by Frank Mengert, founder and CEO of ebm
Employer-sponsored benefits are crucial to maintaining competitiveness in the ongoing fight for top talent. According to a survey, 80% of workers said they would prefer a job with benefits over taking a new job with higher pay and no benefits. Another survey supports these findings, with over 70% of companies saying that retention was the main reason for increasing their benefits package.
Still, benefits packages only help so much if employees struggle to understand their place in the compensation package. Many employees report feeling unsure about their benefits offerings, particularly with healthcare.
Worse yet, employees are generally risk-averse with benefits, so if they don’t fully understand what’s available, they often choose the “safe” option – which could leave them with benefits that don’t satisfy their needs. They may pay more for benefits than necessary, not to mention choosing less-than-ideal options for their future.
What can you do as an employer? It’s clear that benefits literacy is an important part of employee satisfaction and engagement with benefits, not to mention overall financial well being and maximizing resources.
Here’s how you can drive the benefits literacy process for more engaged and employees.
Take the Time to Assess Employee Needs
A needs assessment helps you determine what employees need awareness and education about specific benefits.
For example, Gen Z employees are just entering the workforce and have little-to-no real-world experience with health benefits or wealth protection benefits. These benefits can be complex, and neither high school nor college provide adequate education on how to select these benefits strategically based on needs. Without this knowledge, your employees could be making decisions blindly and harming their future financial health.
To conduct a needs assessment, begin with your existing workforce’s demographics, job titles, roles, and responsibilities within a company. Then, consider which employees need awareness about certain benefits, such as older employees who may not understand unconventional perks or customizable benefits plans. You should also consider employees who may be undergoing major life changes, such as starting a family, which may change their benefits needs.
Establish an Effective Communication Plan
Benefits are important to employees, but they need to understand them to get the most advantage out of the package you offer. This includes what options are available, what is covered, and how they need to go about selecting their plan.
For many employees, a lack of awareness and education is the biggest barrier to maximizing their benefits. Having an effective benefits communication plan for them can shed some light on the benefits program and ensures they participate.
Different people respond to different communication methods. According to generational research, Gen Z is the generation of digital natives – they grew up with technology and the internet. As a result, this generation developed specific communication preferences, including a desire for online communication. They also expect rapid responses when they pose a question or send a message.
That said, in the workplace, Gen Z employees prefer face-to-face communication, which is particularly helpful with benefits education.
Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, grew up before or during the start of the digital age. Still, they’re comfortable with technology and prefer texting or messaging using apps over phone calls.
In the workplace, millennials tend to avoid face-to-face interactions, instead preferring to use online messaging apps or email to communicate with colleagues or bosses. When it comes to benefits education, using similar tools is the best way to communicate with millennials – though leaving the option for face-to-face education as needed.
Gen X, the generation born between 1065 and 1980, had some digital technology in their youth – mostly email. Whether at home or at work, Gen X generally prefers email communication or face-to-face interactions over messaging apps.
Finally, the baby boomers are the generation born between 1946 and 1964. They saw the telephone evolve into a smartphone, though some may be comfortable with more tech-savvy communication through texting or online platforms. In the workplace, most baby boomers prefer face-to-face communication and email over other methods.
Most workplaces have a mix of different generations, so it’s important to tailor your conversations to the employees you’re educating. Always offer the option for employees to address benefits in the communication mode that’s most comfortable for them. Just because a generation prefers one type of communication overall doesn’t mean that everyone will fall in line with that generalization.
In addition, be sure to strategize your benefits communication plan. It’s not enough to talk about benefits only during open enrollment. Establish a timeline for when and how information is shared to employees. If questions or concerns come up throughout the year, make sure that employees know they can seek information – and where to go – to get answers.
Leverage Employee Benefits Technology
Benefits technology platforms for open enrollment can automate tedious tasks and processes for more streamlined benefits enrollment. From an employee’s perspective, it’s easier to use a single benefits portal for benefits enrollment and information access, rather than having to use separate sites or forms. The entire process is more straightforward and seamless.
Benefits technology that has a rules-based platform also helps employees explore and compare different plan types, carriers, coverage options, and more. Having all the essential information laid out for them demystifies some of the benefits complexity and helps employees make timely and more-informed decisions about the benefits that work best for them.
Not all employee benefits technology platforms are created equal, however. A cumbersome or complicated platform will only hinder the benefits education experience, so be sure to evaluate options for a user-friendly platform.
Utilize Educational Workshops and Training Seminars
Educational workshops and training seminars are excellent options for empowering employees to take control of their own benefits education. Paired with regular benefits communication, these tools can be archived to allow employees to seek education and answers as needed, no matter the time of year, and learn about benefits at their own pace.
Be sure to include a mix of education options to help multi-generational employees learn in the way that’s most comfortable for them. For example, some people learn best with context, so include real-world examples that employees can apply to their own situation.
Some benefits technology platforms offer options to include learning resources as well, such as group benefits exercises or virtual one-on-one sessions. Consider these options when you’re evaluating benefits technology platforms.
Encourage Feedback from Employees
Feedback is essential for gaining insight into your employees’ concerns while you’re creating benefits literacy solutions. It’s important to understand what your employees need, what motivates them, and where they experience roadblocks in the benefits enrollment process.
Listening to your employees is one of the most important aspects of being a leader. When you receive feedback – positive or negative – it’s an opportunity to reevaluate your approach to benefits education and create a better experience. You’ll also show your employees that you’re invested in them and their future.
There are several options for how you can request feedback. Focus groups help you get feedback from a cross-section of your employee base with open discussions. It doesn’t have to take long. Send a request for participants and schedule a few hours in a conference room.
Depending on the size of your company, one-on-one interviews are a great way to get candid and honest insights. Some employees may not feel comfortable discussing private matters in a group setting. Prepare your questions in advance to keep the meetings practical.
Another option is observation. You can observe employees through the usability testing of your benefits technology to see how they navigate the site and whether adjustments need to be made, or employee behavior during open enrollment. Do some employees seem to decide quickly while others seem unsure? That’s a good start for determining areas of education may need to be more robust.
Finally, surveys are a great way to capture specific information from your employees in a confidential manner – especially if you have a large company. Make sure to include open-answer questions that allow employees to pinpoint some specific challenges they encounter.
Incorporate a Results-Driven Approach
Without goals and a way to track them, you have no way of knowing if your education is working. Begin with goals and objectives with specific timeframes, which you can evaluate the progress against. If necessary, use industry benchmarks to see how your benefits education plan stacks up.
Assess your benefits literacy program regularly to ensure it’s meeting your objectives and the employee’s needs. See which topics or segments are more successful with employees, whether in engagement or direct employee feedback. If there’s any aspect of the program that’s falling short, develop strategies to improve it and increase employee engagement.
Develop a Robust Benefits Literacy Plan for Employees
With rising healthcare costs and a tough labor market, benefits are an important part of recruiting and retaining top talent. With a benefits literacy plan, you can equip your employees for success and long-term financial well being, as well as maximizing the resources you devote toward benefits packages.
Frank Mengert continues to find success by spotting opportunities where others see nothing. As the founder and CEO of ebm, a leading provider of employee benefits solutions, Frank has built the business by bridging the gap between insurance and technology driven solutions for brokers, consultants, carriers, and employers nationwide.