Benefits are pivotal to employee engagement and satisfaction — not to mention a critical way to protect the financial stability of individuals and families. And with only 37% of people able to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to a 2016 survey by Bankrate, that safety net is as important as ever.

Getting employees to say “yes” to these important benefits isn’t always easy, though, and how well we help people understand their options makes all the difference in the decisions they make. As employers gear up for enrollment season, those looking to better protect their employees and boost participation should consider adding these options to the mix.

1. A call to action. Given the option to do nothing, most people will do just that — nothing —even if that’s not the best choice for them. It’s called inertia, and requiring employees to make a choice is one way to stop it in its tracks.

Even if employees just want to keep their existing benefits, an active enrollment that requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to each benefit prompts them to look at their coverages and typically results in far more engagement and participation. And we practice what we preach. At Unum and Colonial Life, every annual enrollment for our employees is an active enrollment.

2. Automatic enrollment. On the other hand, automatic enrollment — specifically for financial protection benefits such as short-term disability and long-term disability — also can help ensure inertia doesn’t hinder sound decision-making. Employees are likely to trust and be satisfied with a pre-selected option when one is offered by their employers, and employers can nudge employees in the right direction while preserving their freedom to choose. This approach is based on the 401(k) model; employees are automatically enrolled in financial protection benefits, and they have the choice to opt out if they don’t want them. The option has proven benefits for employers, too. It tempers some of the hassle and headache that can come with administering benefits, and improves employee relations by eliminating situations where, for one reason or another, employees are trying to get coverage after enrollment closes.

3. 3+3. Only one in 50 companies update their enrollment communications for voluntary benefits each year to ensure employees say “yes” to the options that are right for them, according to the 2016 Engagement Index and Enrollment Practices study by LIMRA. One way companies can show support and help employees make sound decisions is to use the 3+3 rule. Present information to employees using at least three different mediums, like printed materials and web-based tools, and give employees a minimum of three weeks to process that information before enrollment. And don’t make it a one-time thing. Instead, communicate the value of these benefits year-round.

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6 tips for multi-year enrollment success
Employers should prioritize employee communications, perform face-to-face re-enrollments each year and measure results.

The most easily digestible and relatable educational materials on benefits use simple terms to explain what each benefit covers and how much they cost. We also know that employees value personalized, guided conversations about making benefits decisions, like one-on-one meetings with benefits counselors or group meetings. These settings allow employees to ask questions and learn more in-depth information.

Employers spend a lot of time developing stellar benefits packages and ensuring they are competitive. Consider adding these elements to enrollment planning to ensure a boost to participation and, most importantly, to ensure employees get the important financial protection they need.

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Richard Shaffer

Richard Shaffer

Shaffer is the senior vice president of the Enrollment Center for Unum US and Colonial Life and of Growth Markets for Colonial Life.