Companies must have solid benefits packages to retain top talent in a competitive labor market. Perks and compensation make companies seem more attractive to prospective and current employees alike. While employers offer a salary and benefits, a benefits specialist is often the one who 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 cost-effective benefits packages 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 simple 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 their offerings.
Forbes1 found that 40% of employers say that employees are leaving their job for a position that offers better benefits. 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.
What is the demand for benefits specialists?
You'll find a benefits specialist in many organizations where an employee receives compensation and benefits. Organizations hire benefits specialists to design, evaluate, and administer their benefits programs, and the need for benefits specialists isn’t slowing down.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics2, the employment of benefits and compensation specialists is projected to grow 7% from 2021 to 2031, which is about 9,300 openings projected each year, on average.
The Global Employee Benefits Watch Report3 found that more and more employers are looking for compensation and benefits specialists to help shape their talent strategy. In fact, 82% of an organization’s global benefits strategy now focuses on attracting and retaining talent.
What used to be an overall human resource (HR) 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, analytical skills, and solid communication skills. They must 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 its employees. They also create and administer employee training programs and manage job analysis for classifications and salary requirements.
Other essential duties include:
- Coordinating retirement, pension, profit-sharing, and stock ownership plans
- Researching and analyzing health benefits, like medical, dental, and vision health insurance plans
- Designing a comprehensive and attractive 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 with benefits enrollment and answering any questions
- Reviewing vendor invoices, resolving disputes, appealing decisions made by insurance companies, and reporting on fees and costs
Finally, benefits specialists communicate with employees to notify them of valuable perks. When you empower employees to use their benefits package to its fullest potential, engagement increases, and less money is 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 and business management. They need ample work experience and critical-thinking skills.
They must be able to speak knowledgeably about 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’s 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
- Insurance industry knowledge
But finding the right employee benefits specialists involves more than hiring someone with a degree who has completed the necessary certification programs. 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:
- Analytically minded and data-oriented
- Technically inclined in modern HR technology
- 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.
Many employees apply for jobs depending on the company's rewards and benefits. Employee benefits have become essential to any competitive employee compensation package, so working with a specialist should be your first step when setting up effective benefits policies.
A benefits specialist will help you find the best options based on your company’s needs and budget and help you establish best practices. If you’re considering ramping up your business’s recruiting and retention efforts, a knowledgeable benefits specialist can go a long way toward your organization’s success.
This article was originally published on May 16, 2022. It was last updated on May 26, 2023.