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Better Benefits Communication

Workers want better benefits communication

New Colonial Life survey shows employees value good benefits education

American workers say understanding their benefits is very important — and there’s a lot their employers could do to improve benefits communication. That’s according to new research commissioned by Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company and conducted online by Harris Interactive® in late February.

The survey queried 2,111 U.S. adults age 18 and older employed full or part time about the benefits education available to them at work. Individuals whose employers offer benefits are nearly unanimous at 98 percent in saying it’s at least somewhat important to understand the benefits provided to them by their employer, and a strong majority — 73 percent — say it’s very important.

Employees also feel strongly about making sure they have enough financial protection for themselves and their families: 97 percent say it’s at least somewhat important, and 67 percent say it’s very important. Other factors employees ranked highly in the survey included:

Having choices to customize the benefits package — 95 percent say it’s at least somewhat important; 59 percent say it’s very important.
Receiving regular information updates from their employer about the benefits program — 95 percent say it’s at least somewhat important; 53 percent say it’s very important.
Having convenient access to a benefits expert to talk with face-to-face — 90 percent say it’s at least somewhat important; 46 percent say it’s very important.

“Clearly, employees want access to information and understand the importance of their employer-provided benefits in protecting their families’ financial well-being,” said Steve Bygott, assistant vice president of marketing analysis and programs at Colonial Life. “These survey results don’t surprise us, but they send an important message employers need to hear if they want to get the most out of their costly benefits investment.”

Employer benefits communication often ineffective

In fact, employees don’t give their companies very high marks for the effectiveness of their benefits communication. Only 60 percent say it’s fairly or very effective, and 9 percent say it’s not at all effective.

Not surprisingly, then, only about a third (32 percent) of individuals whose employers offer benefits say they’re very comfortable making decisions about the benefits available to them at work. Employees with total household income of less than $35,000 report struggling a bit more, with only 25 percent saying they’re very comfortable with benefits decision-making. They’re also much more likely than workers with household income of $50,000 or more to say they’re not at all comfortable: 12 percent compared to 3 percent, respectively.

Improved benefits communication options

Employers can take several steps to help workers better understand their benefits, according to the survey. The top choice among options offered in the survey is providing benefits information employees can access at home or at work, with 38 percent of employees saying this change would be helpful to them. Equally desired at 37 percent is providing benefits information that’s easier to understand. And more than a third — 34 percent — would like their employers to provide an opportunity for them to talk with a benefits expert on company time.

“Individual, face-to-face benefits counseling has been shown in other surveys to improve employees’ understanding of their benefits,” Bygott said. “And among those who participate in such as session, they’re nearly unanimous in believing it was valuable to them.”1

Other benefits communication changes employees say would help is receiving benefits information more frequently (31 percent) and receiving benefits information that’s more personalized to their needs (30 percent).

These survey results and other benefits research that can help employers maximize their benefits investment through improved communication will be available in a new white paper available on Colonial Life’s website in mid-April.

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