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5 ways to increase employee understanding and adoption of benefits

May 10th, 2023

The need for more impactful benefit communication and education is substantial and readily acknowledged by employees. Here are five ways employees and their benefits advisors can increase employee understanding and adoption of benefits.

By David MacLean

In most cases, employees have one to two weeks to make important decisions during open enrollment about health care, insurance, and the wellbeing of themselves and their families. The window to make these decisions is short, but the impacts last a year—or much  longer. According to a report by PlanSource, employees spend an average of 18 minutes enrolling in their benefits. That is not much time to read, study and make informed decisions, meaning they are likely missing out on valuable offerings that support their emotional, physical, and financial well-being. 

For many employees, whether working remotely or in an office, distractions happen during open enrollment. Selecting benefits could come at an inopportune time – their child is crying, they’re under a critical deadline, or need to run errands. When short on time, most employees will focus on medical elections and perhaps a few other coverages familiar to them, such as dental insurance. Because they may be too distracted to fully understand what else is offered, they will often miss the value and relevance of other important benefits. 

Periodic communications throughout the year tied to current events improves the likelihood employees will better understand and appreciate what is available to them through their benefits package.  And research shows employees value an ongoing communication and education strategy for benefits. In a recent LegalShield survey, 81% of respondents expressed a desire for communications throughout the year. The same survey revealed that 47% of participants felt they didn’t know enough to make informed voluntary benefit choices during open enrollment. So, the need for more impactful benefit communication and education is substantial and readily acknowledged by employees.  

Here are five ways employees and their benefits advisors can increase employee understanding and adoption of benefits: 

Engage with vendors. Let provider know you are interested in periodic, concise communications demonstrating how their products can assist employees with significant life events and present you with a calendar of such materials for the upcoming year. Many vendors have a lot of good educational content they would be happy to share.

Connect communications to current events and seasons. People understand information when they can relate to it personally, and a connection is most likely to occur when communications tie into important current events or seasonal dynamics. Employers should clarify how voluntary benefits can be a positive tool for managing these events. For example, many employees with student debt have questions about the status of forgiveness or resumption of payments; other employees may have questions about family members’ immigration status. There has been news coverage for months around escalating interest rates and increased rents, which may create stress for many employees and raise the specter of debt collection negotiations. Springtime is traditionally a time of active home buying and selling, which is an exciting but daunting event for many employees. If employers have a resource for such matters, communicating about it during the year when major events are “top of mind” is an excellent way to make such benefit plans relevant and practical.

Use qualifying status changes as an educational opportunity.  Employees experiencing a qualifying status change are often at an important milestone in their lives.  This is an excellent time to remind them how benefits being offered can be of assistance during the most common status changes (e.g., change of address, birth of child, and death of a family member).

Ensure new hire on-boarding includes information about each benefit offered.  The onboarding process is a great time to showcase and educate new employees about the benefits package. Provide information in the new hire packet that is easy to digest and understand. Provide visuals and prepare a digital and traditional version so they can easily reference it.

Expand communication channels.  Consider multiple communication channels, including intranet, HRIS system, video orientations, email, topical seminars, employee meetings, instant messaging, and social media. Don’t be afraid to be creative and think about how you can repurpose the information and share it in multiple ways throughout the year. 

Now is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with vendor partners and internal teams to create a yearlong plan informing employees of the full range of life improvement resources. 

David MacLean is vice president of strategic growth at LegalShield.

Original article appeared in BenefitsPRO Magazine on May 10, 2023. Link to article.