help with sleep and stress reduction, offering sabbaticals from work without deducting from vacation or sick time, moving to four-day work weeks, and increasing communication with employees to define these needs.

2. Personalized work flexibility

Instead of requiring employees to design their lives around the demands of work, now more than ever is the time to give them the opportunity to customize work schedules. There were some companies doing this before the pandemic, but it wasn’t the norm.

Post pandemic, personalized work flexibility is becoming more common across many industries. We have seen first-hand that employers who have ignored this practice have lost employees and have had difficulties recruiting replacements.

3. Financial counseling

Financial counseling can help employees increase or build their retirement, improve their credit score, and reduce debt.

Many 401(k) providers will provide some of these resources. We encourage employers with a solid employee base to explore additional resources they have through their financial provider. Strengthening employees’ financial health also benefits an organization by reducing absenteeism associated with economic stress.

In addition, offering financial planning helps employees retire when they desire which enhances an employer’s ability to build solid career paths for up-and-coming staff members.

4. Dependent care

Families struggled to work remotely, kids were home taking classes online, and our elders living in community facilities were vulnerable and at risk.

A dependent care flexible spending account (FSA) is a pre-tax benefit account used to pay for eligible dependent care services, such as preschool, summer day camp, before or after school programs, and child or adult daycare. It's a simple way for an employee to save money while taking care of a loved one so they can continue to work.

5. Health reimbursement arrangements (HRA)

As copays, deductibles, and out of pocket maximums continue to increase, the cost of medical care is taking a bigger bite out of employees’ paychecks.

Enter the health reimbursement arrangement (HRA). HRAs are employer-funded group health plans where employees are reimbursed tax-free for qualified medical expenses up to a fixed dollar amount per year. Many of our clients have been using HRAs for years to support current employees by providing a benefit that is still rarely offered in the marketplace.


With unemployment rates near record lows, it’s an employees’ market out there.

Couple that with the end of a global pandemic, and employers face intense competition in searching for the best candidates to fill their open jobs. In this tight labor market, it’s crucial for organizations to set themselves apart as an employer of choice.

From our experience, an innovative benefits program is an essential part of the strategy to rise above your competitors by attracting and retaining one of the keystones of every organization – your valuable employees.

Power of Two

Andrew McNeil (, 707-992-3789) and Rosario Avila (, 707-992-3795) are senior benefits advisers at Arrow Benefits Group in Petaluma.

Read their previous columns.

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