With a third of employees believing employers aren’t doing enough to educate them on their benefits, and at an average cost of $11.30 per hour to the employer, tackling benefit misuse and increasing engagement in what is right for the worker can help companies curb costs and retain talent.

“When they don’t understand their benefits, they won’t be happy,” said Tracy Funk, VP, carrier solutions at Hodges Mace in a webinar that was held this week. “We’ve all seen the hasty decision during open enrollment lead to disgruntled employees in the ER when they don’t have the right benefits in place.”

There is a disconnect between what employers think they’re doing and how employees feel they’re being engaged, pointing to recent Aflac data noting 83% of employers believing they do a good job in benefits education, where only 75% of workers would agree.

Decision support during open enrollment — and year-round really, she added — can help workers feel they’re making the right choice.

“It is much more than technology and more than helping with medical decision choices,” she said. She noted that decision support can be classified into three buckets: communication, tech tools and using a hands-on approach.

The first bucket is called “communication tools” or traditional communication that includes benefit guides/handbooks, online libraries, videos and brochures. They’re mostly self-service tools, she noted.

“If these are what you use, it’s important they are clear, easy to understand and most importantly easily available,” she told the webinar audience.

The second bucket of tools uses technology to help workers make benefits choices, like healthcare calculators, avatars and recommendation tools.

Interactive tools like avatars and AI have become more sophisticated over time, she noted. “Think about how google maps uses data from your phone to suggest an alternate route because of a traffic accident,” she said.

“When you think how to apply that to benefits tech, you can have a chat box to or integration with Alexa to help employees make the best benefits selection,” she said, and she added that these tech tools can also be used to help workers maintain knowledge throughout the year.

Although technology has advanced over the years, there is still a need for a hands-on approach, such as group or one-one one meetings, which is her third bucket of decision support tools.

While these strategies and tools can help engage in a better benefit selection, Funk added that benefit managers and HR pros need to also consider the makeup of their employees when deploying different methods.

“There is no doubt the generational makeup on your communication attempts, but it isn’t the only reason,” she said. “Even within those groups is diversity. Also think income, education and family status. They all play a role on benefits choices.”

Consider your strategy over the next few years, she advised, and look for support systems that compliment your benefits strategies. “By deploying the right tools, your workers will feel more confident in their decisions and ultimately keep them happier.”

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