Benefits education is a common concern in the workplace. Companies put together a great benefits plan only to find that their employees are not participating. The fact is, great benefits alone are not enough to make people want to use them. Employees need to be educated on what’s in the plan and how to use it because they often find it too confusing.
A recent study found that four out of five American workers say they understand their benefits very well. Yet only 60% of employers agree with them. Other findings from the study support the employers’ point of view:
- 25% of employees said they believe choosing benefits is a guessing game
- 51% want more information and advice prior to the enrollment process
- 51% earned a “C” grade or lower on a short true-or-false quiz about employee benefits
- 19% received an F
Given these differences, it’s clear that the need for benefits education for employees exists. The issue – given the complexity of many of today’s plans – is how to go about doing it in a manner that gets the best results.
What do employees want to know about their benefits plans?
Employees often feel overwhelmed with the amount of information they have to sort through in order to make the best decisions. Employers can help focus their benefits education on the areas most important to employees. These include:
- Summary Plan Description (SPD). This document outlines what is covered and not covered in the plan. It should be available in both print and online versions.
- Member ID card. The ID card is a vital tool for accessing plan benefits and interacting with benefits providers. Employees should know when and where to use their ID card and how to replace it if needed.
- How to find in-network doctors. Employees need to understand the concept of in-network versus out-of-network since many people are unaware of the financial consequences of going out of network. They also need to know how to find doctors, hospitals and other healthcare services within their health plan’s network.
- How to resolve problems with benefits providers. Employees need to know who to contact and where to go when they have a problem (such as a rejected claim).
- Health-related products and services. Many benefits plans include health and wellness programs. Employees need to know what they do and how to enroll in them.
Educated employees are more likely to participate in benefit plans and make better decisions about their benefit options. To help target your educational materials to your different audiences, conduct audits to learn how benefits are being used by different employee groups (i.e. Millennials vs. Boomers).
Delivering benefits education through the right channels
Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever with both age and cultural differences. First consider that there are four generations in the workplace: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. In addition, employees come from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds, some of whom English is their second language, and other differences.
The challenge for employers is communicating in ways that reach all employees. This requires using all the available channels so that you reach people when, where and how they prefer to receive information. Employees appreciate having various options to choose from when learning about their benefits plan.
Most companies have staff meetings at open enrollment time, but they don’t follow up. Small breakout sessions after the meeting will help employees address their specific issues. It also helps to have advisors on hand at open enrollment time to answer questions and discuss plan options.
The company’s benefits administrator should maintain an open door policy at all times so employees feel comfortable asking for help. Small companies that don’t have a benefits administrator may be able to set up a dedicated hotline to the company that administers the plan.
Health and wellness fairs
Fairs (live or virtual) allow employees a chance to meet one-on-one with plan representatives to ask questions and receive information about the plan.
The possibilities for online benefits education are endless. Start by having a web portal where employees can go to learn and manage their benefits accounts. Online communications can include everything from blogs and articles to interactive webinars and video. The portal should also allow employees to interact with benefit providers, track their own usage and stay engaged with the plan.
This channel is best used for short reminders, follow-up communications, and quick plan updates. It is also good for distributing employee surveys and other methods of getting feedback.
Benefits education is not limited to open enrollment season; it’s a year-round effort as employees look to use their benefits. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter can be used to create communities that foster dialog and open communication. They are also a great way for employers to conduct surveys and get feedback from employees on how they are using the plan.
Brochures, flyers, and mailers are also good for providing information on specific benefits topics, especially for employees that aren’t very computer savvy. Be sure to make all print media available online for those who prefer it. Other printed materials can include infographics about employee benefits topics that are quick-to-read and graphically appealing.
Interactive benefits education and engagement programs
Benefits are boring. As a result, many employers are turning to fun, interactive programs to increase employee engagement. Having an interactive program with colorful graphics and short, digestible tidbits can help employees retain information and stay engaged with their benefits.
The executive team
This channel often gets overlooked. However, having managers regularly talk about the plan and its benefits to employees can have a big impact on plan enrollment and participation.
Communication tips that work
Benefits education is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. An effective strategy should consider tailored information and recommendations based on age, lifestyle and financial status. For example, younger employees will likely be more interested in pre-natal or well-baby care plans. Those looking ahead to retirement will want to know about tools and strategies for getting the best investment returns.
Remember to break down employee education into manageable bites. Today’s employees are overwhelmed with information. They will be more likely to pay attention to short, concise snippets of information that focus on their benefits concerns.
Finally, brief reminders through weekly emails about new procedures, impending deadlines, or news from benefits providers can also be beneficial.
Provide real value in every educational piece and in different communication channels, and employees will look forward to receiving them.
DataPath, Inc. is the longest running solutions provider in the benefits administration industry. The company is also the creator of the award-winning employee education and engagement program, The Adventures of Captain Contributor.