How Do I Set Up An Employee Benefits Plan

How Do I Set Up An Employee Benefits Plan?

You’re an expert when it comes to delivering the essential business of your business, but you can’t be an expert on everything. One of the most essential aspects of managing a business and building an inspired and committed team is offering a competitive and comprehensive employee benefits package. 

The good news is – you can put an employee benefits package together yourself! 

It’s as easy as building a twelve-drawer, double-mirror bureau from IKEA. 


With gloves on. 

“Well, maybe it is a job better suited to an experienced employee benefits broker, but as a business owner, it’s good to know what to ask and what to be aware of. ”
Earl Shindruk.

My name is Earl Shindruk. I’m an experienced Benefits Broker with a Bachelor of Commerce degree specializing in Human Resources and the owner of Optimax Benefits.

I’ve also been teaching Employee Benefits and an Introduction to HR at MacEwan University since 2005, which is part of the reason I wrote this article; employee benefits are an essential part of any organization, but business owners and managers can’t be expected to be experts in this complex and textured field. However, working with a seasoned professional, owners can understand which critical question must be addressed when setting up an employee benefits package, and they can feel confident they are offering the most comprehensive, tailored, and effective package available at an affordable and realistic price point. In this article I’ll help you answer the 7 most important questions you need to ask to help you set up an effective employee benefits plan for your organization.

But before we get into the details, it’s important to understand what employee benefits entail.

What Are Employee Benefits?

For the purpose of this article, the term ‘Employee Benefits’ is a combination of health coverage plans and services that is designed to meet the most common and critical needs of your employees. Your Employee Benefits package is a representation of your commitment to the wellbeing of your staff and it’s a part of your organization’s identity when it comes to attracting and retaining the brightest and best personnel. 

Having the right employee benefits plan in place is an investment in your business because happy and healthy employees are productive and committed. It’s one thing for a business to claim they are invested in their staff, it’s another thing to demonstrate it. More than any time in history, employees want to feel like they have a partnership with their employers; understanding that their health needs are cared for goes a long way in building that relationship. 

With that in mind here are the “7 Key Questions to Guide the Creation of a Successful Employee Benefits Plan” for your organization.

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7 Key Questions To Guide The Creation Of A Successful Employee Benefits Plan

Over the past few decades, I’ve worked with hundreds of organizations and developed a roadmap to building an Employee Benefits Plan that meets the needs of the organization and the people within it. If you can answer these questions, you can feel confident that the resulting plan will be competitive, targeted and comprehensive.

  1. What is the purpose of the plan?
  2. What is your reason for providing benefits?
  3. What is your budget?
  4. How often should you review the plan?
  5. How do you know if your plan is competitive?
  6. What’s new in the employee benefits industry?
  7. How do you get started?

Click here to download your copy of the ’7 Key Questions To Guide The Creation Of A Successful Employee Benefits Plan Checklist’

7 Key Questions To Guide The Creation Of A Successful Employee Benefits Plan Checklist

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1.What Is The Purpose Of The Plan?

The first purpose of any employee health benefits plan is to protect your most important resource, your staff, against debilitating life events. The right plan fosters a spirit of appreciation and partnership with your employees, which increases their personal investment in the organization. Part of my job is to meet with employees and understand their needs; I’ve seen firsthand how a solid benefits plan increases their buy-in to the success of the company.

2. What Is Your Reason For Providing Benefits?

Some of my clients believe their benefits package demonstrates their personal compassion, while some simply want their business to be competitive with other companies in their field. I’ve had other clients tell me that that they wanted to know their staff was looked after so they could sleep at night.

Personally, I love helping people. One of my clients was hurt while he was in California. He would have been facing a $50,000 hospital bill if we hadn’t designed a plan with enough coverage and the right coverage. He became a huge believer. 

3. What Is Your budget?

Budget is an area that is unique to everyone and there is no one ‘right’ answer. However, there are lots of options, and working with a broker can help you find and secure the best services at the most competitive rates.

4. How Often Should You Review The Plan?

I’m often asked this, and my answer would be, “How often do things change?” Once a year would be a reasonable but if there are new developments or trends in your field, you may need to have a specific review to address that. 

5. How Do You Know If Your Plan Is Competitive?

This is another area in which having a benefits broker is really an advantage. Brokers have access to and can advise on industry standards. Plus, they can work with you to find benefit options that may be highly sought after by people who work in your field. 

"Every plan has something unique."

If you own a machine shop, people are standing all day. Physio, massage and orthotics may be your most sought-after benefits. This is a very simple example, but on a much broader scale, if your broker is on-site, he or she may observe opportunities and challenges that could affect your employees.

6. What’s New In The Employee Benefits Industry?

One of the biggest growth areas has been the evolution of mental health supports. At one time, no one wanted to talk about mental health issues because of the associated stigmas. Now, they’re essential. Attitudes have changed and coverage has to change with the times. 

Another change is that most brokers now represent multiple insurance companies. That means they’ll assemble the best options available to build you a package that is truly competitive and comprehensive, with an eye on your budget. If a broker continues to push the services of a single company, that could be a red flag. Be vigilant. 

