Put Your Benefits to Use: How to Drive Employee Plan Participation, Vickie Whaley, FBMC Benefits Management

In the Great Resignation era, benefits have been key for companies looking to combat high levels of employee turnover – but it’s not just about offering a great package. It’s also vital that employers look for ways to drive employee engagement and participation in those benefits.

Put simply, more engagement means happier employees. This works in two ways: First, employees who are aware of and use the benefits available to them are likely to feel more appreciated by their employer. Second, with benefits designed to improve employee wellness, it’s no surprise that taking advantage of them can boost overall happiness and well-being.

Even better? Engaged and healthy employees are also less likely to seek out new jobs. A survey from Gallup found that employers in the top 20% of employee engagement saw a 59% reduction in turnover.

But many employers struggle with identifying ways to engage their employees. This is often due to the limited bandwidth of HR teams, as well as an often-limiting focus on medical benefits with less attention to other critical employee needs like salary continuation benefits. To effectively determine needs, a holistic evaluation of all benefits is required to support employees. And the key to engagement? Unsurprisingly, clear communication is the answer. Employers should strive to create open dialogue throughout the year, from driving enrollment to planning for future needs.

Stage One: Enrollment

With plans offering more choices than ever before, enrollment can feel overwhelming. Employers must provide clear opportunities for employees to ask questions, access resources and feel empowered when selecting their benefits. The expansion of technology, which allows for virtual meetings and enhanced decision-making tools, has been notable in supporting employee engagement.

Many studies show employees will dedicate a very limited amount of time to reviewing benefit options. Digital solutions, like virtual office hours or webinars, are accessible ways for employees to get the answers they need online and on their own time. Options like fillable forms and implementation of step-by-step enrollment systems can streamline the process and clarify questions to ensure employees are making the best selections for their lifestyle.

In addition, requiring employees to opt-out – not opt-in – is growing in popularity, with proven results for improving retirement plan participation. Studies have shown that 90% of participants will remain in a retirement savings plan once automatically enrolled. We are seeing employers using the opt-out process to bring more attention to their benefit offerings. To ensure long-term employees are not adversely affected in the first year of roll-out, it is important to be well-informed about the process and implications of the changes. Working with a broker who has experience with these plan types is critical to avoid compliance issues or potentially increasing employee dissatisfaction.

Stage Two: Participation

Communication and education should not end after enrollment. A survey from Voya Financial found that 35% of employees do not fully understand the benefits they are enrolled in. That number is even higher among certain groups, including millennials. Conversely, 66% of employees say they want their employer to step in and help them better understand their benefits. Segmenting employees by life stage or needs allows for personalized communication that feels relevant to individuals and captures their attention.

Allowing employees to use their benefits and eliminating barriers helps increase overall workplace satisfaction. Flexible work hours, for example, ensure employees can take time for health appointments. Bringing financial counselors to the office provides opportunities for employees to take advantage of advisors without requiring a significant time investment and workflow disruption.

Stage Three: Feedback

Frequent feedback and check-ins can ensure employees feel heard and understood, and help employers benchmark their benefits throughout the year. 89% of HR leaders surveyed by SHRM said consistent peer feedback has had a positive impact on their organizations. Employees take notice, too: In the 2022 HSA Bank Health & Wealth Index, 96% of employees agreed that businesses demonstrating empathy is a key way to advance retention.

This open conversation can influence benefits planning for subsequent years, highlighting areas that may need to be adjusted to better align with employee needs. Through opening a dialogue with employees, HR professionals can evaluate solutions holistically and work toward a system that benefits everyone.

Ready to start the conversation? FBMC’s team is here to help companies create a benefits plan that employees want to participate in. To learn more, contact us today.

Vickie Whaley, REBC FBMC Managing Principal