Commentary: Don’t look now, but benefits enrollment season is quickly approaching. Sorry to ruin your day, but it’s coming whether you’re ready or not.

The predominant method employees used to enroll in their benefits in 2014 was online with no assistance (51%), according to Colonial Life’s 2014 U.S. Worker Survey. Another 25% of workers who enrolled in benefits reported they used a paper form to complete their benefits selections. But are these the best enrollment methods for companies to use?

The U.S. Worker Survey indicates other methods of enrollment may be better received by employees. The survey – which compiles the opinions of more than 1,500 employees on a variety of workplace, benefits and financial topics – is conducted annually by a national third-party research firm on behalf of Colonial Life.

Only 74% of employees who completed their enrollments online with no assistance reported they were very or somewhat satisfied with the process. And of those who used paper forms, only 72% reported they were satisfied with the experience.

A one-to-one meeting and discussion with an HR professional or a benefits counselor – despite being only the third most-popular way for employees to make their benefits choices – yielded the most-satisfied employees. Some 88% of these employees said they were satisfied with the process.

So what can employers learn from this data?

Employee satisfaction with benefits is closely linked to their satisfaction with their employer. More than three-quarters (76%) of employees who rate their benefits package as excellent or very good also give high marks to their employer as a place to work. Conversely, only 18% of those who rate their benefits poorly give high marks to their employer.

You can boost your employees’ understanding and appreciation for their benefits by closing the significant communications gap in most workplaces. Nearly all employees (98%) in a 2013 Colonial Life-Harris Interactive poll said it’s important to understand their benefits. But only a third (34%) of employees whose employers offer benefits say they understand their benefits very well — and 7% don’t understand them well at all.

The good news is you may be able to easily close this gap at little to no direct cost to your company by taking advantage of the resources of your benefits provider. Top voluntary benefits partners can take the burden off your limited staff to deliver effective, consistent benefits communication and support that helps your employees understand their benefits and make the best choices for their individual needs.

A one-size-fits-all approach to benefits enrollment and communication no longer works. Insurance is complex, and relying on self-education or technology alone isn’t realistic. Having access to a trained benefits specialist who personalizes the decision-making experience for employees can create real satisfaction. Employees appreciate having someone help them understand all the terminology and choices, as well as give them the confidence they need to make good decisions for their families.

With the right voluntary benefits partner and enrollment strategy, you can implement a strong benefits communication and enrollment program that will help you realize competitive advantages — including a happier, more engaged and more productive staff.

Rich Williams is the senior vice president for growth markets at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company.

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