The Employee Benefit Office–How Size Can Determine How Much You Grow
Does size of the company matter when it comes to choosing an employee benefits job. Choose a small organization and you may find yourself doing everything. Choose a large one and you may find yourself bored stiff. What size benefit office should you choose depends on your likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and career goals. Both have pros and cons, and it is important to explore them before you say, "yes" to a job offer.
The number of employees an organization has may not always dictate the size of the benefit staff. I worked for two different organizations with about the same number of employees, one had two and a half (2.5) benefit personnel and the other had eight (8). And the one with 8 staff members relied more on outside benefit consultants to assist with compliance than the one with just 2.5 members. However, in general, the smaller the organization you work for, the smaller the benefit staff. In some cases there is no dedicated benefit staff member but rather an HR generalist performing this role along with other duties. Larger organizations usually have several dedicated full-time benefit staff members.
Pros and Cons of Working in a Small Benefits Office
Let's start with the Pros:
- More opportunities to learn all aspects of the employee benefit function
- More opportunities to increase your problem solving, negotiation and communication skills
- More opportunities to be creative
- Fewer personalities (other benefit staff) to deal with
- Fewer layers of review and approval of work
And now the Cons:
- Responsible for everything, even the mistakes
- Work with a smaller budget and fewer benefit plans/programs
- Lack of diversity of opinion and knowledge
- Work with older technology
- Lack of promotion opportunities
Pros and Cons of Working in a Large Benefits Office
Again, let's start with the Pros:
- Opportunity to specialize in one area of benefit administration or cross-train
- Opportunity to work with a variety of benefit plans/programs
- Access to a bigger budget
- Access to newer technology
- Chance to work with and learn from knowledgeable coworkers
And the Cons:
- Lack of opportunity to learn all benefit functions (e.g., the retirement administrator may decide to stay for 30 years and may not want to train or share his or her knowledge)
- Conformity may trump creativity
- More department personalities to mesh with
- More bureaucracy and layers of approval to navigate
- Less work to go around--can get boring or just not too challenging
So What's the "Perfect Size" Benefit Office...
Is there a benefit office that is just the right size or one that provides all of pros and no cons? Probably not. The pros and cons of working in a small versus large employee benefit office are general in nature. Some smaller benefit offices use better technology than larger ones who may be using the same system from 15 years ago. And some large benefit offices are more nimble and make quicker decisions than smaller ones. The perfect size benefit office is the one that offers you the best opportunity to grow and meet your goals, be they good pay, promotion opportunities, or learning.
There are pros and cons to working in a small or large employee benefit office. Do you want to do it all or do you want to specialize in one area? Do you prefer working solo or with a group? Do you want to work with a large budget or is that not important to you? And while size of the department alone will not tell you what you can expect to encounter on the job, it is a pretty good indicator.