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Voluntary Benefits Participation Disappoints Sponsors
Study highlights need for better benefits education

By Stephen Miller, CEBS  7/2/2014

Despite employees benefit satisfaction levels reaching a record-high of 50 percent in 2013, only 36 percent of their employers said they were very satisfied with employee participation in their voluntary benefits programs, according to findings from MetLife’s 12th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study.

The study shows that 59 percent of employees were very interested in a greater variety of benefits to choose from. However, “with more choice, there may also be confusion,” said Michael Fradkin, senior vice president at MetLife, in a media release announcing the findings.

“If employers add to their benefits offering but aren’t seeing the employee participation levels they anticipated, this may indicate a need for better benefits education and communications, rather than a lack of interest on the part of employees,” said Fradkin.

The study also suggests that employees may be having trouble navigating the different benefit options available to them, with 38 percent of employees reporting they are not very confident they made the right decisions during their last annual enrollment, and 53 percent saying they need more help understanding how their benefits work or how benefits meet their needs.

“Employees’ lack of confidence can be seen in their engagement during the enrollment process. The study finds that 27 percent of employees roll over their previous benefits selections without review, or fail to participate at all,” noted Fradkin. “Only 20 percent of employees take the time to review their enrollment choices several times before finalizing their selection.”

The research also indicates that engaged employees lead to higher participation rates, which can pay dividends in building employee loyalty. “The study finds employees who agree strongly that their company’s communications help them select benefits that best meet their needs are more than twice as likely to say they are ‘very loyal’ to their employers,” said Fradkin.

Increasing Voluntary Benefits Enrollment

Employers looking to increase employee participation and engagement can follow five enrollment priorities suggested by the study:

Focus on tools and tactics that matter most to employees. As employers map out an enrollment plan, the tools that employees value most should figure prominently. For example, the study finds that for companies with more than 500 employees, 79 percent of workers find a confirmation of benefits enrollment elections sent to each employee to be helpful, but only 48 percent of employers use these.

Deliver benefits education when and where employees want it. For many employees, the best environment for considering their benefit options is at home with family members; employers should ensure home access to information is available.

Boost communications by doing the basics better. Better communications can lead to improved engagement: According to the study, employees who report their company’s benefits communications are easy to understand are nearly five times more likely to find enrollment simple and straightforward compared to those who disagree. Communications should feature simple language, visuals, messages personalized to employees’ circumstances and be continuous throughout the year.

Technology talks louder than paper. Employees prefer to enroll online, with 41 percent preferring to enroll via a computer compared to 13 percent who prefer a paper ballot. The study also found that 70 percent of Generation Y find live online chat a helpful option and 69 percent liked mobile apps, showing the need for employers to both understand their employee base and recognize the growing shifts as Millennials become a higher percentage of the workforce.

Get goal-oriented. Setting measureable goals can lead to greater satisfaction with participation. Employers who say they have established measureable goals for their communication and enrollment activities are more than twice as satisfied with participation in voluntary benefits than those without goals.

The study findings were based on three separate surveys conducted during October and November of 2013 with benefits decision-makers at companies with at least two full-time employees, as well as with full-time employees age 21 and over, and with brokers and consultants who sell group employee benefits to companies of all sizes.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

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