Benefit Bummers: Poor Planning Can Lead to Enrollment Failures

Employers and HR professionals are no strangers to the stress of open enrollment. The parade of notices, documents and meetings can be time-consuming, daunting and downright annoying at times.

But employers aren’t the only ones susceptible to the enrollment blues. The flood of decision making, paperwork and other tasks can take its toll on employees, as well. While enrollment can serve as a time to reinforce the value of benefits, employee disinterest and misunderstanding can easily sink an employer’s best effort.

A strong communication plan, however, can make the enrollment process simpler and more rewarding for both employers and their workforce, experts say.

“Health insurance is complicated with all of the different terminology that goes along with it,” Carrie McLean, a consumer specialist at recently told USA TODAY. “And people have gone through open enrollment with their eyes closed.”

A recent Aflac survey finds that most workers (56 percent) estimate that they waste up to $750 per year because of poor choices they make about their benefits. The survey notes that most employees tend to be on autopilot at enrollment, with 89 percent simply electing the same benefit options every year without analyzing their choices.

Poor communication during enrollment can worsen this employee disengagement, according to a new Unum study, reported in PLANSPONSOR. The survey found that 28 percent of polled workers rated their employers’ benefit education efforts as fair or poor in 2012. Yet many employers think they’re doing just fine with their education plans. The Aflac survey noted that nearly half (49 percent) of employers say their communications are “very to extremely” effective.

This disconnect stands as one of the greatest barriers to successful benefit communications, according to Jennifer Benz of Benz Communications. The heart of the problem is that many employers slam their workers with tons of information at enrollment time instead of spreading out that education year-round, Benz told Employee Benefit News.  A recent poll conducted by Benz’s company found that 78 percent of employers say they see year-round communications as their primary challenge, but only about 29 percent are actually doing something about it.

Ultimately, a lackluster and disorganized communication strategy can make enrollment more stressful — and a bit useless — for everyone, said Aflac’s Audrey Tillman.

“It was shocking to me when I saw that 52 percent of employees in our survey said that their company does not communicate with them at all about the open enrollment process,” Tillman told USA TODAY. “But if the benefits are not appreciated, or understood, or utilized in a way that is meaningful to employees, it’s a waste on the employers, as well.”


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