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Better Benefits Communication Pays Off
Tactics that could help employees understand—and value—their benefits

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  4/2/2013
 

While only two out of five U.S. workers would strongly recommend their organization as a “great place to work,” those who did so were three times more likely to be satisfied with their benefits, according to MetLife’s 11th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends.

The study was conducted in October 2012 and consisted of an employer sample (1,503 interviews with benefits decision-makers at companies with staff sizes of at least two employees) and an employee sample (1,422 interviews with full-time employees age 21 and over at companies with a minimum of two employees). Among the key takeaways:

  • Three out of five employees who would strongly recommend their company said that benefits were an important reason why they remained there.

  • More than half (51 percent) of employees said they were willing to bear more of their benefits costs in order to have a choice of products that meet their needs.

  • 58 percent of employers said providing access to voluntary benefits was a significant benefits strategy—a jump from 32 percent in 2010. Voluntary benefits can range from dental, vision and life insurance to coverage for short-term disability and long-term care, as well as options including pet insurance. Employees pay the premiums, typically through salary deferral and often at group rates that the employer negotiates.

“With many employees saying they would pay more for a wider range of voluntary benefits, employers have an opportunity to increase benefits satisfaction without increasing the bottom line,” said Anthony Nugent, MetLife executive vice president, speaking at the company’s National Benefits Symposium on March 18, 2013, in Washington, D.C., where the report was released.

Ensuring Effective Communications

Among the communication tactics that employees rated as most valuable were:

  • Confirming benefits elections. Fifty-eight percent of employees who said they were provided with effective communication from their employer appreciated a written confirmation of the benefits choices they made during enrollment.

    “Technical and detailed plan summaries are often posted online, but not every employer provides a simple listing of the selected benefit coverages for employees to keep for their records,” Nugent said.

  • Tying life events to benefits. Employees appreciated receiving suggestions for appropriate adjustments to coverage in response to life events such as birth of a child or marriage. Additionally, 77 percent said they were interested in the option of more-personalized benefits geared to their circumstances.

“While it is often not practical to customize plan design in this way, it is relatively easy to personalize and customize benefits communications to highlight features to appeal to different employee demographics,” Nugent observed.

  • A choice of communication channels. A variety of communication channels were popular with employees, such as one-on-one meetings, benefits fairs and websites. Respondents also gave high marks to ongoing information and education on how to make the best use of benefits after the open-enrollment period. 

Top 10 Communication Tactics

Employees who gave their companies a benefits communication grade of A or B cited the following as the most-valued benefits tactics.

Post-enrollment confirmation of benefits elections

58% cited

Personalized messages and materials reflecting individual needs and/or life stages

53%

Employer benefits website

53%

Enrollment opportunities throughout the year (voluntary benefits)

50%

One-on-one meetings

49%

Online decision-support tools (e.g., calculators, frequently asked questions or FAQs)

48%

Suggested benefit actions and product options in response to a life event (e.g., birth, marriage)

43%

Group meetings

42%

Ongoing education about benefits after enrollment

40%

Benefits fairs

38%

MetLife’s 11th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends

Employees Value Benefits Education

In a separate survey commissioned by Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co. in late February 2013, employees don’t give their companies very high marks for the effectiveness of their benefits communication. Only 60 percent said it’s fairly or very effective, and 9 percent say it’s not at all effective.

Not surprisingly, then, only about a third (32 percent) of individuals whose employers offer benefits said they’re very comfortable making decisions about the benefits available to them at work. Employees with total household income of less than $35,000 report struggling a bit more, with only 25 percent saying they’re very comfortable with benefits decision-making. They’re also much more likely than workers with household income of $50,000 or more to say they’re not at all comfortable: 12 percent compared to 3 percent, respectively.

Improved Benefits Communication

Employers can take several steps to help workers better understand their benefits, according to the Colonial Life survey. The top choices among options offered were:

  • Providing benefits information employees can access at home or at work, with 38 percent of employees saying this change would be helpful to them.

  • Providing benefits information that’s easier to understand was equally desired at 37 percent.

  • Providing an opportunity for them to talk with a benefits expert on company time was something that more than a third—34 percent—of employees would like their employer to do.

Other changes employees said would help included having choices to customize the benefits package (59 percent), receiving benefits information more frequently (31 percent) and receiving benefits information that’s more personalized to their needs (30 percent).

The survey queried 2,111 U.S. adults age 18 and older employed full or part time about the benefits education available to them at work.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Digital Divide: Generations Differ in Retirement Planning, SHRM Online Benefits, February 2013

Spotlight on Benefits Used to Recruit, Retain Employees, SHRM Online Benefits, January 2013

Viewpoint: Get More from Your Benefits Investment, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2012

Tailor Benefit Communications to Different Learning Styles, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2012

Benefits Can Boost Employee Loyalty, SHRM Online Benefits, April 2011

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