Fall. Thoughts of the World Series, football, colorful foliage, and a new season of employee benefit enrollment abound.
OK, benefits enrollment is unlikely to generate quite the stir as some of the season’s traditional activities and benchmarks. But employers that take simple, but important, steps to increase employee enthusiasm for their benefits programs will maximize their bottom-line benefits investment and improve worker loyalty and overall job satisfaction.
There is ample room for improvement, with better employer engagement and communication with employees being essential steps, according to MetLife’s 12th Annual Employee Benefits Trends Study. While half of employees surveyed stated they were happy with the benefits offered, nearly 40 percent didn’t feel confident that they’re making the right decisions in choosing them.
Conversely, only 36 percent of employers said they were very satisfied with employee participation in their voluntary benefit programs. Fortunately, employers are more strongly recognizing the need to deliver better education, with 64 percent citing improved benefits communications as an important goal to increase worker participation.
The timing is right. Employees who are confused or even unclear about their benefits options are likely to throw up their hands and simply rollover previous year program selections, possibly missing out on advantageous new coverage choices and leaving money on the table.
In fact, employees on average spend only 20 minutes making their annual enrollment selections. Only 20 percent carefully review benefits options before finalizing their choices. Alarmingly, 61 percent race through the process upon HR notification by immediately enrolling as if to check the task off on their to-do list.
This almost cavalier approach benefits no one. Improved employee engagement and education, combined with regular, year-round communications, as opposed to once- yearly benefits-related communication, fosters improved job satisfaction and overall employee loyalty.
What are employers to do?
Greater employee participation in the enrollment process involves five key tactics and strategies:
1) Focus on tools and tactics that matter most to employees
While the tools and tactics employees value may differ based on the size of the company or other variables, the overarching goal for employers should be to deliver benefit tools that most closely aligned with their workers’ preferences and expectations.
For example, the MetLife Study reveals that at companies with fewer than 500 employees, 70 percent of workers value one-on-one meetings to discuss programs and options. Only 43 percent of surveyed employers offer these. Significantly, at companies with more than 500 employees, 79 percent of workers find receiving confirmation of benefits enrollment elections to be most helpful. Only 48 percent of employers provide these.
2) Boost communications by performing the basics better
In life, there is nothing more basic than communication. Employees at firms adept at delivering easily understood benefits materials are five times more likely to find enrollment simple and straightforward. “Easy” translates to higher participation and greater employee loyalty.
Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the surveyed workers reporting that their employers effectively communicate benefits information say that they are very loyal. On the other hand, only 34 percent of employees who report that their companies do not effectively communicate about their benefits described themselves as very loyal.
Employers can easily improve benefits-related communication through simplification; relating programs to workers’ individual situations; personalizing it to age and circumstances; leveraging a variety of visuals; and delivering information at various times throughout the year.
3) Deliver benefits education when and where employees want it
Having the time to discuss options with a spouse or partner while referencing the company’s benefits website at home is preferred by 60 percent of those surveyed. Nearly 70 percent of technically savvy Gen Y workers prefer to explore benefits information from home.
4) Provide a variety of online enrollment options
Workers across the board, even older Baby Boomers, are either becoming or are fully comfortable online. Benefits enrollment is no exception. Across all age-related demographics, 41 percent of surveyed employees prefer to enroll online as compared to the 13 percent more comfortable with a “paper ballot.” Notably, 70 percent of Generation Y workers cited online chat as a desirable option and 69 percent would like to access benefits information via mobile apps.
Companies most attuned to their employee base, those also taking steps to address the preferences of the growing number of Generation Y employees in the workplace, stand to benefit the most.
5) Formulate and deliver upon measurable goals
Finally, no business can thrive without quantifiable operational goals. When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of benefits programs, only 31 percent of companies said that they’ve also established goals relating to improved enrollment and benefits communications. This is important; employers that have done so are more than twice as satisfied with employee participation.
At the end of the day, regardless of their current situation, employers can maximize enrollment in their voluntary benefits by reviewing and possibly refocusing their enrollment tools, auditing their company benefits communications and methods, and obtaining employee feedback about enrollment preferences.
To learn more about how employers can boost enrollment and provide employees with better benefits education, access MetLife’s 12th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study by visiting: BenefitTrends.MetLife.com.
 2013 MetLife PSB Fall Enrollment Study.