How much do you really know about your employees’ needs and desires regarding their group health and welfare benefits?

There are assumptions you can make. For example, every workplace has vocal employees who ask a lot of questions. Because extroverts tend to think out loud, you’re likely to hear from them and have a sense of what’s important.

But here’s where it’s easy to get tripped up: Making the mistake of assuming that vocal employees are representative of the workforce as a whole. The fact is many employees don’t feel free to speak up with questions and concerns. For instance, introverts are more likely to clam up in a group setting. Non-decision makers may be unwilling to create a disruption if they’re unhappy, especially in the setting of a company meeting. In fact, they’re more likely to complain to their peers.

The cost of benefits misconceptions

Staffers who aren’t satisfied with their employee benefits may not be fully utilizing their health insurance, which can drive up costs for the entire organization. Employers can be assured that unhealthy employees will enroll in the health insurance plan. However, the danger is that these employees may select a plan based on price instead of coverage, so their benefits may fail to meet their needs.

See also: Open enrollment communication must move beyond the status quo

Worse, some employees might not select a plan at all because they don’t fully understand how benefits pertain to their situation. After all, workers who are young and healthy may not see the value in purchasing health insurance. Since insurance is about spreading the risk, the opt-out mentality of younger employees can drive up healthcare costs for everyone else.

On top of that, the rank and file may not be receiving the same level of customer service as upper-echelon employees. That means they may not be getting the information they need to help make better choices. What you can wind up with is a death spiral, in which the only people who opt into medical insurance are the ones who are already sick. In the end, that could mean lower morale for your workforce and higher healthcare costs for your organization.

The good news: there are ways you can reach out to your “silent majority” to find out what really matters to them.

Gauging conditions

Getting a baseline reading on how you’re doing in terms of benefits communication is a good place to start. Consider surveying your workforce to find out how they feel about their current benefits and if they have any unmet needs, such as specific group voluntary benefits to fill in your core program (like supplemental life insurance, critical illness, accident, etc.). You can also use a survey to find out if employees are aware of how to utilize the benefits they already have; you may be surprised at the answer. You can create a free survey with a service such as surveymonkey.com.

Incent employees to take the survey by offering a prize. For example, anyone who participates could enter a drawing for a paid day off. Also, be sure to assure your workforce that survey results will remain confidential and anonymous.

Provide easy access

Remember that signing up for employee benefits can be stressful or confusing for some people. Providing online access and a toll-free number for enrollment support will allow employees to ask questions and walk through the technology platform at their own pace. Enabling them to enroll at home means they can obtain input from their spouses. For employees who don’t have computers at home, be sure to provide easy online access at work.

One thing to consider when communicating plan changes: More is not always better. Rather than re-issuing enrollment packets when changes occur, outline the differences in a one or two-page addendum.

Employee advocacy is key

Making sure questions are answered is critical to ensuring satisfaction with and proper utilization of your health and welfare benefits program. That’s where employee advocacy can play an important role.

Make sure your employees are aware of the resources available to them. Remember the “rule of seven”: People need to hear a message seven times before they act on it. Communicate the message in multiple ways over a period of a few weeks. This is especially critical if you are introducing a change in your benefits program (such as higher deductibles) or are initiating a wellness campaign.

Here are employee communications best practices:

  • Give access to a toll-free number to call if they have questions.
  • Distribute wallet cards with the phone number.
  • Put reminders in paycheck envelopes.
  • Hang posters on the insides of bathroom doors (it sounds silly, but it really works).
  • Send email announcements.
  • Post the information on your company intranet.

Bonus: Aligning with an employee advocacy resource may also provide you the opportunity to obtain data about the questions your employees are asking. That way you can better determine what their concerns are.
Plus, working with your employee advocacy resource can be another way to reinforce plan changes when people call in with questions or issues.

From a cost perspective, employers can save money by helping employees to be more proactive in accessing care by becoming better-educated consumers of their health plan. Doing so can reduce the severity and frequency of large claims, which can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Sharon Savadski is a benefits consultant with Corporate Synergies’ office in Orlando, Fla.

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