Despite the fact employees report increasing satisfaction with their employee benefits, many employers still say they aren’t satisfied with participation rates, highlighting a need for better employee education and communication about their benefits and the enrollment process, including from a trusted adviser.

A record-high number of employees (50%) in 2013 say they are satisfied with their employee benefits, but only 36% of employers report being satisfied with employee participation in voluntary benefits, according to MetLife’s 12th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study,exposing a disconnect betweenemployees’ positive views on benefits and their enrollment actions.

Advisers can help employers increase participation in employee benefit programs first and foremost by improving benefit communications.

According to the study, 59% of employees are “very interested” in a greater variety of benefits to choose from. Thus, if employers add to their benefits offering, but aren’t seeing the employee participation levels they anticipated, it “may indicate a need for better benefits education and communications, rather than a lack of interest on the part of employees,” says Michael Fradkin, senior vice president, markets and growth strategies at MetLife

Thirty-eight percent of employees say they are not very confident they made the right decisions during their last annual enrollment and just more than half, 53%, say they need more help understanding how their benefits work or how benefits meet their needs.

“Employees’ lack of confidence can be seen in their engagement during the enrollment process. The study finds that 27% of employees roll over their previous benefits selections without review, or fail to participate at all,” Fradkin notes. “Only 20% of employees take the time to review their enrollment choices several times before finalizing their selection.”

Advisers should also work with their employer clients to set measurable goals for communication and enrollment strategies, rather than approaching these activities with vague expectations. Employers who say they have established measurable goals tell MetLife they are more than twice as satisfied with participation in voluntary benefits.

“Having measurable goals not only enables the company to know if their benefits investments are paying off, but it can also provide data to support future budget investment,” the study suggests.

Enrollment priorities

Advisers can help increase employers increase employee participation and engagement by focusing on focus on these five enrollment strategies, identified as priorities in MetLife’s study.

  • Focus on tools and tactics that matter most to employees: As employers map out an enrollment plan, the tools employees value most should figure prominently. For example, the MetLife study finds that for companies with more than 500 employees, 79% of employees find a confirmation of benefits enrollment elections sent to each employee to be helpful, but only 48% of employers use these.
  • Deliver benefits education when and where employees want it: For many employees, the best environment for considering their benefit options is at home with family members; employers should ensure home access to information is available.
  • Boost communications by doing the basics better: Better communication can lead to improved engagement — according to the study, employees who report their company’s benefits communications are easy to understand are nearly five times more likely to find enrollment simple and straightforward compared to those who disagree. Communications should feature simple language, visuals, messages personalized to employees’ circumstances and should be continuous throughout the year.
  • Technology talks louder than paper: The study finds that employees prefer to enroll online — with 41% preferring to enroll via a computer compared to 13% who prefer a paper ballot. The study also found that 70% of Gen Y find live online chat a helpful option and 69% named mobile apps, showing the need for employers to both understand their employee base and recognize the growing shifts as millennials become a higher percentage of the workforce.
  • Get goal-oriented: Setting measureable goals can lead to greater satisfaction with participation.

MetLife’s 12th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study was conducted during October and November of 2013.

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