Are employers getting better at benefits communication?

open enrollment

NEW YORK — Employers may be getting better at communicating about benefits during open enrollment.

Indeed, about 65% of employees chose new benefits during enrollment and credited their employer for using a variety of communication methods to keep them informed, a recent survey from Prudential found. Some 35% of workers chose the same benefits but still made an informed decision, the insurer reported.

Jessica Gillespie, senior vice president and head of distribution at Prudential Group Insurance, said changing the conversation surrounding benefits may be making a difference.

“I think we need to change the conversation about benefits. What all of us go through, it’s a one-time event,” Gillespie said at a meeting with reporters on Wednesday. “It has to be targeted, more individualized and more personalized. There’s a lot of focus in the industry to have that engagement year round.”

See also: Employees dread open enrollment nearly as much as renewing their license. Here’s why

Some employers are rethinking their communications strategies. Laurie Willburn, director of total rewards and HR operations director at Nebraska Medicine, a complex of medical clinics, hospitals and healthcare colleges in Omaha, said the employer takes a high touch approach to benefits. Each year, the company has benefit communication specialists meet with each of its 9,000 employees to ensure they are selecting the best packages.

“I think one thing we’ve done is not think of annual enrollment as this episodic one-time event,” she said. “We have a very strategic communication calendar.”

While employers have been making more of an effort to communicate about benefits during open enrollment, not everyone is getting it right. A recent survey from insurance company MetLife found that employees fear enrolling in their benefits almost as much as they dread renewing a driver’s license or passport. Some 45% of workers say they are apprehensive about the open enrollment process — the same number fear asking for a raise.

See also: How to avoid mishaps in the run-up to open enrollment

HR teams don’t have to go far to find employees who are disgruntled because of open enrollment — workers often voice their concerns on social media, benefits communications firm Segal Benz found. Jennifer Benz, a communications leader at the firm, said much of this frustration still has to do with poor communication on the part of the employer.

“We look at the open enrollment tweets every fall,” she told Employee Benefit News in September. “You see people are very frustrated and overwhelmed.”

But there are ways employers can improve their communications strategies. Personalizing the process could offer one solution, said Simon Camaj, national practice leader for LAD and voluntary benefits at Mercer. Tailoring communications to employees at different life stages could help employees better understand why they need certain benefits.

“I call it cohort communication. You have to engage your different populations at work with different messages,” he said. “The employers who do that successfully, you’re seeing the appropriate utilization of benefits and the appropriate coverage.”

Technology can also make a difference. Scott Steves, regional senior vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said online tools that guide workers through the benefits selection process, and suggest appropriate amounts of coverage, could help employees make better benefits decisions.

“It does help the person who doesn’t have the experience to end up with the right package that they need,” he said.

This strategy has worked for Nebraska Health. PlanSelect, a health insurance decision support tool, has assisted workers in picking a health plan. Nine out of 10 times workers select the best plan for their medical needs using the system, Willburn said.

“I think having those tools available really help,” she added.

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