Employees today have a greater appreciation for the value of ‘wellness’ – benefits providers have responded. Plans can include coverage for Physical Fitness, Social Health, Financial Health and other non-traditional areas. Brokers can work with you to offer a holistic approach to staying well by preventing stress from robbing your wellbeing.

If you can’t incorporate a full wellness plan, a Lifestyle Spending account could be used by employees to access wellness treatments. 

We’ve also seen a rise in flex accounts which cover wellness options such as: gym memberships, sports equipment, cross country skis, and mountain bikes. 

One of our clients had an employee who was able to put money towards an emotional support dog. Think of how grateful that employee would be. As they’re sitting with their dog and scratching it behind the ear, they have a daily reminder that their place of employment made that possible. The same feelings could be associated with the mountain bike or gym membership. 

"It may seem like a small thing, but it builds a relationship between employee and employer. "

7. How Do You Get Started?

A natural place to get started is with the people you want to help. Survey your employees. You need to know what is important to them and what kind of concerns are keeping them up at night. 

After that, as self-serving as this may seem, find a broker. I have rarely seen a company do a good job of securing their own employee benefits package. Owners have shared stories about enlisting an employee to research the benefits market; the employee was frustrated, the providers were frustrated and the employee wasn’t sure how to analyze or qualify the modest amount of information they were able to acquire. Plus, they weren’t aware which benefits were taxable. 

When choosing a broker, look for someone local, nimble, responsive. But someone big enough to have the contacts and initiative to know national providers, negotiate a fair price and tailor the best plans for your organization. 

Why is local important? As we’ve discussed, every industry has challenges and risks that are unique to them. Having that broker on-site is invaluable. A local broker also understands the needs of your community.  

What Else Do I Need To Know?

People will always want the nuts and bolts of a good plan – the common, ordinary, essential coverage. Right now, the most popular ones are: 

  • Massage therapy – the pandemic has added more stress to a generally stressful world
  • Dental – everyone needs it
  • Counselling – healthy mind, healthy body equals a productive employee.

Working with a broker, your plan can be designed to be flexible enough to change when necessary and provide the coverage that is required. 

Medications are also important, but employees may not realize it when surveyed. Until a person needs them, most people have no idea how expensive medications can be. Certain prescriptions can cost upwards of $25,000 a year for conditions as common as certain types of Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, obesity or Crohn’s and Colitis. 

Once again, these are the kinds of insights that you can take advantage of when you work with an experienced benefits broker. 


In this article we gave you important information about the 7 Key Questions to Guide the Creation of a Successful Employee Benefits Plan, which included:

  1. What is the purpose of the plan?
  2. What is your reason for providing benefits?
  3. What is your budget?
  4. How often should you review the plan?
  5. How do you know if your plan is competitive?
  6. What’s new in the employee benefits industry?
  7. How do you get started?

Understanding the answers to these seven questions, and working with a qualified, engaged broker will help good things happen for your business. 

A broker looks after you too. 

Employee benefits are essential to hiring and retaining staff. On top of that, you want to provide a great plan for people you care about. 

At the same time, you need to be fiscally responsible. During an annual review, your broker will advise you which portions of your plan are being used and which aren’t. Timely adjustments could save money while providing more efficient coverage. A conscientious broker will also consider per-person drug maximums and parameters for long-term cost controls. 

Brokers are valuable to you because they can access competitive information. They can access the level of benefits that other companies in your industry are offering. Is your plan comparable? Competitive? 

My clients have discovered that brokers provide creative and valuable solutions. For example, I sat down with one of my clients and we looked at orthodontics. Only two people were using it. By dropping that coverage and compensating those two families directly, it saved the company $36,000 a year. 

At Optimax, our clients enjoy a Benefit Strategy Development in which we review their employee demographic analysis, uncover industry trends, and audit their present plan. Then we go to the Benefits Marketplace to obtain quotes and custom design a plan to achieve their short- and long-term benefits goals. Once a plan has been confirmed, we work hand in hand with the organization to install the plan and educate employees on the benefits and features.

It’s important to have a well thought out plan, supported by the right advice, in an on-going partnership that you trust. No matter who you choose as your broker, I hope I’ve given you some valuable insight and information that you can use as you move forward. If you’d like to discuss more, I invite you to get in touch with me through our website, or give me a call at 780-490-5945.

Picture of Earl Shindruk

Earl Shindruk

Successful businessman and community leader, Earl Shindruk, launched Optimax Benefits in 1998 after a vast career at TransAlta, Laidlaw Waste Systems, and Lafrentz Road Services.

He has grown Optimax by harnessing people skills, ‘being accessible’, ‘getting to know your client’, and ‘being innovative’.

Earl is a key contributor to his community, donating many hours and much expertise to charities and not-for-profits. He is the past board chair of the NPO Collective and board member of the Edmonton Business Association, as well as a founding board member of the Meningitis Foundation of Alberta.

His legacy includes sharing knowledge and expertise. For over 11 years he was an instructor in Employee Benefits and Human Resources at MacEwan University and is often a guest speaker there as well as at the University of Alberta, CPHR Alberta and IPMA.

Contact Earl

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