There’s no shortage of ways to track employees — vacation days, pay history, benefits, sick leave. Unfortunately, that leads to several systems where all that data is stored. “For a majority of employers, that’s a very messy world,” said Joe Markland, president of HR Technology Advisors, LLC. “There’s an opportunity to streamline things.”

That’s where technology can help, and most employers are using it to put benefits and HR on the same platform, Markland said Tuesday during a webinar on benefits technology and communication sponsored by EBA and EBN. “Employers are looking for integrated systems,” he said.

Standalone solutions will become a thing of the past, Markland said. Employers are moving to one platform that addresses all their needs because merging two separate platforms is difficult, he said. “Getting two companies to friends who are not under the same roof … is a challenge,” Markland said. “It’s a problem and it’s going to continue to be a problem.”

Managing HR and benefits is being done more and more on cellphones, Markland said. “We’re definitely making a move to mobile and text messaging,” he said.

Communicating benefits via technology must be done in an easy-to-understand manner, Markland said, citing that three-fourths of employees don’t know what co-insurance is. “If you’re going to adopt technology, you’ve got to think cleanly,” he said.

Tips for effective communication

The Affordable Care Act has people talking about health care more, making it more important — and therefore challenging — for employers to effectively communicate about benefits, said Ed Bray, senior vice president of compliance at Ascension Insurance, Inc. Bray broke this “whole new world of employee benefits” into six categories:

1)      Employees are hearing about benefits from multiple sources. People are receiving information about benefits from a variety of sources, like the Internet, friends and the news, Bray said. Some of it is true, he said, but employees are also getting false information. To provide employees with correct information, Bray recommended that employers designate a person of contact who can answer benefits-related questions and also post a list of frequently asked questions.

2)      The ACA individual mandate might have a negative impact on some employees. Bray said employers should make sure health plan eligibility is documented in case questions arise. Proactively reaching out to employees who aren’t eligible is also a good idea, he said, and he recommends “providing as much help and support as possible.”

3)      The C-suite is becoming more active in employee benefits. Executive involvement is increasing due to rising health care costs and a volatile environment, Bray said. Discussing short-term and long-term solutions with executives is always a good idea, he said. So is ensuring a quality, ACA-compliant plan is being offered. “Make sure you’re working with a broker who can educate you,” Bray said.

4)      Some employees are being offered benefits for the first time or their plan is changing significantly. High costs to both the company and the employee will result if the workforce doesn’t understand their benefits, Bray said. Up-front communication is crucial, he said, as that will help employees make smarter choices and minimize the amount of questions. “Make sure they understand the value of your plan to them,” Bray said.

5)      Internal departments are being asked to do more in the employee benefits space. Payroll, finance and IT are playing a bigger role in benefits, Bray said. “That’s going to continue and you’re going to need their help,” he said. “Get as close to those departments as you can.” Employers should create an ACA task force and hold meetings, at least monthly, to discuss any changes.

6)      Some covered employees are using their plan inefficiently. This results in unnecessary costs to the employer, Bray said. Employers should remind their workforce to use their benefits efficiently and that it takes a team effort to mitigate rising health care costs.

Focusing on these six areas will help employers communicate about benefits to their employees, Bray said, but thanks to a unpredictable environment, new challenges will likely arise. “Next year at this time, we’ll have a whole new list,” he said.

For more information on this week’s EBA/EBN webinars, click here

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access