Except for medical insurance, workers spend no time reviewing their benefits options.

According to a survey released Tuesday by Sun Life Financial of 3,000 employed adults, information about voluntary benefits is possibly being overlooked by most employees.

The solution? Sun Life says employers can raise the level of informed participation in voluntary benefits by providing live assistance to explain benefits options. The financial services firm reports benefits participation rises when employees receive live assistance to learn about benefits options, and online or print assistance to enroll.

“Designing crystal clear communications that help people grasp both their health risks and their benefits options is a win-win for plan administrators and employees,” says Michael E. Shunney, senior vice president and general manager of Sun Life’s Employee Benefits Group. “And plan administrators wear many hats, only outstanding communications can help them work at peak efficiency.”

Other findings include:

  • At least a quarter of respondents reviewed their medical insurance benefits options for thirty minutes or more.
  • Employees incorrectly believed that they had the same chance of needing life insurance as needing short-term disability and long-term disability insurance. Yet statistically, men are twice as likely to suffer a disability as to die during their working years, while women are three times as likely.
  • Employees misunderstand how different types of benefits provide different levels of financial protection, ranking dental coverage as protective as both short-term disability and long-term disability. However, a household’s financial loss from disability, or worse, from the death of a breadwinner, generally far exceeds the costs of a dental procedure.
  • Employers can thus raise the level of informed participation in voluntary benefits by providing live assistance programs that help employees fully understand their benefits options, while conveying the risks and costs of suffering a disability.

“These results reveal three steps plan administrators can take to raise informed plan participation,” adds Shunney. “First, put all verbal and written benefits communications into plain language, without the technical industry jargon. Sun Life’s personal enrollment kit provides a great example, since it recently won a ClearMark plain language award.”

“Second, use the right communications medium at different stages in the enrollment decision making process — offer the personal touch of live assistance to help people learn about benefits, but provide the independence of online or print forms to let them enroll.”

“Finally, devise powerful ways that resonate with employees about a sobering theme – that over the course of a working life, we all stand a far greater chance of becoming disabled than of dying.”

A separate study by Unum (Buyers Study 2011) found voluntary benefits influence employee satisfaction, with an 82 percent employee satisfaction rate when voluntary benefits are offered at work. [See Employees more satisfied when offered voluntary benefits]

For the full report by Sun Life Financial, go to www.sunliferesearch.com.