Training Empowers Employees to Make Smart Benefits Decisions

Traditional benefits communication effortsラusually large packets of content sent through the mail or live meetings at enrollment timeラcan miss their targets or be easily ignored.

By Justyn Harkin

It happens every benefits enrollment season at every company around the country. Employees who want to get the whole benefits enrollment process over and done with simply sleepwalk through some of the most important decisions they could be making for themselves and their families for the rest of the year.

Something has to be done to wake these employees up!

Although employees understand the importance of their benefits decisions, most are confused about what they have to do. Traditional benefits communication methods fall flat. Gumming up the works is a nasty tangle of confusing information, difficult language, and high-stakes repercussions for making the wrong decisions.

The fact is, traditional benefits communication efforts—usually large packets of content sent through the mail or live meetings at enrollment time—can miss their targets or be ignored. By adding a more strategic, training-based component to their communications, however, benefits administrators can prepare employees for difficult benefits choices and help them select the best-fit plans for themselves and their families.

Consider the case of Severn Trent Services, a company whose water treatment technologies and services help protect and preserve the world’s most precious resource in locations around the globe. To better reach employees and keep them engaged about their benefits, the company broadened its benefits communication efforts to offer more intensive tools and resources, one of which provided a dynamic, training-based approach. As a result of this change, Severn Trent Services observed much higher rates of benefits engagement at new hire orientation and annual enrollment.

Easy Does It

Employees just want to make good benefits decisions with as little effort and time spent as possible. To inspire engagement and encourage more thoughtful selections, don’t overwhelm employees with training that requires expert-level comprehension. Also, the training should be concise, consistent, and easy enough for everyone in the company to access.

The employees of Severn Trent Services work on client sites nationwide, and can include groups as small as two employees or as large as 160. Faced with such a geographically disparate workforce, the benefits team wanted to find a better way to educate employees about the complex issues around choosing their best-fit benefit plans.

“I wish we had all 1,600 employees in one place so we could engage them more effectively,” notes Severn Trent Services benefits manager Marnie Vaughan. “Simple logistics is one of our biggest benefits challenges.”

By adding an online training option to its benefits communication efforts, Vaughan and her team were able to provide consistent, easy-to-access information to everyone in the company, including those who work on the road and in the field. They also were able to take some of the benefits burden off of regional HR staff, as well as local managers and supervisors, who could direct new hires to the online training.

Customize Content

To truly engage employees in their benefits choices, make sure your benefits training addresses the issues that matter most to them—as individuals. Ideally you’d do this on a one-on-one basis, but if you don’t have the time or resources to provide that level of training, other options are available. For instance, offering interest-specific group sessions during open enrollment would allow employees to learn more about the topics they care about.

Severn Trent Services was considering some major long-term plan design changes to meet expected Health-Care Reform requirements, and the benefits team wanted help encouraging employees to migrate to the most sustainable and affordable options in the meantime.

“In terms of medical plan choice, people tend to stay where they are out of inertia, or they over-insure out of fear or lack of understanding,” says Vaughan. “We wanted to make it easier for employees to take a closer look at the differences between plans. Then they could make informed choices about what would be a good value for them, and best meet their needs for good care and financial protection.”

By using a training approach that allowed employees to compare plans and receive recommendations based on their input—in other words, showing how benefits could affect the employees personally—the benefits team helped employees see the value in choosing other medical plan options, and a natural migration among the plans continues.

Don’t Be Boring

Nothing turns people off like choking down a poorly conceived training session, and training about benefits can end up on the mind-numbingly dull end of the engagement spectrum if you’re not careful. Avoid employee boredom by using simple language, and don’t be afraid of humor. You’re sure to achieve results when employees realize the content is simple to understand and fun to experience.

Severn Trent Services wanted employees to see its consumer-directed health plan as a viable and valuable choice, and not react with fear to exotic insurance language or the concept of a high deductible. It also wanted to explain how the company’s health savings account (with employer funding) could add great value to this option.

“The ability to take complex issues and make them simple for people to understand was part of what attracted us to the training approach we adopted,” says Vaughan. “I even learned a thing or two myself.”

By presenting its benefits information in plain, conversational English, Severn Trent Services was able to increase employee engagement and understanding of all its benefits options. They even had a few laughs. At the conclusion of its open enrollment period, the benefits team learned that 100 percent of surveyed employees found the tax savings (including HSAs) education useful, and 99 percent found value from the new medical insurance explanations.

The use of an interactive, online tool allowed employees to learn about what mattered to them most, a factor that promoted high levels of engagement. It also empowered employees to make informed decisions when it was time to put their training into practice. Tailoring training to personal situations allowed employees to access the information they wanted when they wanted it while exposing them to options they may not have considered before.

Finally, using simple, jargon-free language ensured that all employees—from executives to maintenance and support personnel—were able to understand and appreciate their benefits options and be satisfied with the choices that they made.

Justyn Harkin writes for, a virtual benefits counselor that provides online benefits education for more than 1 million people across 90-plus organizations.

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