While employee benefits communication has made some positive strides over the past several years, Unum's fifth annual survey of working Americans suggests there's still room for improvement.

"Employees really are struggling with their feelings of financial security. The percent that rate themselves as being financially secure has actually dropped since 2011," says Barbara Nash, Unum's vice president of corporate research. She noted that those who have a stronger opinion of their employer and the benefits education they have received tend to be more confident about their finances.

Of significant import for employers, Unum's survey of 1,890 U.S. adults, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that the expected retirement age of U.S. workers now averages 67.1. Respondents reported that they had pushed back their retirement an average of 2.6 years from what they had expected five years ago. Their need to bolster their financial position and manage expenses was the key reason behind the change in retirement intentions. These concerns are understandable; one in two employees do not believe they have enough savings to cover lost income if they are sidelined by illness or injury.

Nash says it's important not to assume that employees are receiving or understanding information about their nonmedical insurance benefits. "Employers really need to keep this type of information front and center with their employees," she says. "If these important benefits are offered, then make sure employees are aware of them and have the tools they need to make good decisions."



Value of benefits

One of the biggest communication challenges is explaining the value of benefits to employees between the ages of 18 and 34, according to Unum's research. Nash says it's important to explain the purpose of the coverage in relevant terms younger employees can understand.

For example, the cost of signing up for short-term disability benefits offered on a voluntary basis could equal just three cups of gourmet coffee per paycheck. Also, the danger of lacking adequate income protection in the event of an illness or accident could result in drastically altering one's lifestyle, causing individuals to miss their car and rent payments and forcing them to become dependent on their parents or others for support.

Less familiarity with benefits in general, and with financial protection insurance in particular, also may call for more coaching. "Young people need to be reminded about the importance of these benefits at more frequent intervals," Nash says. "It can't be just once a year."


Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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