Many small businesses with limited staff use the open enrollment period as the one and only time they discuss benefits with employees. This activity, though necessary, can prove to be overwhelming for the staff to comprehend large amounts of benefits information all at once. Small businesses seeking more effective ways to support employees should implement a year-round benefits communication and education approach instead of limited, intense periods of information overload or otherwise infrequent communication. Doing so can help businesses provide employees with retainable information and make processes such as open enrollment smoother and more effective.
Impact on Retention
Improving benefits communication efforts can have critical business results for smaller companies. To help understand a few revealing workplace realities, the 2011 Aflac WorkForces Report  study found that when it comes to making benefits decisions, a mere 8 percent of workers agree that they are fully engaged in making those decisions, a sentiment their employers share. Some 63 percent of companies agree that workers need to be more engaged, and just half feel their employees take full advantage of the benefits they’re offered.
By proactively encouraging worker engagement when it comes to making benefits decisions, employers can help workers be better prepared and protected against an accident or illness, resulting in significant financial implications for both themselves and their employers.
When evaluating workplace benefits communication at small companies, 39 percent of workers agree they would be less likely to leave their jobs if they were well-informed about their benefits. The turnover cost alone is an incentive for employers to make changes in how and how often their organizations share benefits information.
Small businesses must acknowledge the possibility that communication needs improvement. For example, almost half (46 percent) of employees at small companies say their HR departments communicate too little about employee benefit plans, and just over half (52 percent) of HR decision-makers at small businesses believe they communicate very or extremely effectively with employees.
Reap significant rewards by developing more-effective benefits communications, including healthier, more-protected and more-engaged employees. Four best practices include:
1. Being a Valuable Resource
Without real information, employees often turn to less-than-reliable sources for insight and guidance. The majority of workers (62 percent) get their insurance advice/information from colleagues, friends and family. In fact, employees at small companies are the least likely to get their information/advice about employee benefits from company HR professionals (39 percent).
When employees don’t know better, they don’t do better in terms of adequately protecting their income and well-being, leaving many workers underinsured and vulnerable to the financial ramifications of an unexpected health event. Over time, unexpected health events can impact the productivity of a small business.
2. Using Surveys
Electronic communications have made it easier than ever to survey workers at minimal cost. Unfortunately, little more than half (52 percent) of organizations conduct surveys that increase their understanding of employee satisfaction with benefit offerings. Even fewer—just 43 percent—survey employee understanding of benefits communication.
By taking the time to understand the preferences and needs of workers, employers can increase employee satisfaction with benefits packages and help provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing their employees have adequate protection. Additionally, employers can use these surveys to identify unaddressed health insurance needs, enabling HR decision-makers to better address benefits communication needs and find ways to make benefits information more robust and accessible.
3. Helping Eliminate Common Benefits Mistakes
Roughly 77 percent of workers have admitted to making mistakes about benefits coverage during their open enrollment process, leaving many employees feeling negatively at the end of the year about the process, including being stressed, confused or regretful. A closer look reveals that nearly half of workers (47 percent) say they have made mistakes or have regrets, such as putting too little in their flexible spending account (FSA), or not electing available benefits coverage like voluntary, dental or vision; or chose benefits they didn’t need or chose the wrong level of coverage.
The brevity of annual benefits decisions requires a comprehensive, year-long education and communication program. Best practices include diversifying materials to encompass print, Web, email, and face-to-face meetings; hosting multiple in-person meetings throughout the year; and including spouses in the decision-making.
4. Consider Retaining a Benefits Consultant or Broker
Giving employees the opportunity to speak directly to a benefits advisor or a representative from a brokerage or insurance carrier can be incredibly effective in terms of education. In fact, 50 percent of workers at small companies agree they’d be more informed about benefits if they sat with a consultant or broker during enrollment.
Keeping up with complicated, ever-changing regulations is increasingly difficult, especially for small businesses. Partnering with brokers or benefits consultants can help companies bolster their insurance benefits with little impact on the bottom line. Brokers and benefits consultants can also advise and assist in developing effective communication strategies and enrollment processes.
According to Aflac’s study, companies that use brokers or benefits consultants are likely to offer more robust benefits packages than their competitors, believe their benefits packages are more competitive than those of industry peers, and communicate more often about their organizations’ benefits.
Developing effective benefits communications is difficult, particularly when it comes to educating workers about their insurance options. However, using reinforced, year-round communication, small business HR decision-makers can make information sharing simpler for employees, enabling them to make better choices for their families, and generating stronger retention and greater appreciation for their total compensation packages.
Benefits Package Photo  via Shutterstock