What is more likely to get you to vote in a local school election, purchase a new car or book a vacation somewhere new: A postcard stuffed in your car windshield or a personal conversation over the fence with your neighbor? A billboard on the highway or a casual conversation with a friend at a get together?

More than likely some form of personal interaction influences your decision-making process. The same sort of logic applies to benefits decision-making, where employees are making selections based on their financial status, current family situation, potential life changes and future plans.

Employees need help. They need education on how to plan for the uncertainty of an illness, accident or death, as well as saving for retirement and college funding. They need to understand what they are buying and why they need it. And who better than you, or their employer, to help them?

To be truly effective, employee benefit education requires a personal touch.

Reaching the next level

There are many ways to educate employees about the need for insurance. And we all employ different methods, from online resources and printed materials to a good old-fashioned presentation or enrollment meeting. Any employee education tool, old or new, can be effective when used in combination with some form of personal touch.

Here are a few ways you can educate employees–and increase participation rates–by injecting tried and true methods with personal touches.

? Traditional methods still work great. Have the employer use payroll stuffers, or place table tents and posters in the workplace to generate awareness about the products available, as well as how these products can help employees. Take it to the next level by having human resources managers or leaders sit down with employees to share a personal experience or time when they used their own employee benefits.

? E-mail is an easy and effective way for HR managers and business owners to educate employees and encourage them to attend a meeting or sign-up for coverage. By driving at the heart of the employee’s concerns (protecting their health, income, savings), these type of educational communications have the added bonus of making employees feel their employer cares about their wellbeing. Follow-up with a group meeting that features a Q&A session, as well as some personal anecdotes from the speaker.

? One-on-one meetings make an impression. Use programs that feature a needs-analysis review to help employees identify gaps in coverage and prioritize needs. By meeting one-on-one with an insurance or financial professional, the employee has the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the employee’s own personal situation. Instead of relying on generalized information about the need for insurance, the employee can get personal insight and customized benefits.

? Laptop enrollment can increase the impact of all the other methods. Instead of treating laptop enrollment as a grab and dump of personal information and benefit selections, treat it as an opportunity for employee education. Laptop enrollment is an easy way to get employees signed up for benefits, but people want to talk to a person when they are confused or have questions.

An even more effective solution would be to add a Web-based or laptop-based needs-analysis tool to use personal information to help employees visualize their financial safety net, as well as gaps in their coverage. Online calculators also work well to reinforce how benefit selections have an effect on an employee’s bottom line.

Coming back for more

Employee education doesn’t end at the initial enrollment. Once you have signed employees up for coverage, make sure you come back year after year to help educate them. Some programs, such as ours, include a built-in annual review to assess needs and help employees addresses changes in their needs. In the interim, an 800 number that employees can call with questions after enrollment can help maintain the connection.

Connie Taylor is voluntary product director at Principal Financial Group Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, and can be reached at . Todd Carbo is vice president of group non-medical sales at Principal and can be reached at Carbo.Todd@principal.com.