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Custom CommunicationsAs an employer, you understand the importance of providing a comprehensive benefits package to your employees. But if your HR communications aren’t driving home the value of these benefits in a way your employees understand, you’re missing the mark.

Right now, job satisfaction is at near record lows, with a recent Gallup Poll finding that 70 percent of Americans are dissatisfied at work. Moreover, a recent industry survey found that the perception of financial security is dropping, with 11 percent fewer people viewing themselves as financially secure as did two years ago.

Now consider this: the overall job satisfaction and feelings of financial security felt by your employees is directly related to their benefits education. In fact, that same industry survey found that for employees who considered their benefits education to be very good or excellent, 82 percent were highly satisfied at work. For those who were unsatisfied with their benefits education, that figure dropped to 26 percent.

The takeaway here, is that by overcoming common HR communications challenges and improving the way you present benefits information to your employees, you can help improve satisfaction, loyalty and productivity in the workplace.

Overcoming Common Challenges

One of the key mistakes employers make in providing benefits education to their employees is assuming that employees are receiving and understanding the value of their voluntary benefits plans. When polled, 40 percent of employees who were offered disability insurance reported that they felt uncomfortable making an informed decision about their enrollment options because they didn’t receive adequate educational materials describing the coverage. Yet, these benefits are very important to employees, with 82 percent of survey respondents putting a higher premium on voluntary benefits since the recession.

To get the biggest ROI for your employee benefits, consider the following tips:

1. Appeal to your employees’ individual learning styles by providing educational materials in a variety of formats. Employees appreciate having access to materials in various formats and many will use a combination of the resources you provide. Between printed brochures, informational videos, worksheets and interactive tools, you’ll make it easy for employees to choose the resources that help them best understand the value of their benefits options.

2. Create personalized communications materials that speak directly to your employees – no matter what stage of life they’re in. Targeted messages will resonate much more deeply with your employees, particularly among those in the 18-34 age range, who may have a difficult time understanding the value of enrolling in a benefits plan.

3. Don’t wait until open enrollment to educate employees about their benefits options. Make benefits education a year-round discussion by providing educational resources to your employees at least twice a year. This will help emphasize the value and importance of these plans, while giving employees plenty of time to consider the options that work best for their needs.

4. Give them time to review and understand the materials you provide. The industry survey found that employees who had at least three weeks to review and digest their benefits materials were much more satisfied with their benefits education as a whole. By providing employees with a minimum of three weeks to review benefits information, you give them time to ask questions, discuss enrollment options with family, conduct independent research or attend an informational meeting.

5. Provide a clear explanation of benefit so employees understand the value of the plan, the benefits they’ll receive and when to sign up.

As health care reform takes effect, it’s becoming even more important for employers to improve their benefits communications strategy. Employees will have questions about aspects of the Affordable Care Act and how it affects them and their benefits plans. Make sure you have the information they need by planning now.

Just because the employer mandate has been delayed, it doesn’t mean you can delay talking to your employees about ACA.

Your employees are now hearing a lot about ACA on the news, from their friends, and online. If you haven’t already begun to communicate the latest on ACA to your employees, the clock is ticking!

 What should you tell them?

While each company has to decide how to best tell the ACA story, when it comes to communicating the 1/1/14 ACA changes to your employees, you need to tell them a lot about exchanges, what you offer in the way of medical coverage (and how it complies with the ACA) and give them guidance about what they should do if they do not qualify for your company-provided medical plans.

 So… how it will affect your benefits offering?

Much of what your employees are hearing in the media focuses on how individuals who currently are without medical insurance will be able to purchase coverage with a January 1, 2014 effective date. But if you offer a medical plan, what most of your employees will need to know is what kind of changes they will be seeing in your upcoming Open Enrollment materials—including how much their benefits will cost next year. If some of your employees will need to purchase coverage through the exchanges (due to your plan’s eligibility requirements), you’ll need to let them know that, too—by October 1, 2013.

 Honesty is the best policy

In your employee communications, be sure to indicate why certain changes are being made (i.e., to control health care costs) and how it will affect their bottom line. Also, if you’re making major plan changes, rolling out new wellness programs, introducing HSAs or other new plan features, be sure to explain the strategy behind those changes. Many employers adopt a “we’re in this together” approach to let their employees know that both the company and employees benefit when health care costs are contained, and employees do their part to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Don’t just say your benefit changes are “due to health care reform” if they’re not. And don’t be afraid to let your employees know that change is the new normal—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the right messaging, you can position new plan features as benefit enhancements, even when costs are rising.

Explain the buzz words!

Finally, when it comes to health care reform, be sure that your employees understand essential terms and what they mean in the new ACA world, like “exchanges,”  “minimum essential coverage,” “subsidies,” “gold, silver, and bronze plans.” Do what you can to help take the mystery out of health care reform.

With key deadlines associated with the Affordable Care Act fast approaching, many employers are realizing that this is the biggest and most highly-complex compliance challenge they’ve ever faced.  They’re also realizing that this increased complexity is going to create an administrative burden on their HR departments.

Now is the time to make sure you have the tools and resources you need to ensure your company is prepared for the new regulations when they take effect next year. One way to do this is to implement a benefits platform that is powerful enough to automate routine tasks, reduce paperwork and streamline the entire benefits administration process.

Here is how Custom Communication’s bswift platform is helping employers prepare for the upcoming changes:

Employer Shared Responsibility

As of January 1, 2014, employers with 50 or more full-time employees will be required to offer affordable health insurance coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents. “Affordable” coverage is defined as insurance that pays at least 60 percent of covered health care expenses and doesn’t exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income for the taxable year.

How bswift can help: bswift reporting allows employers to quickly determine whether an employee’s individual insurance cost exceeds the 9.5 percent threshold.

Automatic Enrollment

Employers with 200 or more full-time employees will be required to automatically enroll new employees in the company’s group health plan.

How bswift can help: bswift streamlines this process through its automatic enrollment feature.

Form W-2 Reporting

Employers issuing 250 or more W-2s for calendar year 2011 were required to include the value of their group health insurance coverage on each employee’s 2012 W-2 form. This provision will be ongoing and will affect W-2s for all future calendar years.

How bswift can help: bswift tracks employee and employer contributions annually, automatically calculating the total cost of insurance coverage for each employee each year.

Determining Full-time and Part-time Statuses

Beginning in 2014, large employers must track each employee’s monthly status as full time or part time and report these statuses to the IRS. A full-time employee is classified as someone working 30 or more hours a week or 130 or more hours a month.

How bswift helps: bswift can track the number of hours worked and has the ability to determine “pay” or “play.”

Wellness Incentives

Beginning on January 1, 2014, wellness incentives will increase from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of health insurance coverage. These wellness programs may include both participatory wellness programs, such as reimbursements for gym memberships, or health-contingent wellness programs, such as rewards for those who don’t smoke.

How bswift helps: bswift can track wellness incentives and surcharges, integrate with wellness vendors to track activity and link to a wellness portal for integration.

Employee Notice of Exchange

As of October 1, 2013, employers must provide all current employees with a notice describing the availability of exchange coverage. This Notice of Exchange must also be provided to all new hires within 14 days of their employment date.

How bswift helps: bswift will include this employee acknowledgement along with other materials as part of the new hire on-boarding process.

Have questions about other ways bswift reduces the increased administrative burden of the ACA? Contact Jason Hancock at (508) 946-2693 or at jhancock@custom-comm.com