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Health benefits are important to everyone. Your employees need them for their well-being and you need healthy employees who want to stay and work for you. The benefits you offer show how important your employees are to you. Unfortunately, most employees don’t fully understand their benefits or what they cover. With open enrollment coming up, this is the perfect time to educate employees and make sure everyone in your organization is getting what they want out of their benefits plan.

In this post we’ll present:

  • Where knowledge about employee benefits breaks down
  • How employees get their information about their benefits
  • How you can make your open enrollment more effective

Where knowledge about benefits breaks down

Having good health benefits is crucial for being a working adult in the United States. And yet, most adults who have health coverage don’t fully understand it. A poll from Maestro Health showed that 35% – over one third! – of employees don’t fully understand their healthcare coverage, with some saying they know nothing about it. For something that is so expensive and that shapes so many Americans’ employment decisions, this is a concerning blind spot. That ignorance is not surprising given how complicated the medical coverage process can be.

Where open enrollment could be the perfect opportunity for educating employees so they can make good benefit decisions for a lifetime, it often ends up being a time for more confusion and quick, impulsive decisions to avoid digging deeper for information. If your employees have made plan choices that don’t benefit them or don’t do so efficiently, they are in for a whole year of struggling with insurance companies and providers. That can result in employees needing to spend more time away from work and possibly getting into debt from poorly managed healthcare costs. It’s also a miserable process for your employees to experience.

A survey from Aflac shows that 80% of employees say that their benefits package influences their engagement with their job. It also stated that 57% of employees would accept lower compensation in a job if it had better benefits. Clearly the confidence an employee has in their coverage is a very important part of their employment decisions, so anything you can do to make them more confident in the decisions they’re making will make you a more attractive employer.

How employees get their information

If employees don’t fully understand their benefits, where are they getting their information? The most trusted source for benefit information for most employees is another person. A recent survey from Colonial Life showed that, no matter what generation they are from, employees prefer to talk to a trusted person for their benefits information rather than going to a website. More often than not, that trusted person is an HR or Benefits professional, but it can also be family members, friends, or colleagues. The point is, when it comes to something as personal as discussing employee benefits, people prefer a human touch.

Make your open enrollment work better

How can your company make open enrollment the most helpful, educational, and productive time possible for you and your employees? There are a few things you can do to help make that experience work better for everyone.

Ask what employees want

Ahead of enrollment, ask your employees what they want from their benefits. This can be a general question posed to all employees, or a survey with specific questions on each benefits offering. You may find that your benefits program is either missing out on a needed area or is offering plans that aren’t relevant to your workforce. If you find a need for significant changes to your plans, you’ll want to start this process well before you kick-off the enrollment period.

Limit the bombardment of information

One possibly counterintuitive answer to solving the open enrollment puzzle is to limit the amount of information you’re giving your employees ahead of enrollment. This doesn’t mean keeping them deliberately in the dark about their options.

Instead, this means not bombarding employees with everything remotely related to their health benefits and all possible plan options. Without any guidance to prioritize that information, your employees will have no idea what’s relevant to them. This can be overwhelming for employees that are already stressed about picking the right plan options. Instead, start with general information that should apply to all employees. Explain confusing benefits terminology. Walk people through the process step-by-step. Remember that you’ll be educating your employees over time.

Make sure they have the basics

While having information from printed material and online is crucial, most employees don’t find this information useful when they have a question specific to their personal healthcare needs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make this content available, just that it should be supplemented with other channels for benefits information. Make sure to provide all employees with:

  • A schedule for open enrollment, including all key dates and deadlines.
  • A statement of their current coverage.
  • Summaries, changes, and rates that are specific for each individual plan.
  • An open enrollment guide and forms.
  • Contact information for knowledgeable sources in HR/Benefits  for specific questions or additional help

Communicate all year long

You don’t want open enrollment to be the only time your employees think about their benefits and health coverage. Set a communications plan for letting employees know about changes, deadlines, and general information throughout the year. This can be tailored around changing seasons, birthdays, employee anniversaries, or any other signpost that’s a good time to examine and learn about their benefits. If learning about tackling advantage of their benefits is on your employee’s radar all year long, they’re going to be in a better position to retain what they learn and use that knowledge effectively during open enrollment season.

Let them know about non-traditional benefits

If your company offers non-traditional (more than standard medical) benefits, communicate that to your employees. Many companies are attracting top talent with benefits like tuition assistance or telehealth programs. If benefits like these are options during open enrollment, make sure your employees know about these offerings and help them sign up for what makes sense for them and their families.

Voluntary insurance is becoming more important to employees. These are policies that cover periods of disability, critical illness, or accidents where major medical insurance may not cover costs like deductibles or copays. Again, if this is something you offer your employees, this should be advertised to them along with guidance on how to sign up.

Use alternative modes of distributing information

Employees learn in a variety of ways, and sometimes benefit from multiple sources of information. Some companies use online articles forwarded via email; quizzes and contests on benefits information; brown-bag lunches with speakers; or town-hall meetings to field individual questions. You can schedule these throughout the year, increasing the amount of time people are actively thinking and learning about their benefit options.

Analyze what worked when you’re done

Once your open enrollment is over, take a hard look at what worked well for you and what didn’t. This is the perfect time to solicit feedback on how easy (or difficult) the process was, how accessible needed information was, and what people would like to see in the future. Similarly, check with your management and HR staff to see what could be done to make things easier for them for the next enrollment. Look at that feedback and figure out if the issues are with the processes for getting people informed and enrolled, or if there are bigger issues with the policies your company has available. Also look at your initial survey information to see if there are gaps or surpluses in what you offer currently. The best time to make changes in your plans is well before the next open enrollment.

Get a hands-on employee benefits broker

This entire process can be made much easier through partnering with a proactive, hands-on employee benefits broker. A great broker is knowledgeable about all the different employee benefit options available so they can build plans tailored to your workforce’s unique needs and effectively educate your teams to take advantage of those plans. This process is done through in-person education sessions (usually on-site), interactive webinars, and one-on-one phone calls with employees who may have specific questions.

Your next steps

There’s a lot your company can do to make open enrollment the most successful it can be:

  • Ask what employees want
  • Limit the bombardment of information
  • Make sure employees have the basics
  • Communicate all year long
  • Let employees know about non-traditional benefits
  • Use alternative modes of distributing information
  • Analyze what worked when you’re done
  • Work with a great employee benefits broker

Your employees will be happier knowing they have the right coverage. The sense that their employer is concerned about their health and well-being goes a long way as well. And employees with a well-fitting health insurance plan will also cost your business less in the long-run. Your employees are the most important asset your company has. More than that, they’re the people who want to make your company thrive, so help them engage with a benefits plan that allows them to thrive too.

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