The lack of NHS dentists is driving the provision of dental health perks, and employers will find there are advantages in promoting these to staff, but they must be careful not to oversell, says Sally Hamilton
Employers that offer dental perks to their workforce will undoubtedly find it pays to remind staff they are available, even if employees are the ones who must fork out for the cover. The larger the take-up of a scheme, for example, the more likely it is that premiums will be reduced or the level of benefit available through the plan increased at its renewal, therefore giving employees better terms than they could achieve by buying individual dental insurance direct. Plans purchased through employers also often ignore pre-existing conditions, which is a blessing for those with a history of dental problems.
When promoting the benefits they offer, however, employers need to tread carefully to avoid pushing a particular dental product too hard in case they fall foul of the Financial Services Authority’s rules on the selling of financial products.
But some experts believe achieving a large employee take up of dental benefits is not the be all and end all. Nick Howard, a principal at Mercer, says: “Employers shouldn’t be promoting one dental policy because they cannot be sure it is the appropriate policy for all of their employees. If an employee has a bad experience, it might affect how they feel about their employer. It is better not to oversell it but instead provide employees with enough information to make an informed decision.’
On-site dental provision
Employers offering on-site dental services have more flexibility to promote the service they offer and are advised to do so. “It is a cost for employers to recruit a dentist so they want it used,” adds Howard.
As dental cover is less of a mainstream benefit than life insurance, for example, employees do need to be reminded that it is on the menu. Ensuring that staff know it is available is likely to become ever more important if the scarcity of National Health Service (NHS) dentists and ballooning treatment costs continues. Sales of dental policies are certainly on the rise, with nearly three million sold in 2006, up by a third on 2005, according to market research group Laing & Buisson’s Health and care cover UK market report 2007, published last July.
Employers can also use the promotion of dental benefits to educate employees about their oral health, making use of the services offered by providers, such as the worksite marketing offered by Denplan. Pam Whelan, corporate dental sales manager of Denplan, says: “If the plan is employer paid, we can help the employer communicate [it] in a range of ways. This includes by email, especially if there are new elements to the benefit, with a freephone number for employees to phone.
“Employers also use intranet sites, newsletters and invite us to benefits roadshows. If it is a voluntary scheme it is likely to be promoted through posters or desk drops.Communication [also] needs to occur on a rolling basis as new staff join. If it is employer funded or part of a flex scheme it is usually communicated annually.”
Nationwide Building Society escalates communications around all its voluntary benefits during October and November so that employees are enrolled to take up their options from the following 1 January. This includes highlighting its dental insurance policy from National Dental Plan and HSA healthcare cash plan, which has a dental element. Rosemary Crabb, rewards analyst, says: “Information about both schemes is provided on the intranet and enrolment is also online.”
Nationwide also runs group-wide promotions to communicate the schemes. “This includes a competition where all the providers offer a prize for a draw. Last time, National Dental Plan offered a whizzy electric toothbrush, and HSA offered an experience day voucher, for example,” adds Crabb.
Glenn Rhodes, head of business-to-business marketing at HSA, says: “When the benefit is free it is a no brainer for employees. But when it’s a voluntary scheme we work with employers in a worksite environment. Communication might typically include having a presence in the canteen and regular induction programmes. There will also be information on the intranet, desk drops, payslip information, open days, displays and posters.”
Linking the promotion of dental perks to national events can also help to keep them front of mind. Chris Bromilow, head of company sales at Bupa, says that National Smile Month, which begins on 18 May, for example, is an ideal time to remind staff of the dental benefits on offer.
If you read nothing else read this…
- The scarcity of National Health Service dentists and increasing treatment costs are raising awareness of dental benefits.
- Employers offering dental perks, whether on a voluntary or employer-paid basis, should highlight their advantages but hold back on a heavy sales pitch.
- Sales of dental plans are booming, having risen by a third to three million in 2006.
- Subtle encouragement through oral health awareness days or campaigns can be effective.