Easing the pain Featured

11:11am EDT July 31, 2002
In 1998, Research Organic Inc.'s insurance premiums increased a whopping 58 percent. That's when Annie Harlan, HR director at the chemical manufacturer in Cuyahoga Heights, decided to look at streamlining the company's benefit's package.

In addition to the rising costs, the company was experiencing a growth spurt. Its work force grew 38 percent and Harlan didn't want to make recruiting more difficult by cutting benefits across the board.

Research Organic's is experiencing what many other local companies are going through. According to the SBN and ERC Workplace Practices Survey, insurance premiums paid by employees in Northeast Ohio rose from 21.7 percent in 2001 to 22.5 percent in 2002.

In part, Harlan did what most employers are being forced to do -- pass a portion of the rate increase on to employees.

"The cold, hard fact is, it's a shared benefit," says Harlan. "But you have to remain competitive. When I try to attract staff, I use our benefits package as a recruitment resource."

Harlan went back to her insurance broker and implemented a cafeteria-style benefits packages. With the new packages, employees can pick and choose the benefits they want toreceive and pay a percentage of the cost based on their choices.

By analyzing costs, Harlan found out what the biggest expenses were and what changes would have the least negative impact on her staff of approximately 100 people. Harlan says knowing your work force demographics gives you insight into what benefits are frequently used and which are not.

Research Organics added a deductible for hospital admissions that drove down premiums 5 percent and affected less than 10 percent of employees. The logic is that co-pays and deductibles aren't felt until they're used, and not every employee uses them. Harlan even found that some benefits were never used and could be eliminated.

Communicating frequently and openly helped with the acceptance of the benefit. In addition, Harlan posted news articles on employee bulletin boards and included data on insurance trends in the company newsletter and the Web site.

"When you're honest and open with employees, you'll get a lot more buy-in," she says.

How to reach: Research Organics Inc., (216) 883-802 or www.resorg.com; Employers Resource Council (ERC), (216) 696-3636 or www.ercnet.org