Communication key to successful benefits enrollment

Connie Schulthies

A recent study of employee benefits trends conducted by Metropolitan Life Insurance found that employees who understand their benefits packages are three times more likely to respond they’re highly satisfied with their current jobs and employers. So what is good employee communication?

Most of the benefit communication offered by employers occurs during an employee’s initial eligibility period or open enrollment. Open enrollment is that time of year when employees are re-introduced to the benefits their employers provide. Employees can make changes to current enrollment, enroll in benefits or waive benefits.  This can be an overwhelming time for both employers and employees.  Employers are faced with choosing a benefits package that balances cost and value. Employees are faced with making smart decisions on what options will best meet their needs.

To maximize open enrollment opportunities, consider the following strategies:

  • Notification: Send out announcements alerting employees open enrollment soon will start. Post the dates, times and information in a common area or employee break room.
  • Receipt of information: Distribute information about benefit plans, selection information and the appropriate forms. Also consider providing personalized information based on an employee’s current elections.  This provides employees with a starting point in their decision-making process. If you have a company Web site or benefits portal for employees, consider posting benefit information and resources on that site and encourage your employees to use the site as a one-stop benefit information resource. Consider adding links to the insurance carrier’s Web site, provider directory, benefit calculators and access to interactive decision-making tools.
  • Benefit education opportunities: Invite employees to attend benefit seminars. Offer a benefits fair and invite vendors for the various benefits you offer to come and help explain the benefits they provide. Offer one-on-one meetings so employees can sit down and discuss their specific needs and get advice on what benefits offer the best fit for them. Studies show employees really appreciate this kind of benefit education opportunity. Draw upon such outside resources as a broker, agent or benefit consultant to help you educate employees about the benefits you offer.
  • Benefit surveys: Survey employees to determine their priorities for benefits and preferred means of communication. Surveys enable employers to identify exactly what employees want. Employees feel their needs have been considered by decision-makers.
  • Customize benefits and information resources to the life stages of employees: Are your employees older, younger, single or married with families? Customizing your benefits to fit your work force can increase employee satisfaction without increasing costs.
  • Review the benefit information you provide: Is the benefit information you provide complicated or easy to read and understand? Consider simplifying the information you provide to help employees identify the benefits in which they’re really interested. Then use your benefit portal to offer more detailed information about specific benefits. Presented with too much information or confusing information, employees tend to put off deliberations until they’re forced to make decisions because they’re out of time. That leaves employees feeling hurried and undereducated about the benefits they’re offered and unsure they chose the benefits they really need.
  • Offer a second, off-cycle enrollment period when new benefits are offered: Consider focusing on voluntary benefits and such other non-traditional benefits as disability or life insurance. These benefits are often overshadowed during open enrollment by health insurance, wellness plans and understanding the complexities of health care reform. Moreover, a second enrollment period allows employees another time to focus on other needs.

A successful and effective open enrollment process can have dramatic effects on the relationships between employers and employees. By catering to employees’ needs and desires, employers will ultimately make the experience more enjoyable and worthwhile. Simply put, employees will feel more secure in the benefit decisions they make and more satisfied with the employers for which they work.