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For Employee Benefits Enrollment, U.S. Trending Toward a Paperless Workplace
More employees are relying on the Internet to enroll in and alter their benefits

By Stephen Miller  3/22/2010

A five-year trend shows a 165 percent growth rate in the proportion of U.S. employees that use some combination of web-based technology to enroll in their benefits, reducing the high volume of paper used during the benefits enrollment season, according to a new study from The Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America.

The study, Benefits & Behavior: Spotlight on Technology and Enrollment, sheds light on a larger trend of technology and Internet usage contributing to paper reduction and operating efficiencies in the workplace. "If the trends that we are seeing continue, the workplace of the future might be paperless—at least as it pertains to employee benefits," said Elena Wu, group marketing and worksite officer at Guardian. "And we're talking 10 or 20 years into the future, not a half-century from now. In just a short period of time we've already seen a dramatic shift toward the use of paperless technology to manage workplace benefits. This technology is most popular with younger employees, but surprisingly mature workers also embrace online access to their benefits."

Key findings among full-time employees are described below.

 

2009

2004

Employees who selected their benefits via online-only enrollment

40%

12%

Employees who selected their benefits via paper-only enrollment

36%

58%

Employees who used a combination of paper and online access to select their benefits

21%

11%

Among the 61 percent of full-time employees who used online enrollment for some portion of their 2009 employee benefits enrollment:

Most (92 percent) cited convenience as the top reason that they access their benefits online.

87 percent said online access to benefits saves time.

73 percent said online access gives them more control.

Environmental Advantages

While not the top choice, the environment was mentioned by 67 percent of employees as an important reason for accessing their benefits online. Women (75 percent) were significantly more likely than men (61 percent) to say that they value the environmental benefits of online enrollment.

"Convenience should be the headline when employers are encouraging employees to transition to online benefits access," said Wu. "Once you establish advantages of online access, such as saving time, improving service and giving employees more control, it is then an important bonus if you are helping the environment. The one exception might be with employers that have a largely female workforce. Women are more likely to factor the environment into their decision to use the Internet. Consequently, environmental concerns can be placed front and center when reaching out to women."

Experience Mitigates Privacy Concerns

The movement toward online enrollment is likely part of a larger trend where employees are becoming more accustomed to using the Internet to manage their finances.

63 percent reported that they paid their monthly bills using online banking. This virtually equaled the percentage of employees (61 percent) that report using computer-based enrollment for some portion of their employee benefits enrollment during their last benefits enrollment period.

Men are significantly more likely to bank online, with 69 percent of men vs. 55 percent of women.

Those under the age of 45 are significantly more likely to use online banking to pay their bills. For instance, those who answered "yes" when asked if they pay their monthly bills online were:

77 percent aged 18 to 34.

71 percent aged 35 to 44.

53 percent aged 45 to 54.

40 percent aged 55+.

"Online banking has been around for more than a decade now, and employees, particularly those from Gen X and Y, appear to be increasingly comfortable with managing confidential information online," said Wu. "This is relevant to the issue of electronic health records and health care reform. Privacy is often cited as one of the barriers to storing private health information in a web-based environment. Our research shows that most employees and employers have already embraced using the Internet to manage highly confidential information."

The survey was conducted Feb. 4-7, 2010, from a national sample of full-time employed respondents.

Stephen Miller is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Related Articles:

Open Enrollment Self-Service Decision Tools on the Rise, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, December 2009

'Holistic' Approach Recommended for Benefits Enrollments, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, November 2009

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