Slideshow 11 scary things employees do with their benefits

Published
  • January 13 2017, 11:49am EST

On this Friday the 13th, here are 11 things employees are doing (or not doing) with their benefits that benefit managers might find kind of scary.

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Get spooked by wellness programs

While many employers offer physical wellness or holistic well-being programs, some employees don’t take advantage of them. “Our research shows that employees who skip out on these programs are often afraid of what’s involved or don’t think they can meet their goals,” says Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse. “It’s downright terrifying to think that they are missing out - in more ways than one. Not only can well–being programs help people feel better physically, they can also reduce stress, improve sleep, and increase productivity.”

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Not collecting the 401(k) treat

If employees don't participate in the company's 401(k) program, they're leaving free money on the table, says Geno Cufone, senior vice president, retirement administration at Ascensus. "The participation rate within the 55% of plans that offer a matching contribution on our platform is only 3.5% higher than a plan that doesn’t offer one. That means that more than 25% of the employees in those plans are leaving free money on the table," he says.

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Staying in the dark on flexible spending accounts

"Enrolling in a flexible spending account can reduce eligible health care and child care expenses by 20-40%," says Erin Barfels, chief human resources officer at ARAG, a provider of legal insurance. "FSA accounts allow a fixed amount of pre-tax dollars to be set aside for expenses. By not participating, employees lose out on reducing their taxable income to pay for day care or medical costs."

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Overlooking short-term disability benefits

To help employees better understand short-term disability benefits, employers can "provide plan details in the interviewing stage, new hire training and any time policies change," says Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade. "This is great insurance for any injury or illness and can also be applied to maternity-leave. There are generally few eligibility requirements and the cost is minimal."

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Sleepwalking through decisions

Once an employee participates in a benefits program, it is easy for them to keep the same elections each year and not revisit their personal circumstances and the available options, according to Chris Feneli, senior director at NFP. Strange as it sounds, he says employees may even neglect to report changes to their family status (marriage, child birth, divorce, etc.) or their health status and miss an opportunity to adjust their coverage accordingly.

"We are seeing more employers hold active enrollments that require individuals to evaluate and make an election each year,” he says. “This practice may encourage employees to take a closer look.”

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Haunted by fear of planning

Employees don't sign up for accident or disability insurance because they consider it bad luck to even think about an accident or illness that could keep them from working, says Laura Marzi, vice president of marketing for The Hartford's group benefits business. "Not only do employees mistakenly expect to avoid all accidents, they also underestimate how much an accident can cost them financially. Some think they can simply cut back on expenses or take a loan from their 401(k) if they are unable to work due to an accident,” she says.

Employers can help remove the fright factor through education. "There's a variety of digital educational resources that can be customized for employees so that they understand the value of paycheck protection, as well as the impact of financial decisions, such as a 401(k) loan," says Marzi.

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Skip their Transylvania trips by not using PTO

A 2014 Virgin Pulse survey revealed that 34% of full-time employees take less than half their paid time-off each year. "Organizations offer paid time-off so their people can rest and recharge, and come back to work more focused, creative, and productive," says Virgin Pulse's CEO Chris Boyce. "That's why it's important senior leaders and managers support and encourage their teams to take time off, but more importantly, lead by example and take the time themselves."

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Making benefit decisions based purely on price

Unfortunately, many employees don't take the time to focus on the array of benefits available to them. Sometimes, they merely make decisions based solely on the payroll deduction associated with the benefit. "This frightening strategy will often lead to under or over-insuring themselves and their family," says NFP's Chris Feneli. "Employers need to give ample time and resources for employees to understand their benefits."

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Neglecting disability benefits

Employees are more likely to have life insurance than disability coverage, yet the chances of needing disability insurance are higher, says Feneli. Whether it's a misconception that the protection isn't needed, or confusion of how the coverage works, it's common to see employees waive disability coverage.

"Companies should educate employees on the scary statistics of becoming disabled and ensure they offer proper disability coverage to their employees," he says.

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Cashing out a 401(k)

Forty-three percent of workers took a cash distribution when they ended employment, according to Aon Hewitt research. Many of those were younger workers with smaller plan balances, but because of the power of compounding, those workers could potentially be missing out on big savings over time, says the consulting firm. Some employers are encouraging individuals to consolidate old balances into their current plan in order to continue building their nest eggs.

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Not sinking their teeth into the value of the medical and dental plans offered

Some employees don’t maximize the value offered by their medical and dental plans by not taking advantage of zero-based preventive visits and vaccinations, according to Suzannah Gill, Esq., benefits strategy consultant and Rosemary Manning Hughes, principal with employee benefits brokerage firm EPIC. “Remind employees throughout the year of the zero cost-sharing provisions of the medical and dental plans,” they advise.


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