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

Thirty-five United Airlines employees were recently fired for abusing their family travel benefits, but how can companies ensure employees are using their benefits appropriately? Below are six actions employers can take to improve employee benefits communication and prevent misuse.

1. Choose the right channel. Employees are bombarded with emails, voicemails, texts, direct messages, and calendar reminders every day, so employers are facing the challenge of cutting through the clutter. It’s important that before disseminating any employee benefits-related updates or reminders, HR teams identify which channels employees engage with most. Some employees may prefer company-wide emails, while others may respond better to a direct text or public announcement. Employers will likely have to tailor their message to a few different platforms to successfully reach all employees.

2. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Employers need to make their message stick to increase engagement and understanding, so a one-time overview during onboarding won’t cut it. If employees have five weeks left to rollover their FSA dollars, send a reminder at least once a week. When possible, incorporate messaging into current processes like weekly company-wide meetings or monthly internal e-newsletters. It’s in the best interest of the employer and the employee to be informed on the company’s benefits offerings, so don’t worry about over-communicating. Also repeat the message of how they should be used, again, to avoid any future confusion leading to misuse.

3. Simplify your message. What’s the difference between PPO and HMO? Or FSA and HSA? The answer is easy for an HR professional, but all the acronyms and benefits jargon can be confusing for others. To simplify the message, provide real-world examples of how employees can use each benefit, and include visuals or graphs when applicable. It could be helpful to provide employees with a PDF or PowerPoint “benefits overview” that they can print or keep on their computer desktop. When employees have access to easy-to-digest benefits information, confusion or misuse is less likely.

4. Use benefits administration software. Investing in benefits administration software is a smart move for companies with more than 20 employees. The benefits are twofold: it automates the monitoring process, decreasing human error, and provides HR teams with more time to focus on non-administrative tasks like communication and retention strategies. A visual dashboard also allows employers to monitor and analyze benefits usage in real-time. If cost is a big factor, keep in mind that many vendors allow you pick and choose what you need to tailor your software suite to your company’s needs. However, the benefits of catching any benefits misuse can outweigh the upfront cost.

5. Tap managers for help. HR should handle the actual tracking of benefits usage, but managers should be educated on how to identify and report signs of misuse or confusion. Depending on the organization, managers have a better pulse on their direct-reports and will likely pick up on things HR could miss because they are more removed from the employee’s day-to-day.

6. Go straight to the source. Asking employees directly if they understand and utilize the company’s employee benefits offerings can be an effective method. For larger companies that can’t conduct hundreds of face-to-face meetings, try sending a short survey to get a pulse on usage and comprehension. The valuable feedback gathered can help employers re-evaluate employee needs and identify trends or discrepancies.

Monitoring benefits usage should always be a priority for employers. Once HR teams find the method that works best, establish best practices and map out timelines to stay accountable. When employers are organized and vigilant, they can work proactively to prevent misuse.

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

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