5 Ways to Help Employees Make the Best Use of Benefits Ample benefits are a lure to top talent, yet research shows employees often don't take full advantage of what's offered.

By Matt Straz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

jarmoluk via Pixabay

In the ongoing war for talent, more employers are looking to benefits as a new way to attract and retain great employees.

In fact, 41 percent of 2,595 employers, surveyed by MetLife earlier this year, ranked retention as the top objective of their employee benefits program, in the company's 13th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study.

Yet, benefits participation is not as great as it could be. The 2015 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey found that workers spend 10 times more effort on vacation planning and eight times more on selecting a computer than on choosing benefits.

What's more, more than half (56 percent) devote 30 minutes or less when signing up for healthcare benefits. That means a good number of employees aren't taking full advantage of the offerings employers have.

Here are some ways employers can encourage benefits participation:

1. Help them understand what's being offered.

To take advantage of benefits, employees need to understand what options are available, what's covered and what steps they need to take.

A study published in the journal Health Services Research in May 2013, found a large portion of work-related injuries and illnesses are not billed to workers' comp insurance. In the study, nearly 40 percent of the 3,881 work-related cases examined were not expected to be covered by workers' compensation insurance.

It seems the main barrier here is lack of awareness and education. Yet, with the right communication, employees will be more inclined to participate in a benefits program. MetLife found 45 percent of employees said their companies' benefit communications helped them understand the specific services for which they're paying and effectively educated them about options.

Educate employees about the different plans available to them. Communicate the role benefits play in overall well-being and help employee understand the specific protections each benefits plan offers.

Related: The 25 Best Companies for Employee Compensation and Benefits

2. Make plans customizable to meet individual needs.

Forty percent of employees say having a wide selection of benefits would make them feel more loyal to their employer, according to MetLife.

Provide plenty of benefits options including medical, dental, and vision from leading carriers. Allow employees to customize plans with affordable options to meet their individual needs.

3. Offer ancillary benefits to boost financial security.

About half of employees experiencing financial stress are looking to their employers for help in achieving financial security through benefits, according to MetLife.

Offer life or disability insurance to help employees and their families feel secure. Care for employees' financial future by supporting a 401(k) plan or FSA. Additionally, consider offering other wellness perks like commuter benefits or health club memberships to mitigate day-to-day financial burdens and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Related: How HR Can Communicate Important-But-Boring Stuff to New Hires

4. Talk about benefits outside of open enrollment.

It's only becoming more essential that employees understand benefits as decisions are shifting from being primarily in the hands of the employer to the employee, MetLife's study implies.

Talking about benefits only during open enrollment is not enough. Communicate to employees about benefits in a way that reflects seasons and life events throughout the year. For example, for those employees planning to start a family, have information already prepared regarding doctor visits and childcare.

Offer educational tools and channels preferred by employees so they can stay informed year-round to make better purchasing decisions.

5. Make it easy to sign up.

Open enrollment can be a overwhelming time for both HR and employees. If employees have to wait too long, don't receive the information they need, or feel the sign-up process is too complicated, they may obtain benefits elsewhere -- either as a dependant or by taking out their own personal plan.

Streamline the enrollment process by enabling online self sign-up. Use a benefits system that automatically enrolls employees with carriers using electronic data interchange feeds -- taking extra paperwork off HR's desk. Provide employees with digital guides to walk them through the sign-up process.

Related: Pinterest Made a Deal With Employees That Could Rock the Startup World

Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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