by Marcia Bowers
Successful voluntary benefit plans offer tremendous value to employers and employees because of their affordability, ease of use and high return on investment. But these perks can’t be obtained without a strong enrollment among employees. Providing education and support for employees during enrollment is key to your success with voluntary benefits.
Thirty-eight percent of employees say they aren’t very confident that they made the right decisions during their last annual enrollment, and 42% don’t believe they use their benefits effectively, according to a 2014 survey by MetLife. The following strategies will help you maximize participation in your company’s voluntary benefit plan through a simple and stress-free process.
Communication Is Key
How a company communicates to employees about benefit offerings determines how popular the benefits will be. The reason is simple: employees are more likely to enroll in voluntary benefits that they perceive to have value. Employers should select a plan provider that is committed to guiding them through employee education and enrollment. Before selecting a provider, look into their approach to account management. Having an account manager assigned to a company makes a big difference when it comes to communicating with employees and implementing and maintaining the benefit.
Often, employees aren’t sure of their needs. Reputable providers offer a variety of well-crafted communication tools to help them decide, such as newsletter articles, videos, posters, intranet links, and text for email and social media campaigns. Having an assortment of educational media (print, electronic and face-to-face) allows employees to learn in the way that’s easiest for them. There’s another reason why effective communication is so important. Employees who understand and are satisfied with their benefits tend to be more loyal. According to the survey, 74% of employees agree with this statement, “My benefits communication effectively educates me and I am very loyal.”
One of the biggest findings from the study is that employees want benefits that are tailored to their needs. Eighty percent of employees say that having customized benefits would increase their loyalty to their employer. This desire for customized benefits is highest among younger employees. Fifty-four percent of Generation Y employees say they need more help understanding how their benefits work and how the benefits can help meet their needs.
To meet employees’ needs for customized benefits, your communications should include personalized messages and materials reflecting how the benefits can help the employee. Employees are more likely to enroll in a voluntary benefit plan when they fully understand the details of the offering, such as the services they will receive, the costs, and how much time and money they will save by participating.
Know Your Employees’ Communication Preferences
There are many ways to communicate your benefit offerings. It’s a good idea to provide different options for your employees to access information on benefits. According to the study, 70% of employees say one-on-one meetings are most helpful. The next most popular option is sending a confirmation of benefit enrollment elections to each employee. The following are some other popular ways to communicate:
• A toll-free help line
• Group meetings
• Benefit webinars
• Online decision support tools, such as calculators and FAQs
• Mailings to home
Social media, apps, and online chats aren’t currently the most popular ways to communicate benefits, but this is an area employers will want to keep an eye on. Generation Y favors mobile apps (50%) and social media (48%) when enrolling in benefits.
Make It Easy For Employees
Employees are more inclined to enroll in a voluntary benefit plan if their employer is behind it because they trust the employer to provide the best options. To achieve optimal enrollment, employers should offer voluntary benefits on the ballot alongside traditional benefits during annual open enrollment.
Offering the benefit plan annually gives employees the opportunity to enroll if they haven’t previously. Additionally, companies can allow enrolled employees to stay in the plan without re-enrolling, which is convenient for employees and benefit staff.
It’s also important for employers to distribute communications and include the materials in the company’s benefit guides. Employees will read materials from the employer, especially when included with the employer’s benefit workbook.
Offering voluntary benefit plans is an easy, low-cost way to improve employees’ lives, but employees cannot reap the rewards without enrolling. A few, simple best practices can make a big difference in the success of your voluntary benefit plan. Employers that apply these practices provide employees with a solid understanding of the benefit plan and its value, thereby giving them reasons to enroll.
Marcia Bowers is director of Sales and Marketing for Hyatt Legal Plans, a MetLife company. She has nearly 20 years of experience in the employee benefits business and has implemented group legal plans for hundreds of employers. She has conducted consumer research and written articles about the value of legal services for employers and employees. Bowers earned a JD from the University of Akron School of Law and belongs to the Cleveland Chapters of the American Advertising Federation and Sales and Marketing Executives. She is also on the Education Foundation board of directors for the AAF. With 1,600 sponsors, Hyatt Legal Plans is the market leader in group legal services and was recently named Customer Service Department of the Year at the American Business Awards.