What’s going on with benefits and compensation these days?

October 26, 2011

Share this

Health benefits, retirement planning and compensation

Q:  What’s going on with benefits and compensation these days?  

A: Largely in response to feedback from employees, there are many changes now being made to SU’s health benefits, wellness initiatives, retirement plans and compensation. Vice President for Human Resources and University Services Jerry Huffman has been walking employees through the changes at a series of open forum sessions. (The last session is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 28, noon-1 p.m., Sullivan Hall C6.) What follows is a recap of one of those sessions. 

Health benefits  

With Open Enrollment taking place Nov. 1-11, health insurance is at the forefront of many employees’ minds, and there are many new developments in this area. 

The university is changing its PPO provider from Regence Blue Shield to Premera Blue Cross.  “We selected Premera based on their ability to provide technology enhancements, customer service to faculty and staff, wellness initiatives and cost reductions,” Huffman said. “We also paid attention to network coverage. Premera covers 98 percent of those physicians in our current network. We’re confident this is a good decision we are making on behalf of our faculty and staff.” 

For Jan. 1, 2012, there will also be a change in premium costs. Currently the university pays 100 percent of premiums for employees who choose Employee Only coverage. As Huffman explained, “We’re going to move over a three-year time period to a structure that (will involve a) commitment from the university (to cover) 85 percent of the premium cost for (single coverage). Our peer group universities cover 80 percent now. Other institutions throughout the United States cover about this level. 

Family and dependent premium costs will decrease for most employees. On average, the university currently pays 57 percent of those costs; on Jan. 1, SU will pay, on average, 70 percent of those costs. 

The premiums employees will have deducted from their paychecks (pre-tax) will be “stratified based on pay level,” said Huffman. “We think this is just, we think this is aligned with who we are, our mission and our values. What this means is that people in lower pay levels in year one will pay even less than five percent. 

“I’m very happy that we’re at a point where we can respond to you in this way. I think it’s important that we listened. For the most part, faculty and staff will be paying less for family and dependent coverage.” 

The university’s ever-present goal is to get a handle on rising insurance costs that all employers are experiencing. As one possibility, Huffman indicated that the university might be adding another PPO option one year from now that has a lower premium but higher risk/deductible. 


The university is contracting with Limeade, a local company Huffman said has been used by Group Health, REI and other “forward-thinking companies and organizations.” Limeade is an online resource that provides assessments as well as incentives for wellness. We’ll have the chance to learn more about this program after January 1.  

The university is also looking at an onsite coaching initiative and opportunities to maximize the new wellness-supporting features of the new William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center. 

Huffman also announced that a healthcare and wellness committee will soon be forming, and he invited faculty and staff members to contact Matt Philip, compensation and benefits director, at philipm@seattleu.edu, if they are interested in serving as members. 

Retirement Planning  

No change will be made this year to the university’s contribution to employee retirement plans, Huffman said. However there are some new developments, many having to do with new Department of Labor regulations that hold the university more accountable for its employees’ retirement plans. 

“We are now being required to do some of the things that a lot of public companies have been doing for some time in terms of the fiduciary requirements to manage those types of plans that we present to you as participants,” Huffman said.  

As one change, the university is moving to a single record-keeper system. (TIAA-CREF and Fidelity current serve in this role.) The transition is expected to “save participants a lot of money in terms of the costs in your plan,” Huffman said. 

The university has also formed the Retirement Plan Investment (RPIC) Committee “to ensure we get the best performance from our plan.” The committee is now looking into developing a better array of investment opportunities for employee participants. Currently, there are more than 300 choices, and many underperform. Huffman expects the number to be pared down to something on the order of 30 investment choices that perform well. 


Huffman reminded the audience of the $500,000 increase allocated for market adjustments for the current year. This is part of the five-year commitment on the part of the university to increase compensation by $5.6 million as part of the strategic priority of investing in the excellence of SU faculty and staff. 

Last year, the university did a study to benchmark salaries against the market. For staff, this applied to the 35 or 40 percent of positions that could readily be benchmarked to market. To evaluate the salary structures of the remaining positions and to prepare for annual performance assessments, all positions descriptions are currently being reviewed. “This is a critical step for many reasons – most importantly to make sure managers assess their staff’s performance based on current understanding of roles and responsibilities.” The process of collecting staff descriptions is 75 percent complete. Staff performance assessments are slated for January and February. At the same time,  the descriptions will be used to place staff jobs in new pay classifications that are aligned with the market. 

Faculty and staff will be eligible for a base increase effective July 1, 2012. (The percentage has yet to be determined.) On top of that, staff will be considered for merit pay raises based on two factors—their performance and their pay relative to market. That is, if a staff person who is performing very well and is being paid below the market, they will be eligible for a higher percentage raise. From July 1, 2013 onward, the expectation is that all increases will be merit-based. Faculty salaries already operate under a merit-based system. 

For more information, visit http://www.seattleu.edu/hr/.