Benefits Communication: It’s Much More Than Open Enrollment

Last week I was watching the local Best Places to Work event, and I couldn’t help but think about benefits and the role they play in helping an organization become a “best place” to work.

As companies around the world vie to recruit – and retain — employees across a multitude of positions, locations, and demographics, one of the key elements to consider is the slate of benefits offered, what portions the company will support financially, and how they will be administered.

The Knowledge Gap

If I asked you to walk out of your office, select a random employee, and ask them what benefits your company offers, how would they respond? Now, take a moment and think about what your actual benefit offerings are. The contrast between the employee response and what is actually offered is a knowledge gap, and the best solution to that problem is education.

Benefit education is more than a flurry of activity during the open enrollment period—it’s a continuous, holistic view of the benefit offerings, the needs of the employees, and the extent to which those two circles overlap. For instance, if the company offers long-term care coverage at a discounted rate, but employees over 60 are not aware of that coverage, then the time and expense of managing that plan is wasted.

It’s important not only to make employees aware of the various types of coverage for which they are eligible—it’s critical to ensure they are aware of the benefits most valuable to them on a personal level. Offer those 60-somethings a dependent care plan and they’ll pay no attention. Provide an affordable, easy-to-use prescription drug program, and you’ll make a definitive impact.

Again, think back to the example above. What’s the gap between employee perception and reality? That gap is yours to fix.

Becoming a Personal Benefits Advisor

I think HR has the opportunity to add real value by becoming a trusted advisor when it comes to benefit selection. In my experience, many employees are unaware of the options available to them, and in the cases where they are aware, they still are not great at making choices that will benefit them on an individual level.

It’s very easy to assume the employee is knowledgeable enough to make that decision. They are a great accountant/engineer/teacher, so they should be able to make decisions about their benefit options that best suit their needs, right? Honestly, that isn’t always the case, though usually by no fault of the employee.

Selecting the best-defined contribution plan or choosing the healthcare option that will ultimately be most cost-effective isn’t something people learn in college. It’s not a topic that comes up in daily conversation, and we don’t receive training on it at any level. But you have the ability to change that by making it a part of daily conversation.

Provide information and education to the extent that employees feel confident in making their own selections. Become a personal benefits advisor and increase the value of the HR service you’re delivering.

By focusing on just these three key questions and taking action, you and your HR department can take the lead in benefits communication:

  • Do you have a communication plan for your benefit offerings?
  • How do you share news, tips, and other information with employees?
  • How could you do it more effectively?

Ben Eubanks, Associate HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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