Budget sheet HR should handle theactual tracking of benefits usage, but managers should be educatedon how to identify and report signs of misuse or confusion. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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Thirty-five United Airlines employees were recently fired for abusing their family travelbenefits, but how can companies ensure employees are usingtheir benefits appropriately? Below are sixactions employers can take to improve employee benefits communication and preventmisuse.

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1. Choose the right channel. Employees arebombarded with emails, voicemails, texts, direct messages, andcalendar reminders every day, so employers are facing the challengeof cutting through the clutter. It's important that beforedisseminating any employee benefits-related updates or reminders,HR teams identify which channels employees engage with most. Someemployees may prefer company-wide emails, while others may respondbetter to a direct text or public announcement. Employers willlikely have to tailor their message to a few different platforms tosuccessfully reach all employees.

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2. Repetition, repetition, repetition.Employers need to make their message stick to increase engagementand understanding, so a one-time overview during onboarding won'tcut it. If employees have five weeks left to rollover their FSAdollars, send a reminder at least once a week. When possible,incorporate messaging into current processes like weeklycompany-wide meetings or monthly internal e-newsletters. It's inthe best interest of the employer and the employee to be informedon the company's benefits offerings, so don't worry aboutover-communicating. Also repeat the message of how they should beused, again, to avoid any future confusion leading to misuse.

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3. Simplify your message. What's the differencebetween PPO and HMO? Or FSA and HSA? The answer is easy for an HRprofessional, but all the acronyms and benefits jargon can beconfusing for others. To simplify the message, provide real-worldexamples of how employees can use each benefit, and include visualsor graphs when applicable. It could be helpful to provide employeeswith a PDF or PowerPoint “benefits overview” that they can print orkeep on their computer desktop. When employees have access toeasy-to-digest benefits information, confusion or misuse is lesslikely.

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4. Use benefits administration software.Investing in benefits administration software is a smart move forcompanies with more than 20 employees. The benefits are twofold: itautomates the monitoring process, decreasing human error, andprovides HR teams with more time to focus on non-administrativetasks like communication and retention strategies. A visualdashboard also allows employers to monitor and analyze benefitsusage in real-time. If cost is a big factor, keep in mind that manyvendors allow you pick and choose what you need to tailor yoursoftware suite to your company's needs. However, the benefits ofcatching any benefits misuse can outweigh the upfront cost.

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5. Tap managers for help. HR should handle theactual tracking of benefits usage, but managers should be educatedon how to identify and report signs of misuse or confusion.Depending on the organization, managers have a better pulse ontheir direct-reports and will likely pick up on things HR couldmiss because they are more removed from the employee'sday-to-day.

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6. Go straight to the source. Asking employeesdirectly if they understand and utilize the company's employeebenefits offerings can be an effective method. For larger companiesthat can't conduct hundreds of face-to-face meetings, try sending ashort survey to get a pulse on usage and comprehension. Thevaluable feedback gathered can help employers re-evaluate employeeneeds and identify trends or discrepancies.

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Monitoring benefits usage should always be a priority foremployers. Once HR teams find the method that works best, establishbest practices and map out timelines to stay accountable. Whenemployers are organized and vigilant, they can work proactively toprevent misuse.

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Bill Gimbel is the President of LaSalleBenefits, a technology-enabled corporate benefits firm. Billhas been in the employee benefits and insurance space for over 25years, having worked with companies in virtually every industry, aswell as people in the C-suite, human resources, andfinance.


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