Kyle Addy is vice president of enrollment solutions at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. Opinions are the author's own.
Is it the chicken or the egg?
Employees who admit they don't understand their workplace benefits "at all" plan to spend the least time learning about them before their enrollment, according to a recent Colonial Life survey of 1,200 U.S. adults.
Or maybe because these employees will spend less than an hour on their benefits enrollment this year, they're poorly educated on the important and valuable options available to them at the workplace.
Either way, the survey findings should be cause for concern for human resources professionals charged with implementing an effective benefits enrollment. And the research shows the problem is widespread: Nearly 3 in 4 employees rush through their annual enrollments each year, with 41% spending less than 30 minutes considering their workplace benefits. An additional 32% spend just 30 to 60 minutes learning about their benefits choices. That means the majority of employees spend an hour or less on decisions that can have a significant financial impact on them and their families for a year or longer.
This dynamic also can have a negative impact on your business, because employees who don't understand their benefits participate at lower levels, engage less strongly with the company, and don't value the considerable investment you're making in the benefits package.
As fall benefits enrollment season approaches, it's critical to map out a strategy to effectively communicate with employees and help them select and enroll in the benefits they need. This vital task will be more challenging than ever this year, thanks to the pandemic and the resulting employee stress, distraction and geographic isolation.
Drive engagement with communication and personal support
Despite the daily reminders of the importance of protecting our physical, emotional and financial health, many workers seem unwilling to set aside the time to understand their needs and options.
The good news is you can help employees become more engaged in their benefits program by providing both comprehensive communication about benefits options before the enrollment and opportunities for employees to get personalized support during enrollment — even in a virtual environment.
More good news: Delivering effective benefits education and enrollment virtually should be easier this year, since we've all learned to accomplish more things remotely, from staff meetings to doctor visits. In fact, another recent survey shows many employers are taking those lessons and applying them to this year's benefits enrollment. The number of employers who plan to offer employees the opportunity to enroll via videoconferencing or cobrowsing with a benefits counselor nearly doubled, from 23% in 2019 to 42% this year. In addition, 22% will offer individualized, real-time support through telephone enrollments.
Those virtual "high touch" enrollment methods will replace in-person meetings for many employers: Only about a third will enroll in person this year, compared to nearly half a year ago. The number of employers planning to use online self-service enrollment increased a bit from 47% to 54%.
These trends are likely to continue long term, as more benefits providers and enrollment companies develop technology solutions to deliver a personalized experience for employees in multiple locations and situations. The ideal solution in today's environment may be using a package of high-tech solutions that still provide high (virtual) touch capabilities to create a more cohesive, personalized enrollment strategy for your employees.
Some of the solutions to consider include:
- Virtual meeting technology — Web-based meeting tools offer the opportunity for employees to meet with a benefits counselor to better understand their needs, gaps in coverage and the benefits options available to meet those needs, and complete their enrollment.
- Cobrowsing capabilities — This technology allows an employee and a benefits counselor to review information together, then for the benefits rep to hand over control to the employee to create a secure login and sign insurance applications.
- Call center resources — This is a convenient option for employees without good internet access or who prefer a phone call to an onscreen experience.
- Online scheduling — These tools allow employees to schedule a virtual or telephonic one-to-one meeting for the day and time most convenient for them.
- Digital communications — Your employees have unique needs and preferences, so it's important to use a variety of benefits communication methods to reach them when, where and how they like. These can include emails, digital postcards, custom websites and mobile apps, and digital benefits booklets.
You play an important role in ensuring employees have the support and resources they need to educate themselves about their benefits, so they can protect themselves and their families from whatever the future brings. With the right combination of communication and enrollment strategies and tools, you can create a more successful enrollment this fall.