By Steven Johnson
What’s more important to a successful benefits enrollment: offering the right types of coverage for your clients’ employees at affordable premiums, or a strong communication and enrollment strategy?
OK, it’s a trick question. Both are equally important for an optimal enrollment that meets your clients’ goals and drives the levels of participation that helps your business grow. The problem arises when these components get out of balance — and that almost always means a tilt toward focusing on products and price.
The fact is people don’t often buy what they don’t understand. If employees don’t understand their own needs and the different types of coverage available to protect themselves and their families, they’re not likely to enroll in benefits. And that means your clients don’t maximize the return on the substantial investment they make in their benefits program.
Creating an effective benefits communication and enrollment strategy isn’t something you toss together a few weeks before the annual enrollment begins. It takes knowledge of employee behavior as well as your clients’ company demographics and culture, plus time to map out key steps. That’s why it’s a good idea to start now to ensure your fall enrollments deliver optimal results.
Here are three important points you can share with your clients as you work together to craft an enrollment strategy.
- They don’t know what they don’t know.
Your clients may assume their employees have a fairly solid grasp of their benefits, or at least that they will take the time to learn about them before their enrollment. However, a recent Colonial Life survey showed that’s not the case. One-third of full-time U.S. employees surveyed said they spend less than 30 minutes considering their workplace benefits at enrollment time — and another third spend only 30-60 minutes learning about their benefits choices.
Consider the fact that these are choices employees will most likely have to live with for the next year, and that could significantly affect their ability to protect their families, their finances and their futures.
The impact of a lack of benefits understanding goes beyond the employees and their families, though — it also hits your clients. The survey showed employees who speed through their benefits choices are 55% more likely to leave their jobs in the coming year. They’re also 32% more likely to feel dissatisfied in their jobs and 18% less likely to feel cared about by their employer. Those alarming statistics can translate into higher turnover, lower productivity and poor morale — all costly problems to deal with.
- Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Our survey showed workers at the smallest U.S. businesses understand their benefits the best. Those at companies with fewer than 100 employees were significantly more likely to say they understand their benefits “very well” — 47% compared with only 35% for workers at large companies with more than 500 employees. Not only that, workers at those smallest companies are much more likely to say enrolling in their benefits is “not difficult at all” — 71% compared with 55% of workers at the largest companies.
This might seem counterintuitive at first glance. After all, larger employers tend to have larger budgets, and therefore more sophisticated benefits communication and enrollment programs. That’s true if by “sophisticated” you mean high tech — but as this and previous surveys have shown, an over-reliance on technology isn’t the most effective communication and enrollment approach.
It turns out employees at smaller companies have much greater access to face-to-face communication to learn about their benefits. Workers at the under-100 companies are nearly twice as likely — 24% versus 13% for large companies — to get their benefits information in an individual meeting with a benefits counselor or human resources representative. Add in those who learn about their benefits in a group meeting with HR or their manager, and the disparity is even more dramatic: 61% compared with 39%.
The same pattern holds true for enrolling in their benefits, where a face-to-face meeting is the most common enrollment method used by small employers. More than a third — 38% — of employees at the smallest companies enroll in person with a benefits specialist or HR rep, while only 22% of employees at the largest companies receive that opportunity. Large employers, meanwhile, are twice as likely to use online enrollment systems: 53% versus 26% for small companies.
A purely digital approach may offer some efficiencies, but it’s clearly not the most effective way to help employees understand their options and make the best choices for themselves and their families. Virtually all — 93% — of employees who participate in one-to-one benefits counseling sessions find them valuable, according to another Colonial Life survey last year. The same survey found employees who are more engaged with their employer’s benefits program are more likely to be satisfied in their jobs, have higher morale and stay with the company longer.
- Meet them where they are.
Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all benefits package that meets the individual needs of every employee, there’s no universal communication and enrollment plan that works for every client. The best solution is usually a mix of tactics and tools that will reach employees and allow them to access information when and where they want. In addition to individual and group meetings, consider including call centers and online chats, website or portals, and print and digital materials offered over a period of several weeks.
Online enrollment may still make the most sense for some of your clients, but be sure it’s positioned as a tool, not a standalone solution. And don’t make the mistake of thinking today’s younger workers prefer a high-tech approach. Our survey found millennials and Generation Z are actually slightly less likely than employees overall to turn to the internet to learn about their benefits. And both of those generations are significantly more likely to crave human interaction for benefits help: 83% for millennials and 91% for Gen Z, compared with 76% of employees overall.
There’s no need to wait until fall rolls around to begin this conversation with your clients. Proactively share information and work together well in advance to map out an effective benefits communication and enrollment strategy that best meets the needs of your clients and their employees to help drive the most successful benefits program possible.
Steven Johnson is vice president of enrollment solutions at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance. Steven may be contacted at [email protected].
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