Any benefits or human resources professional who has been through an open enrollment season knows the importance of communication in ensuring that the enrollment process goes smoothly and successfully. Yet, overall, employers still have work to do in crafting and delivering communications that engage employees and result in their careful and considered selection of benefits.
A survey from the Guardian Life Insurance Company found that almost half of employees spend little or no time reviewing their benefits options each year. On average, the survey found, employees spend 1.4 hours reviewing benefits selections, compared with the 2.8 hours they spend preparing and filing taxes and the 4.9 hours they spend on holiday shopping. The result, according to the survey, is a basic misunderstanding about the advantages of group benefits products. For example, though 70% of surveyed employees said they knew the differences between Group and Individual Life insurance coverage, almost half of these employees said they thought a medical exam was required to enroll in Group Life insurance. And, though two-thirds of employees said they knew the differences between Group and Individual Disability coverage, almost half believed they needed a medical exam to enroll in the group plan. For both of these coverages, medical underwriting is not typically required. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of the employee-respondents thought that Group Disability coverage would be more expensive than an individual disability product.
Employers recognize these communications challenges. A survey from human resources consultant Watson Wyatt found that communications challenges topped the list of employer concerns during the most recent annual benefits enrollment period, with 63% of surveyed firms citing employee communication as a top challenge. More than a third (36%) cited more fully engaging employees in the enrollment process as a top challenge. In contrast, the surveyed employers were highly satisfied with the transactional aspects of benefits enrollment, with 75% being satisfied or very satisfied with the completeness and accuracy of the selections made (the average company reported that two-thirds of employee enrollments were completed on the Web).
Many of the employers reported employee concerns with those parts of the enrollment process that require employees’ thoughtful decision making — contributions to Health Spending Accounts, choosing between different plans, coordinating with a spouse’s plan. Also, 28% cited the complexity of the enrollment process as an employee concern, while 27% cited employee challenges grappling with plan changes.
The past several years have seen the continued shift of responsibility to workers for an increasing number of decisions involving employee benefits. Clearly, this shift heightens the need for communications that not only inform employees, but also engage them as involved, educated decision makers. Now is a good time to critically review your last open enrollment period, talk with employees about their experiences, and assess both the successes and failures of the process. The information that you glean can be invaluable as you craft communications for the next enrollment period.