What Does an Employee Benefits Specialist Do?

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benefits specialist

As major corporations and small businesses both strive to compete for new employee talent, the HR benefits specialist has become one of the most important positions within the organization. What does a benefits specialist do?  The human resources benefits specialist is essentially charged with:

  • finding the best deal on all kinds of employee “perks” that add value to the job
  • enhancing a compensation package
  • keeping employees from considering offers from competing employers that might flaunt their own set of benefits and perks
  • understanding the federal and state laws that govern these benefits

Some of the tasks included in a benefits specialist job description might include:

  • assisting with benefits enrollments
  • educating employees about their benefits or changes to the employee benefits program
  • researching and solving any employee benefits issues that arise

This job of a human resource benefits specialist is high-stakes.  It is also a particularly good fit for those who are:

  • technically minded
  • ready to compare budgets and costs
  • able to recommend specific options to top-level managers and executive leadership within their organization

Benefits specialists may also be called employment benefits specialists. Another popular job title is compensation specialist.  Those who work with unions may be called a union benefit coordinator or union benefits specialist.  Regardless of the title, a benefits specialist is an essential role within a human resources department.  So, what does this specialist do throughout the day and over time?

Compare Costs to the Organization of Popular Benefit Plans

Employee benefits specialists are essentially charged first and foremost with getting the company the best possible deal on an attractive benefits package. That means they’ll compare health insurance packages from multiple companies, for example, in an effort to find the one that requires the least corporate spending for the best overall health package for employees. They’ll also apply this routine to:

  • dental packages
  • life insurance benefits
  • company investments
  • 401(k) plans

Typically, contracts for these benefit programs are negotiated on at least a one-year basis.  Corporations may sign multi-year agreements to save on the cost of benefits even further. The employee benefits specialist will determine which contract length is the best deal.  They’ll begin comparison procedures as that contract draws to a close.

Choice of Investment Mechanism, Pension Terms and Retirement Savings Plans

Benefits specialists need to be concerned not only with employee wellbeing and health benefits, but also with the ongoing costs of a retirement program. This requires specialists to compare and contrast all available options, including:

  • company 401(k) providers
  • matching contribution programs
  • a standard fixed-benefit pension system
  • IRA contribution options

These are high-stakes decisions affect how employees can expect to live after they’ve finished their careers and moved into retirement. As a result, decisions involve extensive consultation with:

  • fellow specialists
  • high-level managers
  • executives

Benefits specialists will also hold meetings with employees. Changes are rare, though they’re often executed if the company can save money without lowering the quality of the program over time.

Interaction with Employees and the Public

Because of their extensive benefits knowledge, specialists may be asked to help educate employees on their options when it comes to choosing:

  • health care packages
  • insurance packages
  • retirement programs

They may also work in some capacity with publishing houses, creating guides to each of these programs that can be printed, published and distributed by organizations all across the country. In this capacity, the specialist serves as more of an intermediary and an educator. This requires extensive:

  • human resources knowledge
  • seasoned benefits negotiation experience
  • the ability to interface with the public in a relatable way

A master’s degree in human resource management can be beneficial for an HR professional seeking a role as a benefits specialist.

An Engaging Career for Those with a Technical and Analytical Mind

Those who have an eye for detail and like negotiating with major suppliers to get the best deal on essential employee benefits will certainly find this position to be a rewarding one. Successful benefits specialists will need solid communication skills along with sharp analytical skills to understand complex benefits related data.  Those who apply to be a benefits specialist will be on the front lines, implementing benefits programs offered by their company.  They play a critical role making changes to human resources policies, providers, and packages, while determining how competitive and worker-friendly their employer is over time.

How Much Can I Make as an Employee Benefits Specialist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), compensation, benefits and job analysis specialists have a median pay of $64,120/year.  The highest 10% of earners earned more than $106,160/year while the lowest 10% earn less than $42,760.

The industries with the highest paid benefits specialists include:

  • Management of companies and enterprises-$77,450/year
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services-$77,030/year
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals- $63,410/year
  • Insurance carriers and related activities- $62,400/year
  • Healthcare and social assistance- $60,860/year

What Education do I Need to be an Employee Benefits Specialist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the entry level education for this role is a bachelor’s degree.  Most employee benefits specialists have a degree in an area like:

  • business
  • psychology
  • human resource management
  • communications
  • finance

Some employee benefits specialists with a degree in HR may have a general human resources credential issued by the Society for Human Resource Management.  Eligible practitioners must pass an exam to earn this competency-based certification.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offers a certification program specifically for benefits specialists.  The Certified Employee Benefit Specialist is a credential which carries a five-course requirement.  While completing the program, professionals also earn Group Benefits Associate (GBA) and Retirement Plans Associate (RPA) designations.

Related Resources:

20 Companies With the Best Benefits

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