Brokers play an important role in educating young workers to break the cycle of benefits selection by habit
BY BOB RUFF
Young adulthood is filled with countless firsts: first cars, first apartments and first jobs, just to name a few. Since coverage on a parent’s health benefits plan generally ends when you turn 26, Generation Z is also taking the reins of their benefits enrollment for the very first time.
Recent studies suggest that older generations are prone to stubbornly enrolling in the same benefits each year and defaulting to the same rote enrollment strategies without asking for help. Which may mean employers won’t necessarily want them as the role model for the next generation when it comes to benefits.
Preventing these bad habits from reaching Gen Zers won’t be easy. By working with clients to educate young workers, brokers play an important role in breaking the cycle of benefits selection by habit. To do it successfully, benefits consultants first need to understand exactly what bad habits they can help break – then decide how to help clients overcome them in 2022 and beyond.
Always encourage employees to act on their benefits – even if it’s a confirmation.
Over time, many employees settle into a troubling pattern: they generally enroll in the same benefits each year. Roughly 94% of employees choose the same benefits year after year, and 58% of employees spend less than 30 minutes researching their insurance options.
This is according to the 2021 Aflac WorkForces Report, conducted by Kantar on behalf of Aflac. This 11th annual study examined benefit trends and attitudes across the U.S. in various industries and business sizes. The employer survey took place online between June 28 and July 14 and captured responses from 1,200 employers. The employee survey captured responses from 2,000 employees between June 28 and July 16. Learn more at Aflac.com/AWR.
This trend is less damaging for older generations, whose life situations change less year-over-year compared to younger workers. As young adults reach new life milestones and gain new responsibilities — such as earning a big promotion, getting married or having a child — they should be prepared to add new benefits that fit their new lifestyles.
Fortunately, recent events indicate this troubling pattern may be changing due to external forces: 29% of American workers recently said the pandemic has made them more aware of the costs associated with health care. Consequently, workers are quickly becoming more aware of and more engaged with their benefits choices than ever before. Clients should capitalize on this trend. The bottom line is that no matter your age, it remains essential to consistently evaluate whether your benefits are doing what they’re supposed to for you.
Break the habit: Recognize the temptation to put benefits enrollment on autopilot. Encourage employers to create compelling benefits education programs that lead to a healthier long-term enrollment approach. Another great approach is to incentivize employees to take action to finalize their benefits selections. A simple confirmation step, like needing to refresh their flexible spending arrangement contribution, can help encourage employees to briefly review their plans and inspire any necessary changes.
BALANCE NEW DIGITAL RESOURCES WITH REAL HUMAN INTERACTIONS
Employees of all ages overwhelmingly want their insurance providers to be leaders in digital innovation, including 95% of Gen Z and 85% of Millennials. In theory, the conclusion here may seem simple: Employers should go fully digital. But not every client can just do away with years or decades of low-tech enrollment strategies — nor should they.
The key to engaging the workforce in their benefits decisions lies in balancing digital solutions with real virtual or in-person discussion and consultation. Prior to enrollment, brokers can work with clients on implementing educational solutions that live online, such as videos, digital postcards and customized landing pages. But agents and brokers should not let clients forget the importance of being available for a quick conversation or in-person demo so their clients have year-round benefits consultation.
Break the habit: Recommend providers invest in technology services such as online enrollment, benefits management and claims submission while also connecting employees with a qualified benefits professional, who can still have a significant impact on benefits knowledge. Clients should always have real people available for employees to provide advice, especially prior to enrollment, about filing claims, negotiating billing or other common policyholder challenges. Involving these consultants in the pre-enrollment process can ensure employees’ concerns are addressed on a personal level. As it is so often, balance is the key here.
The key to engaging the workforce in their benefits decisions lies in balancing digital solutions with real virtual or in-person discussion and consultation.
COME TO TERMS WITH A NEW WORKFORCE REALITY
As important as it is for employees to acknowledge their bad benefit enrollment habits, recent research shows that employers have some soul-searching of their own to do. The recent Aflac survey found that 72% of employers believe their workforce understands their health care costs very well — but only 59% of workers feel confident they understand their costs.The data also shows that more than three-in-four employers (76%) think their employees are highly satisfied with their benefits, yet just 61% are extremely or very satisfied.
Such a disparity in understanding suggests there may be more that employers can do to support employees with the financial challenges they face. And these challenges are significant: Less than half of American workers say they could afford an out-of-pocket medical expense of $1,000 or more – hardly an uncommon occurrence in today’s healthcare environment. If clients want to help their workers overcome some of their bad habits, they first need to address the disparity between what they believe and the harsher reality.
Break the habit: Brokers can help their clients by informing them of this disparity and discussing potential solutions to close the benefits knowledge and satisfaction gaps. To do so, brokers should work with clients to develop clearer educational resources that directly address how various policies can save employees money. Employers must avoid the temptation to paste in generic descriptions of policy options and ensure every message is customized to their specific worker audiences. When clients take these steps, they help foster a workplace environment where enrollees leverage all human and digital resources available to put together the best possible plan.
HEALTHY BENEFITS HABITS FOR LIFE
We all know onboarding sessions can quickly turn into information overload, and new hire benefits education is no different. Entering the workforce can be stressful for younger workers, but benefits do not need to add to the weight. In fact, benefits should help give employees peace of mind that they’re prepared for whatever may come their way.
Breaking the bad benefit enrollment cycle means building healthy benefits habits for life. This starts with smart brokers and clients being wise to the common pitfalls and creating streamlined benefits processes that appeal directly to young workers’ needs.
BOB RUFF is senior vice president of Growth Solutions at Aflac. He is responsible for the development and execution of key growth initiatives for Aflac U.S., including product development, enrollment, business development and market development.