The disco era brought us many fads: leisure suits, pet rocks and his and her perms. Those are mercifully gone, but the late ‘70s also introduced the promise of a paperless society. It hasn’t happened yet (and may not in our lifetimes), but the astonishing technology leaps over the past 40 years have certainly diminished the need for printed materials.

These digitized days, anyone can get information, complete transactions and communicate with coworkers, friends and family without the use of paper.

Yet when it comes to employee benefits — and the communications required to explain them — printed materials continue to be the old standby for a good number of businesses. Some employees prefer printed materials, but make no mistake: The workforce is changing, and organizations that don’t embrace digital communications run the risk of looking archaic and out of touch among younger generations who are more tech-savvy.

What’s keeping employers from making the leap to digital communications for benefits?

While larger organizations and those in high-tech may rely on technology to deliver their messages, many more lag behind. According to a recent the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association report, which asked 1,403 private employers how they’re using technology today, employers said they’re slow to embrace it because:

The organization isn’t large enough (32%).
Technology is too expensive (24%).
There’s not enough staff (16%).
In-person meetings are more engaging (15%).

Forty-one percent of the employers surveyed said they are interested in adding technology for benefits communications “in the future.” News flash: the “future” is now.

Meanwhile, in our consulting work with midsize clients, we’ve seen slight uptick in electronically delivered information over the past few years, with 8% of client communications delivered electronically (via text messages, videos, social media) in 2016 and 12% in 2017. While progress has been slow, we do expect that percentage will continue to increase in the years ahead.

Why technology is a must for benefits communications

Embracing technology is not a matter of choice — it’s a must. With baby boomers retiring at the rate of one every nine seconds, Gen Y (millennials) and Gen Z will make up one-third of the workforce by 2020. These digital natives access information via social media, instant messaging, and texting. They prefer to use smartphones as opposed to laptops or even tablets — and expect their employers to be just as tech savvy.

According to a study by Adobe, 81% of millennials said “state-of-the-art technology” was critical to an ideal working environment. What’s clear is that employers who insist on waiting out the digital storm will have a very long wait, and by continuing to do so, they risk losing valuable talent.

Employers also would be wise to start thinking about using more video to deliver information. A consumer behavior survey by HubSpot showed that 62% of their users report viewing videos entirely, compared to 44% who read an email from start to finish. About half (53%) of those surveyed prefer to see more video in the future, while only 23% wanted more email content. It may be hard to believe, but email is rapidly becoming a communication tool of the past.

While we’re clearly not yet a paperless society, when it comes to employee benefits, paper enrollments may soon be going the way of data punch cards. (If you have to ask what those are, I’ve made my point.) When you start to plan for this year’s annual enrollment, consider some of the electronic options available internally or through your broker/consultant. They can be implemented at any organization, regardless of size, and may be easier to implement and more affordable than you think.

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