In The Worksite

Breaking Through The Benefits Noise

How to help employees overcome information overload

by Meredith Ryan-Reid

Ms. Ryan-Reid is senior vice president, Head of Distribution Development & Benefits Delivery, Group Benefits, MetLife. Visit

Annual enrollment season is in full swing. Employers have spent months preparing their benefits offerings, and yet, employees are still overwhelmed by the process of selecting their benefits for the following year. What can employers do to break through the noise?

The answer is simple: encourage employees to have a conversation.

Before we make decisions big or small, our tendency is to seek out information and advice from trusted sources. Sometimes that means reading online reviews, and other times it is asking a trusted friend, family member, or even coworker. Enrollment should not be any different.

In fact, market research has shown that while key life events provide impetus for employees to reconsider their benefits choices, actual changes are often made after someone speaks to someone they know who has had a relevant experience. That is why employers should encourage your workforce to not only read through the benefits information provided, but also take time to seek advice from those they trust most.

Start with a goal

So much is crammed into each day, and employees rarely have a free moment to think about their personal financial goals. Whether it’s a short-term goal, such as traveling to a bucket list location or buying holiday gifts for family members, or a long-term goal of buying a home or retiring comfortably, achievement is a result of planning.

Putting benefits in the context of goals can help employees better connect their enrollment choices in a given year to their personal lives in the near and long term as they are likely to face various obstacles along the way to reaching the goals they’ve outlined.

MetLife’s 16th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS) found that more than half of full-time workers live paycheck-to-paycheck. Even more surprising is that for people making $100,000 or less annually, 44% could not come up with $400 in an emergency, according to the Federal Reserve.

Even diligent savers can be faced with an unexpected healthcare-related expense that can completely knock them off track financially. In fact, medical expenses are the number one source of personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Put simply: most individuals cannot afford even the most minor of unexpected healthcare-related expenses. Therefore, benefits such as accident insurance or disability insurance play an integral role in helping employees mitigate financial obstacles that could prevent them from achieving their goals.

Taking care now for later

Another important way benefits can help employees mitigate financial obstacles is providing coverage that allows them to take proactive, preventative, or rehabilitative measures. This means that in addition to encouraging workers to select benefits, employers must equally encourage them to utilize their coverage plans. This means providing the appropriate flexibility – and communicating it – to schedule appointments.

in addition to encouraging workers to select benefits, employers must equally encourage them to utilize their coverage plans. This means providing the appropriate flexibility – and communicating it – to schedule appointments...

For example, having regular dental and vision checkups can help to identify emerging issues that could cause significant physical and financial pain if left unaddressed. Also, because certain supplemental health products provide enrollees a lump sum payment, fees associated with rehabilitation, such as physical therapy appointments, will help to prevent reinjury or long-lasting problems.

Additionally, employees’ stress is reduced knowing they are covered in the event of something unexpected. According to the EBTS, only 43% of employees believe their employer understands their personal financial pressures. During annual enrollment, employers have the opportunity to change this perspective through connecting their benefits offerings to better financial protection. This should also lead to a more engaged and productive workforce with a reduction in money-related anxiety and distractions.

Benefits changing with the employee

As the workforce expands from four generations to five, and millennials start families and buy homes, now is the time for employers to encourage people throughout their organizations to have a conversation about benefits.

For most people, major life events can change their financial goals, as well as potential burdens. Annual enrollment is the one time each year when employees can both reflect on the changes in the past year and make significant decisions on how these changes could impact them financially in the coming year.

Employers should encourage their workforce to think about what changes might need to be made to their beneficiary or contact information. Reminders to update address changes or add dependents to coverage plans will also lead employees to spend an extra few moments thinking about whether these life changes require additional coverage products or adjusting their current plans to fit their needs.

Additionally, many employees might not realize their employer offers group discounts for auto or homeowners’ insurance – and things like this drive additional loyalty from an employee. With unemployment at record lows and top talent in high demand, employers need to continue to encourage workers to think beyond just medical insurance during their enrollment period as part of their attraction and retention strategies.

Enrollment tends to be daunting for employees. Despite significant investment in technology and communication, employers still struggle to break through and engage with employees around benefit offerings. Voluntary benefits such as disability insurance, life insurance, critical illness and hospital indemnity provide financial cover and peace of mind for employees, so they go into 2019 confident in their abilities to stay on track towards their short- and long-term financial goals.

To breakthrough this year, encourage employees to try an old-school, offline approach to enrollment by having a meaningful conversation with a friend, parent, or coworker. This just might be the difference between achieving life goals and pushing them aside due to financial burden. ◊