Two surveys out this week show HR/benefits managers have some PR work to do among employees at their companies.

First, the Opinion Research Corporation finds Americans are more likely to go to a friend or colleague than HR about an issue at work. Most (66%) would, understandably, speak to their manager about a problem. But the stats become cringe-worthy when you consider that 39% prefer to turn to friends and less than one-quarter (22%) would go to their HR department for help.

Worse, 26% of workers surveyed doubt HR´s commitment to keep details confidential. Where did employees get the idea that HR/benefits pros are a bunch of blabbermouths? Perhaps somewhere in your efforts to become a strategic business partner and aligning the benefits function with corporate interests, employees began to believe that your job was to help the company, not them. Just my two cents.

Whatever the reasons behind the distrust, for now at least, it seems employees would prefer to keep the HR-employee relationship a transactional one. And even in this regard, it looks like benefits pros have some work to do. Although MetLife reports that HR is the number one source consulted for advice during open enrollment, 51% of employees say they didn´t get the resources they needed to make informed benefits elections.

Many employees said they felt either confused (25%) or frustrated (24%) while selecting their benefits, leading three-quarters of employees to make no changes - surprising, given that 44% experienced a major life event, such as a divorce, having a baby, buying a home or getting married.

MetLife offers several tips for employers on improving benefits communication and guidance, and a new tool to simplify the enrollment process. However, in my view, employers can improve employees´ understanding and perceived value of your company´s benefits and the HR/benefits function without spending anything. Just talk to your workers. That´s it. Face-to-face, and answer their questions individually. Why this idea has become a novel one, I´ll never know.

I know that you´re busy, and self-service tools make your job easier. And I know you´ve read surveys that show employees want more benefits information available to them online. But when it comes to confusing financial decisions, people want to talk to another human being. It´s why in a world that´s almost completely automated, people will call a customer service line and press countless buttons just to get to a live voice.

Yet strangely, MetLife finds only 30% of employers conduct enrollment meetings/seminars. If you want employees to be responsible stewards of their health care and other benefits dollars and decisions, you have to show them how. In person.

For employers to be successful, both the trust and education issues must be addressed. As Wheatley says, "The critical role HR plays within an organization should not be underestimated, as the success of any enterprise depends significantly on the extent to which its workforce is engaged with and dedicated to its mission."

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