What Does a Benefits Manager Do?
In today’s organizations, employee benefits extend well beyond vacation time and health insurance. Retirement plans, flexible spending accounts, stock ownership plans, and even discount programs and gym memberships can all be part of employee benefits packages. Managing all of these programs to ensure that an employer not only remains competitive, but also follows the rules and regulations surrounding employee benefits is the job of a benefits manager.
Often falling under the umbrella of human resources, benefits managers focus exclusively on employee benefits. They aren’t involved in other aspects of HR, such as hiring and firing or developing corporate policies, although they do work closely with the rest of the HR team. It’s a complex role, involving a great deal of research and communication, but also a vital role in the success of a company’s talent acquisition and retention efforts.
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Benefits Manager Responsibilities
Benefits managers have a wide range of responsibilities, all centered on the goal of developing competitive benefits packages for employees. Their specific duties include:
- Researching and identifying benefits programs;
- Making recommendations for employee benefits based on trends and programs offered by competitors;
- Staying abreast of federal, state, and local benefits regulations and making recommendations to ensure compliance;
- Conducting cost analysis of a company’s benefits program;
- Overseeing the organizational benefits budget;
- Coordinating with benefits providers to ensure the delivery of benefits;
- Administering health insurance programs;
- Administering retirement programs, including 401(k), 403(b), and pensions as appropriate;
- Administering additional insurance programs, including life and disability;
- Communicating with and educating employees regarding their benefit options;
- Assisting employees with the interpretation of their benefits package and answering questions and concerns;
- Overseeing bonus structures and programs;
- Overseeing the benefits staff.
In short, benefits managers are responsible for managing all aspects of employee benefits packages.
Benefits Manager Salary
Generally speaking, benefits managers are well paid. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2018 the median annual salary for benefits managers is $121,010. On the low end of the scale (the lowest paid 10%), median pay is $70,560. The highest-paid benefits managers (the top 10%) earn more than $200,000 per year.
Among the lowest-paid benefits managers are those working for the government, while those employed by insurance carriers typically earn the most. That said, there are opportunities for benefits managers across industries, and individuals can gain experience in the field as benefits analysts, or by working as human resources specialists.
Benefits Manager Job Requirements
Benefits managers are leaders in their organizations, and as such need a combination of education and experience to fulfill their roles. At minimum, jobs require a bachelor’s degree in business administration, human resources, finance, or a related subject, as well as experience working within the benefits and compensation field or in financial analysis. In general, benefits managers have four to five years of experience as a benefits analyst, or similar role.
Many employers expect that benefits managers also have a graduate degree in a related field, and certification in benefits. Multiple organizations, like the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans and WorldatWork, provide certification programs in this area.
For example, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offers the Certified Employee Benefits Specialist designation to individuals who complete five self-directed courses in group benefits and retirement plan administration. Certification is not a legal requirement for these jobs, but a preference among most employers.
In addition to meeting the education and experience requirements, successful benefits managers share certain skills and qualifications. These include:
- Leadership skills;
- Written and oral communication abilities;
- Decision-making skills;
- Problem-solving skills;
- Data analysis skills;
- Financial skills, including budgeting, financial analysis, and forecasting;
- Conflict resolution;
Within the field of human resources, benefits manager roles are among the most analytical, along with compensation managers. A significant portion of the job involves quantitative analysis, as you’re responsible for choosing the most cost-effective programs and explaining them to employees across the organization. This involves making sense of surveys, spreadsheets, and budget projections, so a background in finance and an affinity for numbers are necessary.
To stand out among other applicants, benefits managers need to demonstrate both technical knowledge of benefits administration and soft skills related to communication and decision-making. In short, benefits managers need to be both subject matter experts on employee benefits and all of the surrounding issues. They also need to be astute business leaders with the ability to plan and implement policies and programs that meet organizational needs and priorities.
Benefits Manager Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts only 3% growth within this field between 2018 and 2028, which is slower than average. Much of this slowed growth is attributable to organizations’ increased focus on reducing the overall costs of benefits plans, and introducing different options for benefits, such as health programs based on employee performance in different wellness activities.
Many companies are also shifting toward outsourcing benefits management to third-party providers. Payroll companies and professional employee organizations focus on streamlining administrative tasks, while also offering affordable benefit options. These services reduce the need for companies to maintain an in-house benefits staff.
Because the opportunities for benefits managers are decreasing in the face of consolidation and technological developments, the BLS predicts competition for these positions to be fierce in coming years. In fact, the agency predicts that only about 500 new positions will be created in between now and 2028.
Should I Become a Benefits Manager?
As with any career, the decision of whether to become a benefits manager is a personal one, based largely on your own interests and goals.
Benefits managers are typically organized individuals who have a strong interest in helping others, as well as exceptional persuasion and motivational skills. It’s a complex field that requires a great deal of analysis, so if you enjoy carefully considering problems, gathering information, and exploring different solutions, you may enjoy this work. At the same time, benefits managers often need to make difficult decisions, and communicate their rationale, which can be challenging. A thick skin and strong leadership skills are vital.
Although benefits managers are highly paid, the work is challenging. Many people work more than 40 hours per week, and spend a great deal of their time solving problems and making difficult decisions. The laws governing employment, including compensation and benefits, are constantly changing, and it’s your job to stay on top of the changes and implement new rules and regulations to ensure your organization remains in compliance.
For example, healthcare reform and the requirements related to health care coverage are in a near constant state of flux, and benefits managers are being called upon to analyze and update plans as needed.
Benefits managers play a major role in the overall success of a company. Benefits and compensation are significant factors in the overall job satisfaction rates among employees, and are instrumental in a company’s ability to attract and retain talent. The bottom line might be the driving force behind their decisions, but benefits managers also have the opportunity to be creative and develop unique benefits programs that align with the expectations of a changing workforce.
Ultimately, if you want to use your financial and analytical skills in a role that can have a significant impact on the lives of others — and on the overall success of a business — then working as a benefits manager may be the ideal job for you.
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This post was updated March 25, 2020. It was originally published March 25, 2020.