This is the eighth article in a 10-part series on successful open enrollment. Previous segments can be found here.

While it’s easy to think that employees are eager to take every advantage of the benefits they’re offered to protect themselves and their families, most benefit professionals know that’s not the case.

Employees spend a total of just five-to-eight minutes choosing their health insurance, and almost nine out of 10 simply re-enroll in the same plan they had the previous year, according to an employee survey by consulting firm Aon Hewitt. Additionally, 49% of employees say making health insurance decisions is “very stressful,” while 41% feel their company’s open enrollment process is “extremely confusing,” according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management.

The result? Employees do not take full advantage of the benefits offered, which, in turn, affects their employers who are trying to offer packages that improve worker satisfaction and retention.

“Everyone is so busy, [that for an employee] it’s easy to say, ‘I am comfortable staying where I am. I am comfortable with my current coverage. I’m not doing anything and I’m going to take a very passive approach to open enrollment,’” says Craig Rosenberg, health and welfare benefits administration practice leader at Aon Hewitt. “That is the barrier that employers should focus on overcoming.”

Rosenberg believes that it’s important for workers to spend time and effort when selecting benefits because “everything changes year-over-year,” such as a family’s health situation, and new plan offerings may be available that are a better fit for the employee.

So how can employers better engage employees and improve their enrollment process?

Some tips from benefit experts:

· Ensure plans meet employees’ needs. Designing a benefits package that matches employee health and retirement desires and the employer’s satisfaction and retention goals is certainly a first step. Those best practices were outlined in day 1 of this “10 Ways/10 Days” series and can be found here.

· Carefully choose sign-up times and communications strategies. Picking the right period for enrollment and having an strong communications strategy were two best practices discussed on days 2 and 6 and can be found here and here.

  • Urge employees to take their time. Organizations need to ensure that they encourage employees to explore their benefit offerings and carefully enroll in health and retirement plans. “Benefit plan changes are inevitable and employees should take the time to understand the impact of these changes. While one change may seem small on the surface — for example, a new network of doctors — it may have a significant impact on [an employee and his/her their] family,” Greg Hodges and Peter Mace, co-CEOs at Hodges-Mace, told Employee Benefit News in October. Hodges-Mace is an employee benefits technology and communications company.
    · Direct workers to decision-support tools. “Many employers offer plan comparisons, cost calculators and other decision-support tools through their enrollment software, and these tools can really [help] navigate … choices,” say Hodges and Mace.

· If needed, hold their hands. Often, it can be necessary to walk employees through their options. Company meetings, video- or teleconferences and even one-on-one sessions can really improve enrollment success. Employers, say Hodges and Mace, “may offer group meetings or even individual meetings where an on-site benefit adviser can provide personalized benefit counseling to each employee.”

Indeed, Jennifer Lovett, president and CEO of South Windsor, Conn.-based brokerage Crystal Financial Insurance, meets individually with each employee to discuss their needs and to help them select a benefit offering.

Clients love it, she says, because it makes their job easier. Since many of her clients are small businesses, most do not have an HR department. “I act like that for them, by sitting with employees,” she explains.
Lovett will spend up to a full day at an office helping staff choose their benefits.

“When I used to be an employee, I knew what it was like to get packets [of information] and not really know what to pick and how it affects me,” Lovett says. “They really appreciate the fact that I go through it with them and answer questions.”

Tomorrow: How to boost enrollment

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