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 As benefits pros, we live and breathe the complex details every day.

It’s what we love. Heck, it’s how we make our living. 

But, for our colleagues outside of HR and benefits, what we take for granted can cause confusion or, even worse, disengagement. And, that can lead to poor decision-making and dissatisfaction.

The truth is, the days when the only choice was indemnity, PPO, or HMO are long gone. Today’s employees are faced with sorting through details on a whole host of other valuable, but probably confusing, options to protect themselves and their families.

We’ve seen that employees don’t understand or want to spend a lot of time choosing their benefits. This is especially true in the health & welfare world, where—in an effort to provide more personal choice—the decision-making has been made more complex.

With increased complexity to support individual needs and choices, the need to effectively engage and educate increases. Employees are never going to be as knowledgeable or passionate about their benefits as we are, but we need to raise the bar on increasing their understanding and appreciation.

Here are five best-practice techniques to move the needle on employee benefits engagement.

  1. Speak plainly. The benefits world has more than its share of jargon, and it’s easy to fall back on the shorthand we all know. But, for employees, it’s the thing that makes their eyes glaze over. Remember: We’re not communicating to ourselves or each other; we are working to educate people who have varying degrees of knowledge about benefits. They didn’t learn about it in school. All they have is the on-the-job education we’re providing. Let’s make that education simple and easy-to-understand.  
  2. Put your ear to the ground. Get feedback. What makes perfect sense to us as HR pros may not resonate with your organization’s employees. Consider test-marketing all communications with a straw group (of people outside HR and benefits, mind you.) Do a survey before Annual Enrollment to see what employees want to learn more about, and then bake that into your strategy. Surveys and focus groups are also great ways to include employees in the process and, at the same time, create some powerful internal allies.
  3. Spread it out. It’s tempting, and also fairly common, to issue a giant package of benefits information around Annual Enrollment, and then go radio silent. We totally understand; you have lots of other things to focus on the rest of the year. But, this is sort of like handing employees a copy of War and Peace and asking them to read it in a week, then make important life decisions based on information contained in over 1000 pages. Chances are, they are going to miss something.

    It’s better to think of benefits communication as CliffsNotes®. Boil it down to what people really need to know, but also have more comprehensive information available to those who want it. Try and focus on the key content that impacts most people, and then distribute it throughout the year. Done this way, there’s more likelihood that people will read and understand it.
  4. Vary the delivery method. No group of employees is homogenous, so it’s important to provide information in different ways. This helps you reach more people, where they are and when they need to know about their benefits. For example, if all employees have a company email and use it regularly, e-communications are great. But, if they have an email but are not required to use it for their job, you may be sending information into a void. On the other hand, sending huge packages of printed brochures and guides to people’s homes probably isn’t going to inspire much readership. You need a balance. A postcard sent home can point people where to find information online. These also help get information in the hands of other family members who may be the benefit decision-makers. Also, these may be low-tech, but posters, desk drops, or table tent cards at physical locations serve as quick visual prompts and reminders.  The lesson is to think about your employee population in terms of audiences, and then determine the best way to reach each of those audiences.
  1. Cut through the complexity. While robust, varied, and engaging communications lay a solid foundation for better decision-making, there is just no substitute for strong decision support. Tools that take into account a person’s specific situation and their risk tolerance can combat the inertia to simply pick the same plan as last year.

As benefits become more complex, the stakes for enhancing education and engagement are growing. The reality is: Employees don’t have a high degree of understanding about their benefits, and they are looking to you for better information to make those important decisions.

Find out what else your employees aren’t telling you in our white paper.

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View all Posts by Beth Begany