How far can something be pulled in different directions before it snaps? That was how one employee (call him Alex) was feeling. He was trying to balance his job demands, his obligations to his wife and kids, and his role as a caregiver to a seriously ill father.

One day, Alex called his company’s employee assistance program (EAP), part of his benefits package. He had to drive his father for cancer treatments five days a week, and the strain was affecting his work and family. Alex learned his benefits included another special feature – health-care navigation. He was able to arrange free rides for his father to the hospital. “You’re lifesavers!” Alex told the benefits provider.

Alex’s story showcases the power of benefits that are often overlooked, says Mira Jelic, co-founder of Novus Health, a Canadian health and wellness provider based in Toronto. They include EAPs, support finding the right health care, medical second opinions, case management for cancer, accessing senior services, retirement planning and financial education. “These are the benefits that shed such a favourable light on the employer, because they offer something unique,” says Jelic.

The core drug and dental coverage in group plans is essential yet expected, says Rebika Shaw, SVP, strategy, sales and operations at Boston-based WorldCare International, which provides a second-opinion service. She calls reimbursements the “bread and butter” of plans: “If everybody provides it, it ceases to be a differentiator.”

What employees tend to think of first as their base benefits helps to save them money. Yet the other types of benefits, which revolve more around advocacy and advice, can save huge amounts of time and stress – and can set employers apart, says Shaw.

It’s not just a matter of adding these features to a group plan (they’re often already embedded), but of promoting them. Employees may not know about many value-added benefits because they’re simply used less often.

“Until you need them, you’re unaware of them, then you can’t imagine living without them,” says Sean Slater, executive vice president, sales and marketing, at Homewood Health in Guelph, Ont., a leader in mental health and addiction services for employers and insurers.

Benefits that can help solve family problems have more than a cost value; they have a deeply personal value. Such benefits go a long way to keep people productive and engaged with their employers.

“Until you need them, you’re unaware of them, then you can’t imagine living without them.”
– Sean Slater

“How do employers use all the tools at their disposal to create emotional connections with their employees?” poses Slater. “It’s about more than pay. It’s how they wrap their arms around you and take care of you and your family.”

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