Multiple signs point to growth in voluntary benefits sales, but employers would like to see a change in how their employees sign up for the benefit, according to new LIMRA data, released Tuesday.

According to the 2014 LIMRA Worksite Employer Study, employers believe their workforce is better prepared to make decisions on voluntary benefits. Nearly half (46%) of their workforce is ‘somewhat or considerably’ in a better place to make decisions on voluntary benefits than they were the last time LIMRA conducted this study, four years ago.

Also see: "The benefits formerly known as voluntary."

Despite that, Ronald Neyer, assistant research director at LIMRA, said at an industry conference in Arizona that there is a “communication challenge” since the workforce now has four generations in it. Employers said that it is ‘extremely or very’ difficult to communicate the value of voluntary benefits with those employees age 30 and under (40%). It was ‘somewhat’ difficult for nearly one-third (37%) of those aged 31-40.

Due to those challenges, there needs to be more options for explaining voluntary benefits to an employee, Neyer said. “We need to reach the ultimate decision-maker,” he said. “One-on-one sessions should be made available whenever possible, but I don’t think it is something that should be forced.”

“You want to have the employee’s attention,” he added. “Not make it a process painful for them.”

Currently, more than half of employers (61%) say personalized forms are their primary enrollment method, followed by information materials sent to work (54%), informational email messages (49%), consolidated benefits statements (48%) and educational meetings (44%).

Voluntary is here to stay

Employers are still struggling with health care reform, but maintain a paternalistic mindset, said Neyer. While staffing and retaining the workforce were on the back burner during the recession, “those days have passed and employees are moving around a bit,” he says. “[Employers] realize keeping employees happy is key, and voluntary can play a large role with that.”

According to the study of 1,300 private businesses with at least 10 non-union employees, 54% of small employers (10-99 employees) currently offer at least one voluntary benefit. For midsize employers (100-999 employees) 77% offer at least one voluntary benefit and for those with more than 1,000 employees, it’s 91%. “It’s hard to find large companies to survey that don’t offer voluntary,” Neyer said. All that adds up to 650,000 businesses and 80.8 million employees with access to voluntary in the United States, according to LIMRA.

Also see: "5 voluntary products see double-digit sales increases."

Two-thirds of employers (65%) who offer voluntary have an electronic enrollment for at least one voluntary product. But there is an interest in expanding voluntary enrollment on mobile.

Of small employers, 25% say that is important and 22% offer it. For midsize, 31% say it is important with 22% reporting it is available. And for large employers, 42% said it is important, with 40% available.

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