All across the country, millions of employees — including many of your clients’ employees — are suffering from a serious condition that I call “benefits bewilderment.”

Most of your clients’ employees start feeling benefits bewilderment around the time of open enrollment, when they’re confronted with confusing information about their benefit options — and, for many, the condition lasts year-round. Symptoms include: confusion, frustration, rampant sighing, the occasional use of profanity, the throwing up of hands, brain fatigue — and a strong tendency to make bad (and costly) benefit decisions. This condition could lead employees to actions like defaulting to last year’s plan even when a more cost-friendly plan — a CDHP, say — is being offered; or, ignoring voluntary options like long-term disability or critical illness insurance; or, not taking full advantage of an FSA.

Fortunately for your clients, benefits bewilderment is treatable. And the cure —drum roll please — is clear, delightful and personalized benefits communication.

Eliminating confusing insurance gobbledygook that doesn’t make sense to the average person is the first step to attack the problem. It’s not impossible. Simply avoiding terms like “eligible employee” in favor of something like “you” in communications to employees can go a long way toward making their benefits more engaging and far less bewildering.

You also need to keep in mind that employees have individual needs and concerns, and that a one-size-fits-all communication strategy doesn’t work. Keep the group presentations short, and hit only the biggest concepts that everyone will care about.  Then focus your efforts on efficiently answering individual questions truly individually. I’m a big fan of well-written FAQs and email help-desks.

Few employees wake up in the morning wanting to become insurance experts, but they still want to make good benefit decisions — they do. When they feel confused, frustrated and disengaged, though, making good decisions is hard. One of the greatest services you can provide your clients is to make open enrollment easy on their employees. Don’t force them to learn about topics that don’t matter to them, and keep everything simple.

Gottlieb will be speaking at the Workplace Benefits Mania conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, July 30 at 2:30 p.m. at the session Benefits Bewilderment. To find out more about WBM, hosted by EBA’s parent company SourceMedia, click here.

Gottlieb is founder of The Jellyvision Lab Inc. He can be reached through his marketing coordinator, Jenn, at

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