Employees want voluntary benefits but don’t always understand them

Results of a new survey show that more U.S. employers are offering voluntary benefits and more workers are selecting them during the 2022 open enrollment cycle. Other research, however, has found that Employees still have little understanding of voluntary benefits and do not take full advantage of them.

Aon, a professional services company, said the growth was due to employers’ efforts to retain talent amid the Great Recession and employee demand for supplemental health insurance products during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.

In April, the company reported a 41 percent increase in the number of employers who offered new or additional voluntary benefits through Aon and a 16 percent increase in the number of workers eligible for these benefits from 2021 to 2022.

Employee enrollment increased in more than half of the 10 most popular voluntary benefits during the latest open enrollment cycle compared to the previous year. By including family beneficiaries, Aon helped employers serve more than 14 million participants in 2022.

“Over the past two years, it seems like every employee knows someone who has been hospitalized or become seriously ill from COVID-19,” said Dani McCauley, head of U.S. customer experience. for consumer benefits solutions at Aon. “There is an increased awareness of the risks associated with hospitalization and critical illness, and along with the growth of high-deductible health plans, employees want to protect themselves against this potential financial burden. »

The fastest growing voluntary benefits include supplementary health insurance policies such as critical illness, accident and hospitalization benefits, in which employees pay a small monthly premium but receive a direct cash payment to help cover their expenses if they are hospitalized or diagnosed with certain serious illnesses. Other popular voluntary benefits in 2021 were life insurance, student loan assistance programs, identity theft protection, legal benefits, pet care, and auto/home protections.

“Over the past two open enrollment cycles, employers have focused on using voluntary benefits to improve total compensation strategies and build workforce resiliency to retain talent,” said Greg Morano, Aon U.S. practice leader for employee benefits solutions.

Benefits not included

Nearly three-quarters (70%) of benefit-eligible employees agree that they are more likely to work for an employer that offers voluntary employee-paid benefits, including benefits such as critical illness, hospital pay, disability benefits or accident insurance. according to a January survey of 1,005 adults by benefits provider Voya Financial. However, less than half (49%) of eligible employees actually took advantage of this voluntary coverage offered by their employer.

Voya’s survey also found that nearly a third (31%) of U.S. workers admitted to not fully understanding any of the benefits they selected during their most recent open enrollment period.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made American workers realize that their health and wealth needs are inextricably linked. As a result, more individuals are reconsidering the value they place on workplace benefits when it comes to employment decisions, especially in today’s competitive workplace. ‘today. market,” said Rob Grubka, CEO of Health Solutions, Voya Financial. “The challenge is that while many workers are well-intentioned, the reality is that voluntary benefits can be confusing. It often takes time for employees to properly educate themselves or get the help they need to feel comfortable choosing benefits they likely never received. previously registered.

Employer and employee perceptions

Employers and employees don’t always agree on the quality and value of benefits offered, according to benefits consulting and services firm Buck’s. 2022 Well-being and Voluntary Benefits Survey report.

Employers were four times more likely than employees to consider that their organization had significantly increased its level of commitment to employee well-being, Buck found. Survey responses were collected from 218 participating employers and 683 employees in November 2021.

Among other key findings:

  • Employers are increasingly focusing on mental health issues, prioritizing programs that address issues caused by stress, anxiety/depression and burnout. Despite these efforts, 21 percent of employees report that their mental health has deteriorated over the past year, and only 28 percent view existing employer mental health resources as “helpful.”
  • Employers and employees cite mental well-being as a high priority, but employers consistently underestimate the stress stemming from financial well-being. while employees consider it a major concern. Overall, less than a third of employees view employer resources as helpful in meeting their top priorities.

Going forward, 95% of employers plan to focus their investments on physical wellness initiatives, but employees say what they need most are programs that support their financial well-being. Only 43 percent of employees consider themselves “financially healthy,” compared to 66 percent of employers who rate their workers as financially healthy. More than half of employees feel like they’re living paycheck to paycheck, and a third aren’t sure how well they manage their money.

“We found that key drivers of employee retention include employees’ perceptions of their organization’s commitment to their overall well-being, diverse benefits options, and effective communications that raise awareness of employee benefits offerings. their employer,” said Ruth Hunt, director of Buck’s engagement practice. and co-author of the report. “To continue to attract and retain top talent, it is essential that employers implement and promote programs that address the whole person’s well-being and significantly reduce the gap between management’s perceptions and expectations. realities of employees.”

Tips for Evaluating Voluntary Benefit Programs

Krystie Dascoli, Boston-based voluntary benefits manager at professional services firm Marsh McLennan Agency and board chair of the Voluntary Benefits Association, shared six tips to help employers evaluate their benefits program voluntary social services.

1. Understand workforce demographics. Distributing your workforce by age, gender, salary and location can help ensure that benefit offerings meet employees’ needs, so they find value for the premiums they pay.

2. Find the gaps. Employers may offer a high-deductible health plan with a partially funded health savings account (HSA) and think they’ve filled a benefits gap, but many employees deplete their HSA funds each year. Additional compensation coverage in the event of an accident, critical illness or hospitalization provides financial protection so that HSA dollars can continue to grow. Other savings opportunities for employees include offering employer discounts on auto and home insurance, as well as purchasing programs that allow employees to pay over time.

3. Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark. Compare voluntary plans to those of your industry peers and review them periodically to determine if they include best-in-class offerings. Operators are continually introducing new benefits that are not always added to existing plans.

4. Communicate information. The more employees understand their benefits, the more they will use them and find them useful. Use and evaluate a multi-faceted communications strategy that explains how voluntary benefits can meet the needs of employees at every stage of life.

5. Ensure integration. Is enrollment aligned with core benefits or do employees need to log in to another platform? Is it the same for filing claims? The integration of voluntary benefits with basic benefit registration and claims submission highlights that these benefits work together.

6. Perform a compliance review. Review all plans annually for compliance with federal and state laws and regulations.

Related SHRM articles:

Spice up routine benefits offerings to attract and retain talent, SHRM onlineApril 2022

Benefits become a reason to join or stay with an employer, SHRM onlineApril 2022


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