Tailor Benefit Communications to Different Learning Styles

For open enrollment, give employees three weeks to consider benefit materials

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jul 12, 2012

If employees do not understand the benefits they are offered, they may have difficulty choosing the benefits that are most relevant to their age and stage of life and that of their families, according to a report. When employees can make informed benefits choices, they are more likely to value the safety net offered through their employers.

The importance of clear and effective employee benefits education and communications is highlighted in Beyond the Usual Benefits: The Power of Employee Education to Influence Workplace Satisfaction, a survey report from employee benefits provider Unum. The survey, conducted in January 2012 among 1,147 employed adults in the U.S. with benefits from a variety of providers, reveals that:

  • Employees’ assessment of their benefits education continues to be lower than in 2008.
  • Satisfaction with open enrollment is down.
  • Providing appropriate resources and helpful information is key to a positive education experience.
  • Smaller companies have the biggest challenges since they often lack the HR staff to provide robust benefits education.

According to the report, the key to providing employees with an effective benefits education is a "three-plus-three" communications strategy—allowing employees at least three weeks to review their benefit options, using at least three types of education methods.

Provide Sufficient Time to Decide

When employees receive education information at least three weeks before the enrollment deadline they have enough time to:

Take materials home to share with a spouse or partner.

Evaluate their personal situations.

Attend informational meetings, if offered.

Consult with trusted relatives or friends.

Do additional research.

Address Learning Style Differences

In addition, it's important to use at least three methods of communication to meet various learning preferences among employees. Among these differences:

Visual learners may prefer videos or printed materials with images.

Auditory learners usually prefer podcasts, video or spoken communications.

Tactile/kinesthetic learners are "hands on" and may do better with online interactive tools or worksheets they can fill out.

Online methods of benefits communication, from interactive websites to web-based podcasts and videos, can make it easier to match benefits communications with these varied learning styles.

Target Generational Differences

The research shows that the younger generations of employees:

Are less likely to see the value in their benefits.

Are more likely to turn to their friends for input when asking questions or looking for answers about their benefits.

Prefer online or interactive opportunities to enroll.

In contrast, the older generations of employees:

Are more worried about their financial security.

Have a more positive view of a benefits package.

Prefer group meetings for enrollment.

Offer Voluntary Benefit Choices

Employee satisfaction is linked to whether employers make available voluntary benefits, typically with employee-paid premiums but offered at group rates. According to Unum's survey:

Among respondents offered voluntary plans, 56 percent expressed satisfaction with their benefits package and the same percent expressed satisfaction with their employer.

Among respondents not offered voluntary plans, only 38 percent expressed satisfaction with their benefits package and 47 percent expressed satisfaction with their employer.

"Employees are placing more value on benefits in general—even when they have to pay for them," the report concludes. Voluntary benefits "offer a variety of choices in coverage that appeal to today's diverse and versatile workforce. Employees place a high value on these benefits when they are effectively communicated, even though they pay the premium."

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

Related Articles:

Employee Advisory Committees Promote Benefits Buy-In, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012

Employee Loyalty Hits 7-Year Low; Benefits Promote Retention, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2012

Message to Employees: Get Proactive During Benefits Enrollment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011

Employees Make Avoidable Benefits Mistakes, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011

Gen Y: Employers Get Low Marks for Benefits Communications, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect