Offer an Employee Benefits Boot Camp to Boost Participation

By on August 7, 2017

Improving participant education and retirement readiness has been a goal of business leaders for years, especially with new health plan requirements and employer-sponsored defined contribution plans replacing traditional pensions as the primary savings vehicle for American workers. By designing and implementing a comprehensive benefits workshop for your employees you can attract and retrain quality talent with the attitude that helping employees achieve financial independence is part of your organizational culture.

Not only are the employees who participate in benefit plans more likely to forge a loyal bond with the business, but they are also less distracted in the workplace, healthier and consequently, more productive. Unfortunately, modern benefit plans tend to put the control and pressure of success squarely on the participants who do not feel they have the tools and information needed to make informed decisions. There is widespread benefits bewilderment — plan documents are confusing, and people aren’t engaged in the health and wellness messages they are receiving.

The road to more effective participant education does not begin or end with simply providing benefit packets and phone numbers. The content of the education needs to be relatable to the participants’ lives so they feel empowered to make decisions in the best interest of themselves and their employer.

It is time to change the game in benefits communication. Whether you are rolling out a new plan or trying to get employees more engaged in your current plan, these tips and tools can help you dramatically improve your benefits communication, leaving employees smarter about their benefits and more appreciative of what they are getting from the company.

How can Businesses Develop an Effective Education Strategy?

The foundation of success in business is rooted in developing a strategy based upon clear objectives and a comprehensive understanding of the marketplace. Educating your employees on their benefits should be no different; the objective is to increase participation and encourage successful decision-making through a clear understanding of the needs and lives of your workers.

Step 1 – Survey

Benefit plan educators may want to first consider surveying current employees and gathering existing plan details to obtain better insight into their education and informational needs. Perhaps your team understands how to automatically contribute to their 401 k but are sure how employer-matching works, or maybe you employees aren’t taking advantage of your gym membership incentives because they can’t find a location near their home. Get down to the root of why or why not certain benefits are working for your team.

Step 2 – Build a Support Team and Review Your Benefit Plans

Educating your existing and future employees is going to require a broad support team made up of your plan advisors and providers (perhaps your commercial insurance representative), human resource managers, supervisors and owners. Your management (and inner human resources) team will be responsible for communication to employees at all levels, but this support team will design your education meetings and help make management effective in encouraging participation.

Review your benefit plans with your insurance broker and support team to make any necessary updates. Identify areas to promote preventive care. Find ways to make information more accessible, whether that means offering webinar boot camps or establishing a 24/7 online portal.

Step 3 – Educate Leadership

Make sure your management team understands the basic elements of your health and retirement plans. Prior to holding a benefits boot camp, sit down with your managers and supervisors to explain your benefit options, updates and why any changes were made. Take the time to explain why you believe participating in retirement, life insurance of health care benefits helps the company as both a recruitment and retention tool.

They don’t have to be experts, but you don’t want to leave them in an awkward position — they should understand the primary options, why any strategy changes are made and be able to explain features like auto enrollment and copayments.

Encourage and Communicate on All Levels

Be wary of relying on only one communication vehicle to reach employees who are sometimes inundated with enrollment materials. Consider using a variety of communication methods, including e-mail, webinars, online outlets, all-staff training presentations and in-person meetings.

Tap into the personal touch by giving employees the opportunity to talk directly with benefits advisors or representatives from insurance carriers (many of these benefit experts are adept at education and answering questions). And train your team leaders to not only pass down benefit training information, but to encourage employee attendance by setting a value for participation.

Prepare to Lead by Example

When a leadership team actively supports and engages in a retirement or health care plan, employees see words in action and they may then place more favorable weight on training and participation recommendations. Make sure you and your leadership team’s behavior actively embraces the importance of benefit plan participation.

Elements of an Employee Benefits Boot Camp

As you design on-boarding procedures, annual meetings (boot camps) and on-going engagement materials, these are some of the elements you will want employees to understand and value:

Saving for Retirement

Nudge participants to enroll, increase savings, or diversify investments based on their personal timeline and financial goals. Make sure your participants understand the context of their defined contribution plan, how they invest, receive matching contributions, access their money and more. The following are important topics you will likely want to address:
Contribution Limits – make sure your participants understand their annual contribution limits based on their age or account type (401k, IRA, etc.).

Employer Matching – make sure your participants understand how the company offers “free” money up to a certain amount or percentage contributed by participant.

Fund Investments Strategies and Options – individuals may experience some anxiety about actively participating in the investments under their defined contribution plans because they don’t feel they have the information to make good investment decisions. Teach participants how to read their investment statement and make any portfolio modifications; you may also want to include materials about investment basics such as diversification and risk tolerance.

Fees and Expenses – fee disclosure is a challenging responsibility, but it is best practice to disclose all fees clearly and regularly so your employees can make accurate financial forecasts.

Access and Distributions – clear and straightforward language should be used to help participants understand 401k loans, hardship withdrawals and income distributions (especially if they are nearing retirement age). It is important that participants understand that while the money can be tapped, a retirement fund is not an ATM; success is coming out the other end of their career with a lifetime income.

Beneficiaries – participants should not only designate beneficiaries at the time they enroll, but they should be reminded to keep this information updated.

Staying Healthy

Health plans can vary wildly from small business reimbursements to full-coverage under large multi-national companies. Generally speaking, businesses will be responsible for informing employees of what benefits are covered, how cost-sharing provisions (premiums, deductibles, coinsurance) or reimbursements work, prices and costs associated with services. Employers will also want to help participants navigate the provider network, read their annual reports, resolve or appeal provider decisions, and file claims.

Regular monthly sessions or in-person meetings with health plan managers can help employees figure out the types of coverage that will serve them best and answer any questions they have in detail.

Ongoing Financial Education

Attempting to impress upon employees the importance of taking care of their health, saving for retirement or protecting their family with life insurance may be a difficult task in the face of a reality where they are struggling financially to make it to the next paycheck. The key to increasing participation in benefit plans may have as much to do with empowering employees with better skills to manage their current finances as it has to do with educating them on company stock options.

For many individuals, budgeting, cash flow planning and debt management are not fully developed skills. Without greater control over their current finances, their ability to invest for the future will likely always remain in doubt. In essence, a comprehensive plan to educate employees on their benefits, improve participation and make informed choices can be broadly categorized as a holistic financial literacy program.

Most employees are better prepared to take on the multifaceted challenges of choosing the right health plan, achieving retirement goals and protecting their family for the long-term if they have a grasp of basic financial skills, such as:

While financial basics may not change, rules and regulations are constantly changing, so it’s important to keep the conversation going with participants. It is good to provide them with resources they can access at anytime, but educational meetings should be held on a periodic basis (or as the need arises). An ongoing education will allow participants to become comfortable with familiar subject material while keeping them keyed into the latest information.

Educating employees about their workplace benefits has gone from unnecessary to essential. While more employers are automatically enrolling employees in their plans and providing educational benefits such as online calculators and professional advisory services, these are not enough to assist the workers. Now is the time for employers to maintain a consistent flow of communication and broaden their education to provide a holistic financial education, the real barriers to consistent benefit participation.

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About Kendrick Lee

Senior writer and business columnist for FSN - Successful businesses, large or small, will lend to successful owners, employees, local communities and markets for continued economic growth. Since there are so many risks, finances and procedures to consider when running a business, Kendrick is dedicated to sharing business tips, strategies and ideas in the public sphere. Find Kendrick on !

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