NU Online News Service, June 24, 10:10 a.m. – Although most employers now offer online access to health care or retirement benefits, these initial efforts aren’t connecting yet with employees, finds a new survey by Cigna Corp., Philadelphia.

Eighty percent of employees say they’re still not able to manage their benefits online, according to the workplace survey.

“Online Disconnect: Matching Web Benefits To Real Employee Needs,” sampled 1,000 employees over age 18 and 200 employers nationwide.

Among the findings: There are significant gaps between what employers offer and what employees want in their online benefits.

While 57% of employers surveyed believe their employees are able to access Web-based benefits services online, only 20% of employees indicate they are able to use online services to manage their benefits.

Most employees indicate they are still processing benefits by mailing paper forms (67%), interacting with a phone system (53%) or working with benefits managers (58%).

The survey found that slightly more than half of workers are very or somewhat concerned about the management of their benefits, given recent news around corporate failures, stock losses and pressures on the nation’s health care system.

Nearly half of workers with online access are now interested in taking a more active role in managing their health care and retirement benefits.

The survey also found that baby boomers are the most interested and active users of the Web to manage health and retirement issues, surpassing tech-savvy “Generation Y” workers ages 18 to 29 in embracing online tools.

Of those with online access, 54% of workers aged 40 to 49 say it is very easy to use online technologies to manage benefits–the highest of any age group surveyed.

Only 40% of 18-to-29-year-old workers–who’ve grown up using the Internet–say it is very easy to use online technologies to manage benefits.

Both boomer and Generation Y workers say they would like to be more engaged in managing their health care and retirement benefits. Of those with online access, 47% of workers aged 18 to 29 say that, if given the opportunity, they would like to take a more active role in managing their health care and retirement benefits. Among workers aged 40 to 49, 43% would like to take a more active role.

Forty percent of both age groups also indicate that, if given adequate online tools, they would take a more active role managing their benefits, even if it meant doing so from home.

According to the CIGNA survey as well as research conducted by other industry analysts, there are several efforts companies can undertake to provide a more useful experience for employees using the Internet to manage their health care and retirement.

A benefits Web site should be kept simple, include online education, allow for personalization and be interactive.

Most employees want to be able to conduct transactions over benefits Web sites, not just passively scan through wellness and financial tips, Cigna reports.

Also, benefits managers should make sure all of their offerings are integrated, regardless of the channel used to access them. Whether an employee is online or getting personal attention by phone, their case data should be tracked and updated across all systems simultaneously, says Cigna.