Strategies that encourage proactive employee participation duringÂ open enrollment.
By Rob Grubka
During open enrollment season, employees have toÂ choose from an average of 15 benefits, at least threeÂ of which are healthcare insurance. And accordingÂ to PlanSource, that number is even higher at largerÂ organizations. With competing demands on employeesâÂ time, many workers opt to simply stick with the sameÂ benefits year after year or choose only their basicÂ medical, dental, and vision insurances, skipping overÂ valuable supplemental benefits that can have a trueÂ impact on their financial wellness.
Employers are increasingly recognizing the value of theirÂ benefits offerings in helping employees balance theÂ many financial and other pulls on their attention. ThisÂ should be comforting, knowing how much due diligenceÂ is required to review benefits providers and add themÂ to a benefits platform. The challenge now is to drawÂ employeesâ attention to the solutions available toÂ them and help them choose the right benefits to meetÂ their needs today and, perhaps equally importantly, inÂ retirement.
Engage and Empower
A recent Benefitsolver study found that, on average,Â employees spend only 17 minutes selecting benefitsÂ during open enrollment. Considering the averageÂ number of benefits offered, that means employees areÂ spending one minute or lessÂ learning or thinking about eachÂ benefit. In contrast, Netflix usersÂ spend an average of 18 minutesÂ of any given day deciding whatÂ to watch, according to ReelgoodÂ and Learndipity Data Insights.
Making the benefits enrollmentÂ process less passive is a goodÂ way to begin to address theÂ challenge. For example, haveÂ employees opt-out of certainÂ benefits rather than opt-in. ThisÂ often leads employees to readÂ more about each benefit. At theÂ same time, messages need to beÂ in âSaturday languageâ ratherÂ than âinsurance-eseâ to make itÂ easier and quicker for employeesÂ to understand their options andÂ take action.
Online calculators can further engage employees in theÂ process and give them reality-based reference pointsÂ to highlight how benefits work together to supportÂ holistic financial wellness. The average family incursÂ more than $4,500 annually in out-of-pocket medicalÂ costs, according to Milliman, and a report from theÂ Federal Reserve Board shows that four in 10 adults areÂ not able to cover a $400 unexpected expense. The rightÂ calculators will encourage employees to look back andÂ add up their out-of-pocket medical expenses from theÂ past year in order to think more realistically about theÂ year ahead. A calculator might also help employeesÂ understand the potential advantages of supplementalÂ benefitsâlike accident insurance, critical illnessÂ insurance, or a health savings account (HSA)âto helpÂ cover qualified events or expenses.
Additionally, providing real life examples to adviseÂ people about which benefits can meet their needs canÂ be incredibly impactful. Big expenses or life changesÂ in the coming year should be considered to determineÂ if a supplemental benefit might help. For example,Â welcoming a new baby might prompt someone toÂ consider a dependent care flexible spending accountÂ (FSA) to help with child care expenses, or additionalÂ life insurance to help to cover the unexpected loss of aÂ providerâs income.
Communicate Before, During, and After Enrollment
During the enrollment process, reminders should beÂ meaningful. Stories of how fellow employees have usedÂ different benefits can help bring each benefit to life.Â For example, younger workers might feel a sense ofÂ invincibility, but year after year, Voyaâs claims statisticsÂ indicate that accidents donât discriminate by age. AÂ slip down the ski slope, whether at age 22 or 62, couldÂ end with a broken leg. The visit to the emergencyÂ room, follow-up visits to the doctor, and the potentialÂ impact to take-home pay can add up quickly. AlongÂ with helping people pay for the obvious out-of-pocketÂ medical expenses, itâs important to remind employeesÂ that the claims payments from some supplementalÂ insuranceâlike accident insuranceâcan be used forÂ daily living expenses.
To make sure employees make the most of next yearâsÂ benefits, employers should consider ways to shareÂ information about offerings throughout the year.Â Occasional messages that offer reminders to updateÂ beneficiaries, tips for how to submit a claim, andÂ resources to address questions can remind employeesÂ of their benefits possibilities. Lunch-and-learn typesÂ of events or benefits information sessions, whetherÂ they are in-person, via webcast, or via emails thatÂ direct readers to benefits sites, can also play a role inÂ employeesâ current and long-term financial well-being.
Throughout the year, polling employees or holdingÂ focus groups about benefits can help both employeesÂ and employers alike. Such âoff-cycleâ communicationÂ will not only refresh employeesâ knowledge about theirÂ benefits and help them feel that their voices are heard,Â but also increase participation during the next openÂ enrollment period while giving employers valuableÂ insight that can help shape the benefits budget andÂ offerings.
The key to a strong benefits program is recognizing theÂ various needs of the workforce and considering howÂ the options provided to employees can best work forÂ them. By taking the time to maximize the value for theÂ employer and the employee, workplace benefits canÂ continue to play a valuable role in addressing financialÂ wellness needs as well as creating a more engaged andÂ productive workforce.
Rob Grubka is president of employee benefits for Voya.