Is Your Staff Making the Most of Employee Benefits?

As much as employees appreciate benefits, they don’t always use them. If this is the situation at your association, the solution starts with you, the employer. Try these tips from a benefits specialist.

In a competitive job market, organizations recognize the value of providing benefits to employees and are spending good money to create an attractive package.

Many employees say beefing up benefits is the one thing employers can do to keep them around. For their part, employers are spending about a third of all employee compensation on a mix of healthcare, paid time off, retirement plans, and other extras.

And yet, benefits are going unused.

Even before the pandemic, employees were letting millions of vacation days go to waste, and in 2020, less than a quarter of eligible employees participated in their company’s retirement plan. Engagement in programs that support employee well-being actually decreased during the pandemic.

Why? In short, employees don’t know enough about their benefits to take full advantage of them.

“The biggest mistake employers make with their benefits package is not communicating often enough about it,” says Julie Stich, vice president of content for the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

“A lot of the challenge falls on the employer to be in constant communication about employee benefits,” Stich says. “It’s easy to tell someone about employee benefits when they’re a new hire and they’re going through the onboarding process.” But when they’re being onboarded, employees are overwhelmed by the information, so it’s often set aside and eventually forgotten.

Constantly Let Employees Know About Their Benefits

If lack of communication is the biggest problem standing in the way of employees using more of their benefits, it’s no surprise that Stich says the solution is to communicate, communicate, communicate.

A 2020 survey conducted by IFEPB showed how crucial it is to constantly communicate about benefits—not just during onboarding and the annual open enrollment period, and not just in one place.

“You have to send emails. You can use text,” Stich says. “If you’ve got an intranet for your HR department or a special benefits portal, put communication there. If you have an employee Facebook page or other types of social media, put information there.”

She acknowledges that more communication may prompt some people to tune out, but she says frequent reminders will build familiarity with the offerings. The internal dialogue might become, “I don’t quite understand that benefit, but at least I know I can go ask my HR or benefits department about it.”

Other Ways to Encourage Use of Benefits

Beyond communication, here are some tactics associations can employ to increase benefits usage:

Educate employees on what’s offered. Sometimes, it’s more than not knowing what benefits are available. It’s not understanding them. Take the retirement plan: Early career professionals may not contribute to the 401(k) thinking there isn’t money to spare, but that’s when compounding interest has the greatest impact on the growth of the account. “It doesn’t have to be a lot,” Stich says. “It’s really important for an employer to educate their employees about the importance of saving for retirement. If the employer is offering a match, tell them how important it is to at least save up as much as will get you the full match, because otherwise it’s like leaving money on the table.”

Mark milestones. Though employees might not need a certain benefit when they start at the association, that may change when they get married or get divorced, go back to school, buy a house, or have or adopt a child. “Maybe the employer hears about an employee who’s getting married, and they have some communication pieces to send out that might be more applicable for that employee,” Stich says. “Maybe they want to remind them about family benefits that are available.” Since employers are not always privy to employees entering new life phases, she says it’s a good idea to arrange some benefits information by life stage and remind employees that it’s there when they need it.

Reevaluate your package. It’s possible that employees are not using your benefits because the benefits are not useful. To find out, “an employer might want to consider doing a survey of their employees to ask them what value they find in the benefits that they are offered, especially if they’re finding low utilization on a certain type of benefit,” Stich says. “Maybe it could be replaced by something else.”


(tumsasedgars/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Matt Morgan

By Matt Morgan

Matt Morgan is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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