January 7, 2019
KNOW HOW

Help employees understand health coverage

One of the biggest challenges employers face is providing comprehensive yet affordable insurance benefits for employees. Health insurance premiums are often one of the biggest line items in an employer's annual budget. Providing a robust benefit package can help attract and retain a talented and skilled workforce.

The success of a compensation-and-benefits strategy relies upon the success of the organization's communication strategy. So it may be surprising only 35 percent of employers have comprehensive employee communication strategy. This, coupled with a health insurance literacy rate of about 10 percent, makes it challenging for employees to select the coverage best fit for them. Open enrollment mailings might end up in the recycling bin. Let me raise my hand right now, as I am guilty of this too. While I have worked in this industry for more than 20 years, when my husband's employer sends something related to health insurance, it ends up in a pile with grocery store fliers.

If understanding health insurance requires sitting down and sifting through a 50-page booklet or spending an hour comparing benefits, most employees just aren't going to do it. Employers should make plan information readily available and easily searchable on the company website or intranet. Visual tools such as charts and graphics can be effective. Well-being initiatives with incentives can engage employees and provide the opportunity to focus on the benefits. Don't underestimate the power of a lunch and learn. If you feed them, they will come.

Breaking down communication silos yields effective messaging; using different communication channels ensures messages reach the widest possible audience. Listening to employees – and taking a fresh look at who they are – is a first step towards crafting the right messaging.

The top desired communication outcome is employees understanding and how to use benefits. Successful implementation of benefit changes occurs when deployment of educational tools precedes and then accompanies rollout. Helping employees select benefits and appropriate medical coverage during enrollment is a particularly worthy strategic investment, as it helps lead to better employee physical, emotional and financial wellbeing.

The second-most important communication outcome for companies is for employees to understand the total value of their compensation and benefits. Yet, just 25 percent of employers provide a total compensation statement to employees.

Faced with a constant battle against rising benefit costs and innumerable pressures on performance, employers can make major gains on both fronts through a data-driven, sophisticated approach to benefits. But few are taking advantage of this opportunity: Half of companies still manage benefits on a year-to-year basis, although doing so limits an employer's ability to harness information for long-term planning.

Shifting employee demographics requires employers to reexamine traditional benefit plan designs, and, in turn, develop holistic communication strategies. Equipped with insights and data, employers can offer benefits to provide a sustainable competitive advantage to attract and retain the next generation of workers.

Kate Sharry is the area vice president, based out of Auburn, for Gallagher Benefits Services. Reach her at ksharry@gbs-consult.com.

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