Two separate puzzle pieces, which need to be put together (Image: Shutterstock)Don’t take it personally, but your clients’ employees don’t want to talk to you.

Yet they have questions and know they need help navigating their benefits options and selections — and most of them want to talk about it with a live human being.

That was one of the findings in a recent Colonial Life survey of 1,500 full-time U.S. employees. More than three-fourths of employees said they turn to other people, such as their HR department, coworkers, family members and friends, for advice. (Only 11% said they learn about their benefits online, and another 13% go it alone.)

(Related: Voluntary Accident Insurance Can ‘Balance the Stool’)

Looking at the data a bit deeper, only 40% of employees named HR professionals as their go-to source to learn about benefits. Although that was the most popular option, it still means the majority of employees aren’t taking advantage of the person who is likely the most knowledgeable about benefits. And with all the hats most HR people wear, even they may not have the time and expertise to help employees determine their individual needs and understand the types of coverage that best meet those needs.

The result: a major gap in benefits education for millions of America’s workers.

This is especially important now as many insurance carriers roll out updated individual life insurance plans to fulfill new IRS and NAIC regulations taking effect in 2020. Some of these refreshed plans include new benefit periods, riders, rates and benefit options. The newest updated plans may offer more choice and value, but they also may be more complicated and require more education to understand all the options available. These policy changes make it more timely than ever for employees to review their life insurance needs and update their coverage as their lives and family status change.

The good news is this creates an ideal opportunity for you to consider new ways to engage with and educate your customers.

Benefits Education Meets the Bottom Line

Unfortunately, employees typically don’t invest much time in learning about their benefits options. Colonial Life’s survey found 70% of workers spend less than an hour a year at enrollment time considering their choices and making their selections. Even worse, a third say they spend less than 30 minutes learning about benefits their employer provides.

And employees who don’t understand their benefits don’t value them, or the significant investment their employer makes in them. This can be a huge problem for your clients, because lack of engagement with the benefits program leads to lower morale and higher turnover. The research showed employees who spend less than an hour considering their benefits at enrollment time are significantly more likely to:

  • Feel dissatisfied in their jobs.
  • Think their employer doesn’t care about them.
  • Leave their current jobs within the next six months.

It’s not enough for your clients to simply offer a comprehensive, competitive benefits package. To attract and keep top talent, they also must ensure employees understand, value and participate in them. To make that investment pay off, benefits programs must be backed by an equally comprehensive education and communication program. Better education drives greater engagement — and higher participation levels that help your business succeed, too.

Here are three ways to close that benefits education gap:

1. Customize

One-size-fits-all might work for umbrellas, but most other types of protection need to be customized for the best fit. Just as voluntary benefits allow employees to customize their benefits package, benefits communication and education tools and tactics should be customized for your clients’ employee diverse population. An effective benefits communication plan will reach employees and allow them to access information when and where they want, and may include group and individual meetings, call centers and online chats, website or portals, and print and digital materials offered over a period of several weeks.

This kind of customized communication support doesn’t have to be costly for your business or your clients. Some benefits carriers provide these kinds of communication and education tools as part of their included services at no direct charge.

2. Get personal

Take customization to the max by recommending your clients provide their employees individual benefits counseling sessions with professional counselors trained to provide this service. Research shows one-to-one sessions are the most effective benefits education technique: virtually all (92%) employees who attended an individual benefits counseling session reported it was valuable, according to Colonial Life’s survey. And employees who enrolled in their benefits by sitting down with someone said they understand their benefits better.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming today’s millennial (and even younger) workers aren’t open to this approach. A 2018 Unum consumer poll showed workers 18-24 and 25-34 are actually more interested than older workers in speaking to an adviser in an individual meeting.

This kind of personal support isn’t available just to your large clients. A top-tier benefits partner will communicate with employees individually in all accounts to ensure they understand all their employer’s benefits, not just those the provider offers — again, at no additional charge.

3. Make it interactive

One-to-one benefits counseling sessions might be considered the ultimate in customized, personal communication. But you also can tap into high-tech techniques to offer employees more interactive options to learn about their benefits. Look for a benefits partner that can provide solutions such as digital postcards, interactive benefits booklets and mobile apps.

Taking advantage of interactive digital tools offers your clients’ employees a more complete benefits education experience that can extend the time they spend learning about their benefits — and also make that time more effective. Employees are more informed when they get to their enrollment event, driving higher participation.

Make sure your clients are taking advantage of the education and communication solutions that will help them get the most out of their benefits programs. New life insurance plans coming your way this year are the ideal opportunity to take a fresh look at how they — and you — help their employees make the best choices for themselves, their families and their futures.

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Pam Jenkins (Photo: Colonial Life)

Pam Jenkins is assistant vice president, product development, at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company