Get Real: Employees and Employers Only Care About Benefits When They Need To

Jasper Purvis

March 25, 2024

Originally published on BenefitsPro

Yes, we’ve said it out loud. Generally speaking, employees don’t care about their core employee benefits until they need them. Even worse, employers don’t think much about employee benefits until open enrollment rolls around. So, here’s the $64,000 question: How do employers fix this lack of engagement around benefits? Because they need to fix it, and benefit advisors can help.

Organizations spend a great deal of money on technology to make work more efficient — and this includes the expense of benefits administration platforms. The online publication Intelligent CIO reports that while spending on workplace technology declined in the last year, companies are still spending $1,000-$3,500 on software tools per employee annually, on average. Looking more closely, a company with 10-100 employees has a total SaaS spend of $250,000-$1 million on 50-70 apps.

But too many employers aren’t using these apps and solutions to get maximum ROI, especially from their spend on employee benefits. It’s time to take stock by asking — and answering — a few key questions:

  • How is the organization truly using its benefits platform? Is it just for enrollment?
  • What about other tools like Slack, Teams, or Google Chat? Are those being used to communicate about benefits? To solicit year-round feedback? To drive engagement that’s more active than passive?
  • Are organizations encouraging 1:1 meetings between managers and team members? To what end? Are benefits part of those conversations?

Starting with these questions can help address the problems that lie at the core of the reality that no one seems to really care about employee benefits until they’re forced to deal with them. But, once we start to care, to pay attention to the ins and outs of employee benefits throughout the year, it will lead to greater employee engagement, better use of benefits, and greater ROI for the business.

Help HR leaders unlock the full potential of benefits

In an ideal world, workplace benefits would be cherished and leveraged by employees at every turn, consistently adding value to both their personal lives and to the companies they work for. But as current statistics and human behavior suggest, benefits tend to come into focus only during life events or health challenges, leaving a significant part of their potential unexploited. This highlights the challenges that employers and HR professionals face in effectively engaging employees with their benefits packages.

The challenge takes on even greater significance with the rise of remote and fragmented workspaces. As a result, traditional annual enrollment processes are becoming a less practical vehicle for maintaining year-round benefits engagement. 

It’s time for a paradigm shift. It’s time for benefits brokers to help HR leaders transition toward a culture where benefits are not just acknowledged, but are also valued and understood as a core component of the workplace experience. Let’s dive into those three pivotal areas mentioned above, areas where revolutionizing engagement strategies can transform benefits from an afterthought into a corporate cornerstone.

Rethink benefits platform usage

Modern benefits administration platforms are brimming with features designed to make managing benefits straightforward. However, simplicity does not always translate to active employee engagement. The focus of these tools is often centered on the open enrollment period or the new-hire enrollment window. The result: Employers are neglecting the remaining 364 days of the year, when benefits are not top-of-mind for employees.

  • One response would be to use data that is readily available in the benefits administration platform to guide a shift in communication about benefits. Analyzing platform data and user behavior can unveil insights into when and how employees interact most with their benefits. Armed with this knowledge, HR teams can strategically deploy communication efforts when engagement is naturally higher, ensuring that employees are more receptive to benefit-related information.
  • Another tactic is to implement a drip-feed model to share information,  sending out regular updates about benefits or reminders of available resources. This strategy far surpasses the traditional “set it and forget it” methods and keeps the conversation about benefits alive year-round.
  • You can also advise HR leaders to deliver training and support to help employees have a more comprehensive understanding of their benefits. Stated simply, many employees lack the knowledge to make informed decisions about their benefits or effectively utilize them. Employers can bridge this gap by providing continuous training and support, either through interactive platforms or live sessions. This ongoing education fosters a workplace environment where benefits are understood and valued.

Effectively deploy modern communication tools

The advent of digital workplace communication tools offers an unprecedented opportunity for benefits brokers and HR leaders to embed benefits discussions into the fabric of day-to-day work life. Platforms like Slack, Teams, and Google Chat are not just mediums for circulating casual announcements. They can also be leveraged for more substantial year-round benefits communication.

  • One option is to actively engage employees through these channels. These tools offer the immediacy and interactivity that email lacks, making them perfect for encouraging questions and participation. By creating dedicated channels for benefits discussions or hosting regular Q&A sessions, HR teams can foster an environment of active engagement that goes beyond passive awareness.
  • Another good use of these tools — or the communication tools in an optimal benefits administration platform — is to consistently solicit employee feedback about their benefits. Year-round feedback loops provide crucial indicators of benefits effectiveness and employee sentiment. The right platform will offer anonymous polls, open forums, and suggestion boxes, all of which can be integrated to gather insights about what employees truly value and where improvements are needed. This approach not only keeps benefits top-of-mind but also ensures they remain aligned with the evolving needs and expectations of the workforce.

Personalize the conversation

The importance of personalized employee-manager relationships cannot be overstated as part of the benefits conversation. Encouraging regular, meaningful 1:1 meetings between managers and team members creates a safe space for discussing personal development, including how to best utilize their benefits.

  • For starters, HR leaders can include benefits in each employee’s discussions around career planning. Benefits discussions during these meetings should not just center on HR mechanics, but also relate benefits to the employee’s career and life stages. Encouraging managers to understand and articulate the value of benefits in meeting their team’s personal goals or challenges builds a connection that simple dissemination of information cannot match.
  • Addressing wellbeing holistically is another way to make the conversation around benefits more personal and, therefore, more meaningful and engaging. Managers can play a pivotal role here by promoting a culture where employee well-being is a priority. By integrating benefits into conversations around physical, mental, and financial health, they can ensure that the company’s investment in benefits translates into a more resilient, loyal, and productive workforce.

A call to action for year-round engagement

The narrative around benefits needs to shift from a passive, compliance-driven activity to a proactive, engaging element of the employee experience. Employers, benefits advisors and HR professionals need to leverage the available data, tools, and human connections at their fingertips to reimagine benefits engagement as a year-round conversation — a communication stream that is dynamic, personal, and robust.

An organizational mindset that acknowledges the value of consistent benefits engagement is essential. It is not merely an HR initiative but a strategic imperative that requires investment, creativity, and a fundamental commitment to the well-being of the workforce.

Jasper Purvis is vice president of business development for Selerix, a provider of benefits administration solutions for employers and carriers.

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