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Published on : March 03, 2012

The Importance of Communication During Voluntary Benefit Enrollment

The Importance of Communication During Voluntary Benefit Enrollment

Being in the insurance industry - and more specifically the voluntary benefits industry - we often forget how confusing and difficult decisions regarding benefits are for consumers. Without a life changing event or a huge change of plan(s), employees seem to feel more comfortable not asking questions, just keeping basic benefits, and not taking advantage of voluntary benefits that are starting to become “must-haves” in a competitive benefits package.  In my opinion, this is due to lack of communication before, during and after enrollment.

In today’s market, cutting edge technology and enrollment capabilities are there to help reach new markets; they provide specific and efficacious tools to reach customers/employees. But without a well-crafted and well-executed communications strategy for the enrollment, the technology and enrollment capabilities are most likely wasted efforts. I recently saw the chart below in a UNUM study. 

The data shows that employees who had their benefits effectively communicated to them seem to value their job more. This doesn’t mean that their employer is offering a superior benefits package (although that could be the case). What it shows is a direct link between employee satisfaction and the way the benefit offerings from their employer are communicated to them. It is vital that the employee knows what the company offers and has communicated that message clearly and frequently. Most often, the way a benefit package is communicated plays just as much of a role in employer satisfaction as the actual benefits. Voluntary benefits (aside from life insurance) are typically misunderstood and under used. What is the point of an employee having a benefit if they don’t understand what its use is? That is why communication is so important.

Of course, anyone in our industry knows that getting the right enrollment conditions to be able to communicate the benefits sounds a lot easier than it actually is. I have heard hundreds of excuses from employers on why they can’t schedule one-on-one meetings for their employees. Some are absolutely valid, but most are just due to lack of convenience.  In a Colonial Life survey of HR professionals at SHRM National Conference in 2009, fewer than 19 percent of HR executives surveyed believe their employees have an understanding and appreciation of their benefits.

In my agency about a 50 percent of our voluntary premium comes from clients that are enrolled face-to-face or (one-on-one), about 30 percent comes from (one-on-one) call center enrollment  and the other 20 percent comes from less desirable enrollment methods such as self service and group meetings. It is no secret that the more personal you make the enrollment participation, the more you are going to get in the voluntary offerings. Why is this? It is because it allows the benefit counselors the opportunity to clearly explain the benefit offerings to the employee, and in turn allows the employee to ask any questions they may have. Getting the one-on-one meeting is a great step in having a successful enrollment, but not the only important one. Below are some other tips that I have found very useful:

1.    Pre-Communication of Benefits

There are many ways to handle the pre-communication of the benefits. The more you do, the more educated and prepared the employee will be when it is his/her time to actually enroll. My agency uses numerous methods.  These include (but are not limited to): web-based communication/materials (sent and endorsed by company), printed materials, posters around the office, group meetings, paycheck stubs (not as relevant now with direct deposit), advertisement in company newsletters, etc. Any way that you can communicate before the enrollment will be useful in the long run. Try to have both printed material as well as web based material. One other tip—all communication material should have the date of the actual enrollment.

2.    Educated Benefit Counselors

This has been the key to our enrollment business. Knowing your clients benefit package inside and out, and preparing your benefit counselors with the same knowledge is a big role in making sure that the enrollment is successful. Benefit counselors are responsible for the information that is presented to the consumer and ultimately impacts the decision making process. Often times, employees look to benefit counselors for guidance and recommendations, regardless if it is on the phone or face-to-face.

3.    Be Smart When Scheduling Your Meetings

If the client is making major changes to the company health insurance plan, try to schedule the voluntary meetings for another time. I have seen many instances where a change in deductible - or a carrier change - has caused employees to only focus on that change (and not care to hear/think about what they can afford in terms of voluntary benefits). Fully educating employees on their complete benefit offering is often difficult when a major medical change is happening. If you can get the employer to ok it, take the extra time and enroll the voluntary plans another time.

These are just things I have taken away after years of being on both the broker and enrollment company side of the benefits business. I can tell you this— all employers are different, and all want different things when it comes to the way their benefits are communicated. If you have an outline for what makes a successful enrollment, you can identify what you are missing before you ever step foot in the building. For the first time in my career, I turned down business that did not present conditions I felt would lead to a successful enrollment. That by no means is saying that there is not an adjustment, the adjustments happen all the time. It is important we keep in mind how valued education and communication of benefits are to the consumer. No matter what method of enrollment you are using, there really is no substitute for well-crafted and executed communications strategy. 

About The Author

Brandon Scarborough is a worksite consultant for PowerGroup companies and co-founder of PowerEnroll, both based in Overland Park, Kansas.