In the employee benefits marketplace, employers may be confusing implementation with engagement. A company can offer a wealth of valuable benefits during enrollment, but it does not mean an organization is any closer to engaging workers about the benefits they will derive from them. Guardian initiated the Guardian Workplace Benefits Study in order to gain insight into the changing world of employee benefits and how today's working Americans value their benefits package. Five useful insights came to the surface:

1) Only about one in five workers place a "high value" on their benefits, despite the overall importance they attach to them. Those who rely on professional advice in making benefits decisions were more confident about their choices.

2) Most workers lack sufficient knowledge to make proper decisions about insurance-related benefits. For life insurance only 29% of employees surveyed know that, on average, a person should have coverage equal to five times their annual salary.

3) Even as the benefits landscape changes, employees still value getting benefits through their workplace. The workplace has become the primary source for most of their household's insurance and savings products. An employer endorsement of voluntary benefits options is twice as important to workers as compared to the brand recognition of the insurance company offering the products.

4) When it comes to benefits communications, employers are not hitting the mark. Only about one-third of those surveyed rate benefits communications as "highly effective." Of those who rated communications as highly effective, 83% are very satisfied with their benefits, compared to just 8% who rate their communications as "ineffective." Seventy percent who enrolled in their preferred communication source (meetings, online, paper) were highly confident with their benefits decisions versus 57% who did not receive communication in their preferred channel.

5) Benefits can be leveraged to achieve greater employee engagement. Two in three workers say benefits are important when deciding whether or not to stay with their employer. Workers who place higher value on their benefits have been with their employer longer and plan to be with their current employer one year from now.


Take action

So how do you use this information to improve your benefits practice? Here are four things you can do to improve engagement before, during and after enrollment:

1) Increasing the effectiveness of employee benefits programs begins with an enrollment experience. Make sure your benefits package:

* meets the workers' needs;

* is affordable to employees;

* has a positive impact on an employee's well-being and financial security; and

* is communicated effectively to ensure workers make the right choices.

2) Workers today consume information through multiple sources, so it's no surprise that this affects their understanding of benefits and perceptions about the messages that are communicated. Workers want to receive benefits-related information through at least three channels.

3) Ensure your company expresses their endorsement of the financial products and services offered. It shows that an employer has done their homework and that the selected benefits providers and products are the best fit for their employees.

4) Convey the convenience and accessibility of any voluntary insurance benefits offered. Selecting voluntary benefits should be a seamless process with any existing enrollment process. Fewer steps equal fewer obstacles to obtaining coverage.



Comprehension of benefits

Before you can take action, employers should first define their company's approach to benefits. Consider the following questions:

* How important is offering a benefits package to your company's objectives of retaining and attracting employees?

* What value does your organization place on the affordability of benefits?

* What are the diverse benefits needs of your employee population and the size of your firm?

* How important is it to help employees make better benefits decisions?

* Are you concerned with the level of benefits offered as compared to others in the industry?

Based on the responses, companies can gain a better understanding of the underlying drivers of their benefits offering. There are online assessment tools, including one from Guardian, to help employers gauge their attitudes toward employee benefits and how to best meet the needs of their business and employee population.

Positive engagement, improved communications and better decision support can ultimately lead to employees obtaining better financial protection and making more informed decisions. Making the enrollment experience more effective and satisfying for workers has a huge potential payoff for employers in the form of employee loyalty and potentially increased productivity. In fact, more than eight in 10 workers who are very confident in their benefits decisions say they are likely to remain with their companies one year from now.

Falotico is assistant vice president, group marketing officer, group insurance, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

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