Benefits packages have become more complex. Employees typically now have so many options in their benefits packages that they’re beginning to resemble their 401(k) plans. With more choice comes increased complexity, which typically results in greater confusion for employees and more work for employers. What is required from both a benefits communication and an enrollment administration perspective is simplicity.

Plans including voluntary benefits necessitate a more robust enrollment to garner meaningful enrollment and result in satisfied employees.

Statistical data reveals a sizeable gap between workers’ appetite for voluntary benefits and enrollment levels. To effectively address the rapidly growing demand for voluntary benefits, more effective and efficient enrollment methods are required.

Also see: How data analytics will change the way you offer voluntary products

Despite advances in technology, many employers continue to use traditional methods that are both onerous from an administration perspective and fail to sufficiently engage and educate employees.

Paper enrollment offers a bad benefits experience for both employees and administrators. Besides not being eco-friendly, it is an inefficient means of communicating for all involved. The thick benefits manual requires employees to wade through a lot of information that isn’t relevant to them. Then they have the task of making their elections in writing, which requires benefits administrators to function as data-entry clerks.

While in-person enrollment provides a high level of education and decision support, it is inefficient, costly and disruptive.

Electronic enrollment increases efficiency and provides employers with the best opportunity for reaping the rewards of voluntary offerings, which include lower health care costs and satisfied employees. This is only true, however, if the enrollment technology they use provides an engaging experience that effectively educates, advises and enrolls employees in the benefits offered. A choice-driven environment requires an enrollment tool that makes navigating and administering a diverse array of options simple and easy. It requires an ecommerce approach.

An effective ecommerce approach does the following:

  • Provides details of all the benefits an employee (plus, where applicable, spouse/partner, children) is eligible for in single location.
  • Provides decision support to help employees know how much of a benefit to buy and what it will cost.
  • Communicates in a clear, concise and simple manner.
  • Enables enrollment through a single location without need for dual entry in multiple systems.
  • Allows employees to enroll at the time and location of their choice, from their preferred device.
  • Enables employees to begin and pause the enrollment process as necessary to consult with family decision-makers.An e-commerce experience for benefits — "benecommerce" — should be similar to a visit to Amazon.com. At Amazon.com, shoppers easily find the products and product information they want, place their selected items in a shopping cart and only push the buy button when they’re ready to make a purchase.

Also see: The role of employers in health care consumerism

As employers continue to expand their benefits offerings to meet their goals for lowering costs, and contributing to their employees’ satisfaction, ecommerce for benefits is an idea whose time has come.

Chris Hill is the founder and CEO of Spotlite, a provider of cloud-based enrollment solutions.

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