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Employee benefits system choices critical for small businesses

Entrepreneur says startups and SMBs should carefully choose and configure employee benefits technology to provide younger workers the right benefits and attract and retain talent.

Moira Vetter is founder and CEO of Modo Modo Agency, a marketing agency in Atlanta. She has written about HR tech in her blog on entrepreneurialism, business and technology issues at In this Q&A, Vetter talks about the importance of employee benefits system design and administration from a small-business perspective.

What basic advice would you give to entrepreneurs or startups when setting up an electronic employee benefits system?

Moira Vetter: First of all, they should set it up right out of the gate. I found out personally, as an entrepreneur, that five years in, it was a lot more complicated. HR technologies, as with every other technology in the last five years or so, have grown by leaps and bounds. There have been so many advancements just in mobile and the ability to create more self-service functions. That's a tremendous plus for entrepreneurs because instead of becoming an HR person an hour a day or a few hours a week, they can implement a system that allows employees to onboard and to manage upload of their critical financial information.

For a startup, is it better to outsource the employee benefits part of your HR function or do it yourself in house?

Vetter: If you're a startup, just out of the gate, often your CPA [certified public accountant] does it for you. Trying to wrap your head around administering benefits and tying that to the employee record and payroll record and taxes, and with employees in different states, can start to get messy. But having your CPA doing it can be cost-prohibitive.

That's when you get into the third-party solutions. One of these companies is TriNet Group Inc. [an HR tech vendor focused on small and medium-sized companies that Vetter's company uses for core HR administration]. That was huge. Years ago, rates and packages for a small company were limited. It's amazing when you tap into something like TriNet … banding together many small businesses into a group so you can have more of that diversity of benefits, not just from a cost-saving perspective.

What kinds of benefits are millennial workers, and the new generations coming up behind them, demanding?

Moira Vetter, founder and CEO, Modo Modo AgencyMoira Vetter

Vetter: Particularly with the younger, early 20s people, particularly in the bigger cities where people are moving to, they like a commuter benefit. For people who are doing ride shares or taking public transit, TriNet has a credit available.

And wellness as a whole category has really developed. Personal trainers used to be a personal thing, but now they're regarded as a component of wellness. Companies that have wellness programs have benefits like massage, yoga [or] Tai chi. We were able to get some discount on Apple products.

There are also companies that provide the option of putting money in a retail purchasing account or vacation savings account, just like you would in a health savings account, so you can gain interest on it and save toward something.

Another benefit is student loans for education programs, and not just formal college. A lot of people want to do certification. A lot of people have gotten their formal education and are missing skills in certain areas, so that's a big one.

What kind of employee benefits system can handle this new world of benefits? How do you give your employees all these choices other than simply aggregating them on an online self-service platform, and how do you get employees to engage with benefits?

I can't remember a conversation on hiring I've had in the last two or three years in which there were not significant questions about benefits.
Moira Vetterfounder and CEO, Modo Modo Agency

Vetter: The integrated nature of these HR systems, such as including requesting paid time off with access to other benefits, can pull people back into the system. We also get participation at our company with 'do-gooder' [volunteer] and 'do-weller' [wellness] programs, and we also provide Fitbits to all our employees. We have a Fitbit challenge and the group is connected on there. That has kept us focused on wellness and you also get some competitive action going on. Younger people want to be smarter consumers of healthcare; they look around for where they can have the lowest copay. Our generation didn't treat it like that. We weren't consumers of healthcare.

How do workers use technology to tap into the employee benefits system?

Vetter: TriNet gives us a mobile app. One of the advantages of outsourcing HR for a small business is not having to develop an efficient mobile app for 20 people. The big HR tech companies have developed all this into very mobile, consumable things. For employees, pulling up information about available time off, for example, is really easy and nice on that app.

How important is having an up-to-date benefits selection in recruiting, hiring and keeping employees?

Vetter: It's really huge. Back in my earlier days, I didn't realize how big a deal it really was. People didn't use to talk about the benefits piece. I've been hiring people for 30 years and I can't remember a conversation on hiring I've had in the last two or three years in which there were not significant questions about benefits. And, in many cases, people wanted to talk with our VP of finance and HR to make sure they understood the implications, cost, flexibility and options of the healthcare piece before making a decision.

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