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Do Your Employees Understand Their Benefits? Research Says, Probably Not

by Caroline Boyland July 18, 2022

Taking control of your health and wellness

Have you ever gotten a new gym membership, walked inside, looked around, and thought, “where do I even begin?” For many of us, a room full of free weights, resistance machines, squat racks, and cardio equipment can be incredibly overwhelming. We know that if used correctly, these tools can help us take control of our health and fitness, but many of us don’t know which tools to use or even how to use them to reach our personal goals.

The same can be said for many of us when it comes to employee benefits. We know that our employer offers a range of health, financial, and voluntary benefits that, if used properly, can help us meet our physical and financial needs and goals—but the challenge is that many of us don’t know which benefits are best for us or how to choose the right plans for ourselves and our families.

Many employers are bringing in a plethora of new traditional and voluntary benefit plans in an effort to retain and attract talent, but this strategy is only effective if employees understand what the benefits are and how to choose the right ones that will meet their needs.

Recent research found that only 14% of employees are confident when choosing benefits.

A large majority of organizations offer some type of employee benefits to their staff, so why is it the status-quo that employees are completely in the dark when it comes to making the right benefits decisions?

The benefits status-quo

A lack of understanding when it comes to benefits can be a result of a few different reasons.

Time: Most employees simply don't have the time to research their options thoroughly. Although they might know it's a crucial decision, they might not have the bandwidth and time to properly compare plans and make an informed decision. If open enrollment season is only once a year, that's not a lot of time for employees to really learn about all their options on top of their busy day-to-day lives.

Education: As benefits education typically only occurs around open enrollment and only in the form of PDFs and webinars, many employees unfortunately feel like they don't have enough information to make an informed decision. The education they do receive isn’t tailored to their personal needs, so although they may get some written materials outlining plans, it doesn’t tell them enough about how it will impact them personally. Also, the language associated with benefits education is typically filled with insurance jargon, which can make the information harder to digest.

Fatigue: Most employees go through enrollment during the workday when they see a reminder from their HR team about an impending deadline. This means they usually are rushing through it in between their other daily tasks and to-dos. If employees have to read through all of their choices to try to understand which plans to pick, they can easily become overwhelmed and fatigued by the whole process. This usually results in employees picking either A. the most expensive plan because they think it’s the best, or B. the plan that takes the least amount of money out of each paycheck so they don’t have to pay too much.

So what can HR leaders and benefits managers do to bridge this gap?

Streamline benefits communication

With 90% of employees reporting that benefits matter to them when deciding whether to stay with a company or move to a new job, it's clear that improving education and communication around benefits needs to be a top priority for employers.

Here are a few key ways to improve your benefits communications:

Be proactive: Don't wait for employees to come to you with questions – be proactive and reach out to them directly with the information. This can be done through email, social media, or even old-fashioned snail mail. If you can, try to include personalization. Generic information is great, but personalization goes a long way in helping employees make better benefits decisions.

Make it a year-round conversation: Don't wait until open enrollment to start talking about benefits. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the year so employees feel like they have ample opportunity to learn about their benefits and ask any questions they might have. Targeted campaigns at strategic times, especially when it's seasonally relevant or when you add a new benefit, can be an excellent way to keep employees engaged.

Use multiple channels: Don't just rely on one method of communication, such as solely offering PDFs to sift through. Utilize a mix of channels such as video, infographics, one-on-one conversations, webinars, etc., to ensure that employees have plenty of opportunities to learn about their benefits in a way that works for them. Remember that your communication strategy needs to reach all employees, regardless of whether they're in the office or working remotely—fliers in the break-room won’t cut it if half of your population is working from home.

Simplify materials: It can be tempting to just pass on information from the vendors to employees, as it's already written and needs no interpretation on your part. However, this can do more harm than good as the language is often technical and confusing. It's important to take the time to break down complex topics into more manageable chunks that employees can understand and digest. Comparison charts, for example, can be a helpful way to quickly show employees the key differences between different plans.

Make it engaging: Make sure your communications are clear, concise, and easy to understand. But also ensure they're interesting and engaging, or else employees will tune out. Use storytelling, humor, and real-life examples to illustrate the points you're trying to make. It can be helpful to test your materials on a few employees before sending out any benefits communications to see if they understand it and find it useful.

Tailor messages: Just as you wouldn't use the same message to target every consumer for your company's products, you shouldn't use the same message for every benefits communication. Consider different factors such as employees' ages, stages in their careers, and whether they're single or have a family when crafting your messages. This will ensure that each employee is getting information relevant to them and their needs, and they're more likely to engage with the materials.

Support employee's partners: Many benefits decisions are made as a family, so it's vital to include spouses and partners in the communications process. This doesn't mean you need to send them duplicate materials (although you can if you want to), but be sure to let employees know that they're welcome to invite family to attend specific, more public-facing, open enrollment meetings, webinars, and other events. You can also direct them to online resources where they can learn more about the benefits available to them. This personal touch can make employees feel that the welfare of their family is important to you and can enable them to make the best decision for the family unit as a whole.

Incorporate a decision support tool: A decision support tool can help employees understand their benefits and make the best choices for themselves and their families. Nayya, for example, offers a quick survey to gain a better understanding of an employee's personal and family needs (both health and financial). From there, Nayya curates personalized recommendations for each unique employee that outlines the traditional and voluntary benefit plans that best meet their needs and goals. Nayya personalizes benefits education for each employee at the time of enrollment, providing them with the education and confidence that they need to make the right benefits decision. A decision support tool can take the guesswork, stress, and confusion out of employee benefits.

Benefits communication is a complex task, but it's one that's well worth the effort. By taking the time to create a strategy that works for your company and employees, you can ensure that everyone is getting the most out of their benefits and maximizing enrollment.

The truth is that benefit selection is probably the single most important financial decision made by employees each year, and having the wrong coverage when an unexpected event or health scare occurs can have devastating consequences.

With so much at stake and employees struggling to understand, HR has a critical role to play in enabling employees to have a clear understanding of their benefits, so they know how to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

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