W^H? The Holmes Murphy Blog

  • Reflecting Back: Employee Benefits Administration Hasn’t Been an Easy Task

    In the 1980s, I moved from a technology role supporting paper open enrollment forms to managing employee benefits for 10,000 active and 5,000 retirees. My company, at the time, sent me on my first business trip to New York City to attend a workshop for administering employee benefits. The course scared me to death.

    I was sure my company was going to be made an example of for our administrative failures, and that I was personally going to be liable. The final straw was trying to figure out how I was going to get reimbursed for the drinks at the Tavern on the Green with the professor (we were the only ones who traveled to NY for the class). Luckily, he covered the dinner.

    Little did I know that employee benefits administration was simple back then compared to the untold existing and new laws/rules/regulations that today’s employee benefit managers must navigate. Not to mention that today there is actual enforcement of the rules that were rarely enforced back then.

    That being said, some things have actually improved over the years. In the ‘80s, you had to send in paper copies of plan documents and summary plan descriptions (SPDs) with your 5500 so they could be stored on a shelf in a warehouse by the Department of Labor (DOL). So I was told, anyway.

    Tips for a Successful Employee Benefits Career

    Even after 35 years in the business, I still get that unsettled feeling every time I attend a compliance webinar or read proposed new regulations or proposed legislation.

    So, what’s the secret to dealing with these challenges but still enjoy helping clients tackle the next compliance requirement?

    Educate Yourself

    Read and Google as much as you can — find time in the day and/or night. You have to give yourself a base of knowledge to work from.

    Network and Connect

    Join an association like: the National Association of Health Underwriters (NAHU), Southwest Benefits Association (SWBA), or any of the other associations out there. But don’t just join “get involved,” connect and learn from others. As smart as you think you might be, don’t go at it alone. There are such bright individuals working in benefits administration, and it helps to think through the gray areas.

    If you’re working for an employer, find a consultant and an ERISA attorney who can help you stay out of (or get out of) trouble. Things happen, and you need a team. I tell everyone I talk to about data breaches that “it’s not if one will occur, but when.” Be part of a team formal and/or informal.

    Always Do the Right Thing

    You will sleep better, and even if you are wrong, you can argue you did what you thought was right and fair.

    Help on the Political Side

    The longer you are involved, you may find you want to get engaged at the ground level. Our state and federal legislators are always looking for experts to help them understand proposed legislation that they need to vote on. Your employee benefits expertise, especially as a voting constituent, is very valuable and can ease the burden of future benefits administration on you.

    Thank You for 35 Years

    Looking back on my 35 years in this profession, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Despite some very scary challenges, the experiences, clients, and individuals I have helped and friends I have met made it all worth it. That’s on top of the untold benefit participants I have helped over the years. They are the true beneficiaries of our work in more ways than one.

    While I am retiring from my full-time job with Holmes Murphy this June, I plan on continuing my involvement on a part-time basis (I truly am a benefits geek) with my lifelong passion of employee benefits administration, primarily through my work with NAHU’s political action committee HUPAC.

    So, as this is my last blog, I want to wish everyone working in this field the best. It’s no easy task!

    Published on: 05.24.21