Many employers and benefit managers with calendar-year plans are wading into the thick of enrollment season, filling their time with employee meetings and tracking the sign-ups. Enrollment, however, can be more than just presentations and forms — it can serve as a great opportunity to reconnect and communicate to employees the value of their compensation and benefits, experts say.
“In this difficult economic environment, there may be many reasons employee morale has not bounced back,” said Bill Dalicandro, vice president at Unum, in a recent report by the Society for Human Resource Management. “But our research shows that benefits education can be a highly effective, low-cost way to boost engagement.”
A study by Unum, however, suggests that many employers are missing the mark when it comes to enrollment communication. Data from the 2010 enrollment season show that nearly a third of workers said the benefit education materials from their employer was inadequate. Only about half of employees said they received printed materials about their benefits, the survey found. Slightly more than a third of poll respondents said their company sponsored some kind of question-and-answer session about their benefits.
To get the most out of enrollment, employers need to start with a plan, according to a recent article by Robert Ellerbrock of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP. Ellerbrock suggests employers create checklists of all tasks and make sure they have enough time to train any staff members who would be responsible for answering employees’ questions.
Ellerbrock said employers should try to announce benefit meetings about three or four weeks in advance and should consider individual meetings, if that is possible. He warned employers about using electronic materials to promote benefit education. “Many employers find the idea of electronic enrollment appealing,” Ellerbrock wrote. “However, it is important to remember that providing benefit information electronically is subject to significant regulations.”
In addition to fostering morale and worker satisfaction, enrollment serves as a good time to distribute required employee notices.
Mary Bauman of the law firm Miller Johnson recently highlighted a number of notices that should be considered for an enrollment packet:
Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act: This is an annual notice that can be issued as part of a summary plan description (SPD), as long as the SPD is reissued each year.
HIPAA: This notice, to be distributed every three years, explains an employee’s health information privacy rights.
CHIPRA: (Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act). Employees have the right to enroll in an employer’s health plan if the participant becomes eligible for a state premium assistance subsidy under Medicaid or the CHIP.
PPACA Grandfathered Status: Employers with plans that are exempt from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because they are grandfathered must notify participants of that exemption and must include contact information for questions.