Employee engagement: Why it matters for workers enrolling in benefits

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Employees are struggling to select their benefits. Jargon, lack of communication and poor understanding are some of the issues that plague workers when deciding on 401(k)s, health plans and other benefits, says Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at the Conference Board. To make it easier for employees to pick their packages, it is crucial employers figure out a way to communicate benefits effectively, she adds.

So how do employers do this adequately? Employee Benefit News spoke to Ray about strategies companies can use to boost their benefits engagement.

Do you think employees want to better engage when selecting benefits?

Employees care very deeply about the overall opportunity [to select their benefits.] It is a transaction that I think people take seriously. In a tight labor market where sought-after skills are increasingly in short supply, people who have benefit options will exercise them. Knowing what an organization can offer means a great deal. Sometimes the differential in pay is not that significant, but the ways in which people are able to craft the job, and integrate their work and their life [through benefits], is going to make an increasingly larger difference to the new generation of employees.

See also: Employees don’t understand their health benefits — and employers aren’t helping

Employees care about choosing benefits, but are there any obstacles to making informed decisions?

Communicating the benefits and the options effectively is the first responsibility of folks who are in the HR and human capital space. You’ve spent time and money on what's going to make your company — at least in part through benefits — a great place to work. When putting together a menu of benefit options, you’ve got to make sure that you communicate it well. If people don't know what options they have, or don't fully understand how rich and robust the benefit offerings are, then shame on the department for not communicating that well.

What can companies do to get employees thinking about their benefits?

Every organization has a responsibility to communicate what benefit options employees have available to them. If people fully understand how the company supports work-life integration, that does a lot to help people believe that they've landed in a good place. [It also makes them feel] they're at an organization where people care about them and where they can have a very positive working experience.

Organizations can do a lot to help people become financially literate. When you're new to an organization or new to the working world, there’s a lot of jargon coming at you like a FMLA, W-2, VSP and a 401(k) or 403(b) — it's mind boggling.

[Employers should also help] people understand which healthcare plan is best for them, given deductibles and copays. You really have to help people understand what they're signing up for, particularly if they're signing up with family members or loved ones that are going to be impacted by the employee’s ability to choose wisely.

See also: Benefits in the bathroom stall: Outside-the-box tips for getting employees engaged during enrollment

What are some of the benefits you think are important to millennials and younger workers?

It has a lot to do with a college debt relief. Organizations are saying “you know what, our people are not going to be able to invest in a 401(k) until we help them get out from under the burden of college debt,” and so they are shifting the benefits mix, or at least offering opportunities for people to get help with reducing college loan debt.

Our lives look different at various stages. Helping employees figure out what sound choices they can make [at a certain stage in their life] is a tremendous gift. Not just to your employees, but to society at large.

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Benefit management Healthcare benefits Retirement benefits Voluntary benefits Benefit strategies Benefit plan design Benefit communication Employee engagement