Is it time to make benefits a bigger part of workplace culture?

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NASHVILLE — With the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare benefits expected to approach $15,000 per employee this year, companies are looking to make sure they get the most bang for their buck on benefits spend.

To do so, employers should educate workers about their company offerings so they become better engaged. And they should do so with the help of advisers, benefits industry experts said last week during a panel at Employee Benefit Adviser’s Workplace Benefits Renaissance.

“We [advisers] keep showing up asking [employees] to check a box,” said Emma Passé, a senior account executive at the insurance firm EBMS. “What we’re really doing is telling them how the health plan works, not how they work the health plan. It’s become mechanical.”

No one is really teaching employees how to use their health plan, she said, but advisers should step in to help workers understand how their benefits function.

Mike Hill, founder of Total Control Health Plans, a division of Coldbrook Insurance Group, said a simple Google search of the definition of benefit can help employers and advisers understand why education is so important. “It’s a gift from employer to employee,” he said. “Can you imagine someone having a gift and never using it?”

One of the easiest ways advisers can help clients get the most value out of their benefits spend is to help them communicate benefits more clearly and on an ongoing basis, he said. One way advisers can do so is by creating a marketing plan for employer-clients to beef up communication efforts.

“Tell [your client], ‘Here’s what we’ll do the next 12 months; here are the communications and tools. All you do is hand it out,’ ” Hill said.

“I can use the plan with every customer and it helps benefits become part of the culture and helps define an employer within the marketplace,” he said.

In addition, Hill said, clients might want to take a step back to look at the square root of the benefits literacy problem. The term “open enrollment,” for instance, could use an update, he suggested.

“What if [instead of] open enrollment, we call it benefit education,” he pondered. “[We can say], ‘Come to our benefit education meeting,’ versus open enrollment meeting. It’ll define the process differently.”

Open enrollment has become a chore and is painful for everyone involved, Passé added. “It’s painful for the HR people who have to go through the process that the CFO made a decision on. It’s painful for the employees to have to find some time to fill out paperwork for a benefit that they don’t necessarily understand well.”

“We want to think about engaging with our clients all year round talking about benefits and benefits education,” Hill echoed.

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