We know that when it comes to health benefits, employees want choices. And they expect their employers to help them understand those choices. Studies show that people are more satisfied with their jobs, and less likely to look for other employment opportunities, if they believe not only that their employer offers good benefits, but that the benefits are well-communicated.

Cost of turnover vs. communication

Effective benefit communication requires employers to invest time and resources to educate employees. But with the right help, that investment can be modest. Never forget to weigh the cost of good communication efforts against that of having to replace employees. A United States Department of Labor study revealed that when an employee leaves, it costs the business one-third of that person’s annual salary to identify, hire and train a replacement.

Tips for effective communication

1. Understand employee benefit needs – A key to employee satisfaction is to offer benefits that people need and want. Survey employees to find out about their:

  • plan preferences
  • awareness of and satisfaction with the level of current benefits
  • understanding and use of existing benefits
  • suggestions for benefits to consider for the following year
  • favorite ways to receive benefits information

Gather utilization trends from your broker and insurance sales representative, so you know the services that are most widely used as well as those services employees may not be aware of or may misunderstand.

2. Communicate details early – Several weeks before employees are to enroll in new benefits, provide plan details. Map out the communication process so they understand what to expect. List dates when the enrollment period opens and closes, and explain the ways they can find out more about the coverage options. Other suggestions:

  • Family needs – List information employees will need to know when choosing plans, such as guidelines for dependent eligibility; whether dependents will need glasses, contacts or orthodontia; or whether new family members need benefits.
  • Mix up communications – Skip the one-size-fits-all communication style. Use a blend of traditional and trending communication options to reach employees, such as:
    • packet mailings
    • informational meetings
    • bulletin board announcements
    • lunch and learn sessions
    • newsletter articles
    • YouTube videos
    • Q  & As, charts and diagrams on your benefits website
    • web seminars
    • blogs
    • social media messages
  • Personalize messages – Explain how benefit choices will affect employees’ lives. If possible, categorize information into demographic groups.
    • Feature stories from key employee leaders, such as what they discovered about their coverage or benefits that made a difference to their families. Incorporate comments and stories in Facebook posts and employee blogs.
    • Avoid using benefits or insurance jargon.
  • Provide definitions – Describe differences in plan designs, such as voluntary options vs. employer-paid benefits.
  • Explain changes in coverage – If benefits have changed from the previous year, explain the reason and identify what’s new.
  • List contacts – Provide a list of team members who employees can contact with questions or feedback.

3.    Repeat information – A secret to a successful benefits program is to regularly repeat information. Unfortunately, only 28 percent of employers communicate benefits information throughout the year.

After the enrollment period, employees often forget the details communicated about their benefits. Throughout the year, offer suggestions for employees on how to get the most from their benefits, such as taking advantage of preventive screenings. Remind them of the value of their benefits, about deductible and copay costs, and maximum coverage amounts. Repeat stories of how employees use their benefits. Identify popular coverage options as well as services that often are overlooked. Try to anticipate their questions and concerns, be sure to deliver answers, and provide more information than they expect.

Do the above suggestions sound like a lot of work?  Your broker and your insurance carrier representative should be able to help you with your communications, from the planning stages to the content.

Enjoy the rewards of benefits communication

Developing and implementing an effective benefit communication program can be challenging. It takes time to map out messages and identify the right communication tools to use. But your efforts will pay off. A strong benefits communication and education program can strengthen employees’ satisfaction with their jobs, leading to higher productivity and performance. To ease the load, work with your broker and insurance carrier representative. If they’re good at what they do, they will be willing and able to help.

Michael Scheetz is vice president – group marketing for Ameritas, headquartered in Lincoln, Neb. Scheetz joined Ameritas in 2011 and has worked in the insurance industry for more than 15 years. Currently he serves on the education committee for the National Association of Dental Plans. For more information about Ameritas dental and vision, visit ameritasinsight.com or contact grcomm@ameritas.com.