Employees are taking a more active role in managing their benefits. According to Prudential’s recent “Seventh Annual Study of Employee Benefits: Today & Beyond” (the “Study”), 30 percent of employees say they are doing more homework on their available benefits. They believe they’re making informed decisions, as well: 63 percent say they are confident with the benefits they selected in their most recent enrollment period, an increase of nine percentage points from 2010.

There’s an interesting story behind these numbers: only 15 percent of employees say they ask their human resources (HR) department for in-depth advice on their benefits. That low rate might be partly explained by the reduced size of many internal HR departments, but it also reflects a shift toward using other information channels, such as group presentations and social media.

Enrollment materials continue to be a particularly important tool as 82 percent of employees say they read those materials. These findings mean your clients need effective enrollment materials delivered through the appropriate channels—simply mailing impersonal mass communications two weeks before the enrollment period won’t connect with today’s employees. Consider these strategies for helping your plan sponsors enhance their benefits communications.

Connect needs and benefits.

Employees won’t spend their money on benefits that they don’t perceive as valuable. For example, a LIMRA study, “Facts About Life 2010,” found that 50 percent of employees would have financial insecurity if the family’s breadwinner were to die.

But a 2011 Prudential survey showed that only 40 percent of employees thought life insurance was important. The disconnect between the potential financial impact of disability and the value of disability insurance was even greater, putting employees at more of a financial risk.

It is the insurance carriers’ role to help identify and close these gaps through education and communication. The traditional approach has been to focus on enrollment materials and those materials are still vital. As a benefit consultant or plan advisor, however, you can introduce plans to additional education and delivery methods.

These can include personalized communications, online presentations, webinars, video-based presentations and social media, among others. Many employers have the infrastructure required to use these communication vehicles. By providing employers with quality educational materials delivered through multiple channels, you can increase the odds that employees will “connect the dots” between their financial needs and the benefits solutions available to them. Connecting the dots will help them take action to close critical coverage gaps.

Get personal.

Very few people bother to read impersonal junk mail or spam email messages. This applies to benefits communications, also: Prudential’s research shows that 88 percent of employees say they want tailored communication versus generic “dear employee” messages. If your clients don’t personalize their benefits communications, they risk failing to fully engage their employees. Companies can use several approaches to increase personalization.

Employee segmentation by a high level demographic feature is one method. For example, employees under age 35 often consider themselves invincible; consequently, they don’t believe they will incur a disability or need life insurance. Another example: women employees of all ages. Married women, for instance, often believe they don’t need to insure their own lives, focusing instead on their spouse’s coverage. But that need can arise unexpectedly if they become single or widowed or assume the role of family breadwinner. Other personalization techniques can include segmenting employees by life stages such as starting a family, or planning retirement.

Using an employee’s name in a letter or email message can eliminate the initial impression of junk mail or spam. Gender also plays in a role in communication preferences. Prudential’s “Fifth Annual Study of Employee Benefits” found that while 54 percent of women preferred to receive benefits communications through workplace email, only 37 percent of men had that preference. In contrast, 27 percent of men preferred email at home versus 18 percent of women.

Help clients become benefits communications leaders.

Providing multiple communications touch points to employees increases the likelihood that employees will value and take advantage of their voluntary benefits. This strategy has an additional payoff because the research shows a corollary between communication effectiveness and employees’ satisfaction with their benefits programs in general.

Benefits communications leaders learn about employees’ communications preferences and use multiple channels to distribute benefits messages effectively. Employees participating in Prudential’s Study said the most effective resources—whether they were available at work or not—were workplace email (47 percent); mail at home (29 percent); and online presentations that could be viewed at their own pace (24 percent).

Employers reported that group meetings were the most successful form of communication. Although fewer employers are offering one-on-one benefits meetings (69 percent compared to 81 percent for group meetings), those who do conduct these personal meetings report them to be very successful. Targeted mailings are also popular: 25 percent of employers reported completing a targeted mailing for their employees, with large companies more likely to say they have used this method successfully.

Electronic media such as email, mobile platforms, webinars and social media are also working, although with mixed degrees of success. Social media tends to be hosted on an internal platform for company-access only with larger companies more likely to use this approach. Smaller firms are more likely to have utilized and been successful with a mobile benefits communication strategy.

The goal, achieved.

Employees are being asked to take on a greater share of their benefits costs. That means it’s more critical than ever that they understand the value of their benefits and make the best choices for their financial security. Employers that enhance their benefits communications can help employees get more from their available options while simultaneously improving employees’ overall satisfaction with their employer’s benefits plan.