Editor's note: The following is a contributed piece by Brenda J. Mullins, vice president of human resources and chief people officer at Aflac. The views expressed here are the author's own.
Fall has finally arrived, and we all know what that means. Leaves are starting to turn, the air is crisp, Saturdays and Sundays are for football and it is time to take part in an important autumn tradition: benefits open enrollment.
For slightly more than half of employees, open enrollment is no sweat — 51% have said they have a solid understanding of the total annual cost of care and coverage, according to the 2018 Aflac WorkForces Report. It's a struggle, however, for others: 19%, or nearly one in five, are not fully confident they understand everything they signed up for during their last open enrollment.
This leads to the age-old question: "How can we increase employees' understanding of their health insurance benefits?" The answer might surprise you: Do not provide too much information in the weeks leading up to open enrollment. Does that mean you should keep workers in the dark about their options? Not at all. It simply means providing too much information at one time can be overwhelming and even counterproductive.
What can be done to make the benefits-selection process simpler and less stressful? Fortunately, there are some simple solutions:
- Provide bite-sized communications: Develop materials that provide employees with concise information about the workplace benefits available to them, tips for using benefits options to help protect financial security and explanations of the coverage they already have to show their coverage is relevant no matter their life stage.
- Set a communications cadence: Establish a communications plan that ensures benefits information is distributed on a regular schedule, such as monthly or bimonthly, or is timed to coincide with life events such as changing seasons, key birthdays and employee anniversaries.
- Consider that voluntary insurance is becoming more important to employees' benefits packages: Voluntary insurance policies such as life, disability, critical illness, hospital, accident and cancer insurance pay cash benefits to policyholders when they are sick or injured. It helps cover costs major medical insurance may not, such as deductibles or copayments, allowing the policyholder to focus on what is most important: getting well. With the cost of health insurance and out-of-pocket costs rising, it's not surprising that 85% of employees see a growing need for voluntary insurance benefits, up from 64% three years ago.
- Communicate about nontraditional benefits: Today's employees are focused on more than the traditional major medical and voluntary insurance plan offerings. According to research by Glassdoor, businesses are responding with a variety of innovative new nontraditional offerings, including tuition assistance, help for new parents, flexible work schedules and paid time off for volunteering. The latter reflects a growing desire among employees to work for companies that are making sustained differences in their communities through corporate social responsibility. According to the 2017 Aflac Corporate Social Responsibility Survey, more than 50% of consumers will drive farther and spend more to purchase products from a company that they believe to be ethical and responsible.
- Vary your strategy: People absorb information in different ways. While some benefits information can be delivered in the typical booklet format, consider using other strategies such as online articles, quizzes and contests; brown-bag luncheons and town hall meetings; and table-tent and bulletin-board messages.
With benefits open enrollment fast approaching, now is the time to reach out to a benefits advisor to help ensure your organization provides benefits options that help meet the needs of employees. While you are at it, consult with them about benefit messaging. Many provide materials at low or no cost and can also assist in establishing a communications cadence that's right for every season of the year.