Despite a drop in discretionary income, only 11% of workers plan to decrease their 2010 voluntary benefits coverage, a new MetLife Inc. poll finds.

And nearly one-quarter of those planning to decrease coverage this year expect to increase their benefits during next year’s open enrollment period if the economy improves, reports MetLife, New York.

According to MetLife’s new 2009 Open Enrollment Poll, 89% of employees are planning to maintain or increase the number of benefits they select or their coverage for next year, despite the fact that 37% report that their household’s discretionary income decreased this year.

Despite the depressed economy, 89% of employees are confident in their ability to evaluate their options and pick the right employee benefits for themselves and their families. As a result, 76% plan to spend about the same amount of time this year as last when it comes to choosing their benefits.

MetLife found 13% plan to spend more time on benefit selection during this year’s open-enrollment period. Of those, 57% will spend an extra 60 minutes or more. As for their reasons for spending more time, 64% cite current economic events or financial security, and 31% say a major life event was the impetus. Additionally, 15% felt they made some wrong decisions on the employee benefits they selected during last year’s open enrollment period. Yes just 3% of all workers surveyed say that they are not confident in their ability to weigh their options and choose the right benefits.

MetLife found that employer communications make an important difference in employee involvement in their benefits decisions. Of employees who said they’ll spend more time making benefits decisions this year, 29% say their employers were communicating more about the importance of employee benefits.

“Employer communications regarding benefits need to be targeted in a way that encourages dialogue and address all family members, since half of employees share the benefits decision-making with their spouse or domestic partner,” said Dr. Ronald Leopold, vice president for MetLife’s U.S. Business.

Noting the rapid approach of the open enrollment season, MetLife recommends several steps for employers to take to ensure that employees get the information they need to make informed decisions:

–Distribute personalized, clear total compensation statements, which explain to employees the value of their complete compensation and benefits. Only 43% of employers provide a total compensation statement, another MetLife study found.

–Provide decision-support tools to employees, such as Web-based calculators, which can advise employees on which benefits to select and proper coverage levels.

–Personalize materials–for instance, by providing access to information based on employee life-stage and life events (e.g., getting married, having a child or buying a home).

–Use several communication channels, such as on-site educational programs, telephone consultation services and on-line tools.

–Provide off-cycle enrollment: MetLife found 38% of employees would be interested in learning about and modifying their benefits choices more frequently than once a year, in particular those that are planning on spending more time on their benefits decisions.

The telephone poll was conducted in late July among 1,000 full-time employees, 18 years or older, at companies with 10-plus employees.