“I like to think of myself as a teacher,” said one benefits administrator, and her job description seemed to match up with her perspective. Benefit administrators explain, summarize, and publish material which describes to employees their rights and obligations under their benefit plans. Benefit administrators handle grievances, take suggestions, and act as intermediaries between benefits providers and employees. Administrators with strong communication skills, sharp minds, and the instinct to explain, to teach, find their choice of occupation gives them a high degree of satisfaction. Over 40 percent of the benefits administrator’s day is spent on the telephone, either with providers or clients, explaining procedures and getting information. Another 40 percent of the day is spent writing, reading, and researching reports.
Benefits administration is one outcropping of the corporate culture it supports; many who enter the industry with the belief that employee benefits should help the employee at any cost are rudely awakened. Decisions on benefits are made in the context of this corporate culture, particularly with an eye to the bottom line. Benefits administration is a way of providing employees with support, a safety net, and advice on investments, but any decisions that help the employees should help the company as well.
Administrators must have a strong sense of self and an ability to explain benefits plans clearly. “Expect to be blamed for everything from the client not filling out their forms properly to a rude pharmacist,” said one seven-year veteran. Balanced delicately between the clients and the providers, benefits administrators prove good targets for dissatisfied members of either side. This was cited as the largest downside of the profession, and may contribute to the number of administrators who leave the field between years three and six (nearly 35 percent). But this frustration is frequently offset by the general sense of helpfulness that benefits administrators feel in offering people options, educating them about their plans, and helping them through a confusing and intimidating healthcare system.
Candidates should have at least a bachelor’s degree. Favorably viewed majors include English, communications, psychology, history, business, and economics. While benefits administrators work for large and small firms alike, most entry-level opportunities exist in larger firms with entire benefits administration departments. Smaller companies usually combine benefits administration duties with other responsibilities. No professional accreditation programs are required in this profession, but a familiarity with issues in the field, an understanding of the areas of responsibility for benefits administrators, and a willingness to work hard and learn are all critical.
Benefits administrators make business decisions and help others, and the two fields that people enter from benefits administration most often satisfy these two needs. Business-oriented benefits administrators go into a variety of banking and financial positions, such as management consulting and securities analysis, while people-oriented administrators go into human resources, career counseling, and job training programs. A few administrators enter the insurance industry.