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What does a benefits specialist do?

Written by: Elizabeth Walker
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Published on March 16, 2022.

To retain top talent in a competitive job market, companies must have solid employee benefits packages. Perks and compensation keep companies attractive and employees satisfied. While compensation and benefits come from the employer, more specifically, a benefits specialist is often the one who actually puts the package together.

A benefits specialist, or a compensation specialist, works in a company’s human resource department. They oversee benefit programs and are responsible for designing appealing benefits packages that are cost-effective for employers. But how do you pick the best person for this critical job?

In this article, we’ll go over the role of a benefits specialist, including their job demand, responsibilities, and what skills they need to have to be successful in your organization.

What is an employee benefits specialist?

Benefits specialists are a crucial part of a company’s human resource department. These professionals manage and administer a company’s employee benefit and compensation programs, including retirement plans, health insurance, life insurance, and more.

A benefits specialist needs to have in-depth knowledge of federal and state laws. For example, coordinating an employee’s leave per the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or changing contributions in a 401(k) account fall within a benefits specialist’s job description.

What’s more, they should be able to explain these complex topics in layman’s terms to employees. Without a benefits specialist’s expertise, employees could find themselves uninformed and navigating complicated benefit databases on their own.

To an employer, a benefits specialist is invaluable. They have a direct hand in attracting and retaining top talent, keeping up with the job market and the competition, and ensuring that employees are educated on their benefits package so they get the most use out of offerings.

A Randstand survey shows that 61% of job applicants would take a position with a lower salary for a better benefits plan. Failing to offer voluntary benefits makes companies less attractive and pushes candidates to consider other options. That’s where an employee benefits specialist can help.

Are you offering benefits that your employees want? Get sample questions in our employee benefits survey template to find out

What is the demand for benefits specialists?

In almost any job where an employee receives compensation and benefits, you’ll find a benefits specialist. Organizations hire benefits specialists to design, evaluate, and administer their benefits programs, and the need for benefits specialists doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of benefits and compensation specialists is projected to grow 10% from 2020 to 2030, which is about 9,400 openings projected each year, on average.

What’s more, according to the Global Employee Benefits Watch Report, more and more employers are looking to compensation and benefits specialists to help shape their talent strategy. In fact, 82% of an organization’s global benefits strategy is now focused on attracting and retaining talent. What was once seen as an overall human resource responsibility is now very much in the benefits specialist’s job description.

What are the responsibilities of a benefits manager?

Your HR department is constantly putting out fires and managing day-to-day tasks for your employees. But asking them to handle your employee benefits on top of what they’re already doing could be a mistake.

A good benefits specialist requires a wealth of specialized knowledge and analytical skills. They need to understand and evaluate complicated employment laws, insurance plans, retirement programs, and compensation practices. Bottom line, they’re the contact person for new hires and long-standing employees looking to make the most of their benefits.

A specialist’s primary duties are overseeing the compensation policies and benefits packages an organization offers to its employees. They also create and administer employee training programs and manage job analysis for classifications and salary requirements.

Other responsibilities include:

  • Coordinating retirement, pension, profit-sharing, and stock ownership plans
  • Researching and analyzing healthcare plans, like medical, dental, and vision plans
  • Designing a comprehensive and diverse benefits package
  • Evaluating the costs and benefits of wellness and employee assistance programs
  • Developing and evaluating techniques for compensating employees
  • Advising management on resolving benefits issues
  • Building and maintaining relationships with health and retirement plan providers
  • Assisting employees by explaining benefits and appealing decisions made by insurers
  • Reviewing vendor invoices, resolving disputes, and reporting on fees and costs

Finally, employee benefits specialists communicate with employees to notify them of valuable benefits. Empowering employees to use their benefits package to its fullest leads to better engagement for employees and less money left on the table for the employer.

For example, if a company is paying thousands annually for wellness programs like a gym membership, and only 20% of their employees are using it, a benefits specialist can see where the gaps are to learn how to fix the problem.

What skills should a benefits specialist have to be successful?

To put together the best benefits packages, a good benefits specialist must have a background in human resource management, business management, ample work experience, as well as critical-thinking skills.

They must be able to speak knowledgeably to their findings to top-level managers and clearly explain the salary and benefits packages to employees. A benefits specialist must also be ethical because they decide what is best for the employees while saving the company money.

Other skills include:

  • Organizational and time management skills
  • Verbal and written communication skills
  • Knowledge of employee benefits and laws

But finding the right employee benefits specialists involves more than hiring someone with a degree and certification. There are three elements to a benefits specialist job description that can make or break their success.

Three essential qualities of a benefits specialist include:

  1. Analytically minded and data-oriented
  2. Technically inclined in modern HR technology
  3. Industry experience to promote company growth

Lastly, a certified employee benefits specialist (CEBS) certification is a huge plus. The CEBS program is a rigorous five-course curriculum covering the entire spectrum of employee benefit plans. A certification from this program can also help your specialist flourish in your organization.

Conclusion

Many employees apply for jobs depending on the company's rewards and benefits. Employee benefits have become an essential part of any competitive employee compensation package, so working with a benefits specialist should be your first step when setting up effective benefits policies.

A benefits specialist will help you find the best benefit options based on your company’s needs, calculate costs, and establish best practices. If you’re thinking of ramping up your business’s recruiting and retention efforts, a knowledgeable benefits specialist can go a long way towards your organization’s success.

Originally published on March 16, 2022. Last updated March 16, 2022.
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