Four Creative, Low-Cost Ways to Educate Employees About Benefits

By John Laughbaum

Feb. 1, 2010

Because of the economic climate, health care reform legislation and overall concern about health care coverage levels, most workers during the 2009 open enrollment season said they would pay greater attention to their enrollment choices and options for their benefits in 2010. According to a recent RTi Market Research study, “Health Care Reform and Enrollment,” 62 percent of employees said they planned to pay more attention to enrollment options and choices during open enrollment in 2009 than they did in 2008, citing rising costs/recession, concern about coverage, and health care reform as the top reasons for their greater focus.

One of the biggest challenges employers face when adding new benefits or conducting open enrollment is finding the time to educate employees about the changes or options, according to a recent Aflac study. But at the same time, many HR executives agree that there’s a need to better inform the workforce. They also know the potential payoff that education will have in the form of reduced turnover. Forty-nine percent of employers strongly agree that their employees need to have a better understanding of their benefits, and 43 percent believe a well-communicated benefits program leads to reduced turnover—and they are right. Two out of five employees agree that a well-communicated benefits program would make them less likely to leave their jobs.

Given the strong business case for a well-communicated benefits program, here are four ways to implement effective education initiatives without breaking the bank:

Make benefits more accessible: Executives would be surprised to know that most employees aren’t even aware of all the benefits available to them, let alone where to find information about them. Companies should begin by surveying their employees to gauge how many are aware of benefits offerings and how well they understand them. With a more clear view of the knowledge gaps that exist, HR executives can better address communication solutions and find ways to make benefits information more informative and accessible.

Many companies today are turning to online venues where employees can access any information, tools and tips about their company’s benefits packages. Regardless of whether you use an intranet or Web site, just be sure it is easy to use and interactive.

Communicate all year round, not just during open enrollment: Too often, employers only communicate their benefits programs to their workers once a year, heaping on the information at open enrollment time. Employees are already struggling to better understand even basic health care terms, so expecting them to retain large amounts of benefits information at once is unrealistic and unfair.

Instead, try communicating different segments of your employee benefits program throughout the year. This stands to improve the amount of information employees will retain, as well as make open enrollment a smoother, easier process.

Consider providing in-person meetings with HR or insurance carriers: Be wary of relying on only one communication vehicle to reach employees, who are sometimes inundated with enrollment materials. Consider using a variety of communication methods, including e-mail, broadcast voice mails, online outlets and in-person meetings with employees. Giving employees the opportunity to talk directly with benefits advisors or representatives from insurance carriers can be incredibly effective in terms of education. Most health insurance brokers prefer to meet in person with employees, and are adept at education and answering questions.

Identify areas to promote preventive care: According to the Aflac study mentioned earlier, employers cite “taking care of our employees” as the most important objective of their benefits programs. To further this objective, companies can conduct informal audits of how benefits are being used by employees. For example, if an employer finds that less than half of its workforce is taking advantage of a provision for a routine physical, this may be an area to aggressively promote to improve wellness and prevention among its workers.

While awareness about health care reform and economic factors have prompted employees to ask more questions, employers and benefits decision-makers should seize the opportunity to communicate more about their benefits options. This discussion can lead to greater peace of mind among employees. By spending less time worrying about outside financial pressures, they may well have more time to focus on work. And that’s good for everyone involved.

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