Number of the day: benefits education

The vast majority of employees don’t educate themselves on their benefit options. Here’s what that means for HR leaders.
By: | October 1, 2020 • 2 min read


76%: Percentage of employers that say employees do not open and read communication materials or access resources during open enrollment

The vast majority of employees don’t educate themselves on their benefit options, according to research from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

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What it means to HR leaders

The IFEBP number underscores a familiar problem for HR leaders: Employees do not spend much time on their benefits enrollment or education. Further adding to the problem? Just one-third of employees (34%) have a high level of understanding of health benefits. Over half (52%) have a medium level of understanding, and 15% have a somewhat or very low level of understanding, according to the IFEBP survey.

These figures are always problematic, but more so this year as the pandemic puts the importance of benefits in a new light.

Other research, however, shows some optimism for this year: Half of employees say they’re willing to devote more time to the open enrollment process this year because of COVID-19, according to a recent Aflac survey.

Related: Why coronavirus is driving the value of employee benefits

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A new focus due to COVID-19 puts more pressure on HR and benefit leaders during this year’s open enrollment. Because employees historically don’t know enough about their benefits—and don’t spend time finding out about them—it’s important HR leaders ramp up education and communication to help employees get the information they need.

To encourage employees to read their open enrollment materials, employers say they’re focusing on more COVID-19-related topics when communicating benefits this year, according to IFEBP research. Most employers (87%) say their main topic of focus is healthcare, including telemedicine benefits. Noting the importance of mental health resources during this time of uncertainty, 72% are communicating specifically about mental health benefits as well. Organizations also are emphasizing employee assistance programs and flexible work arrangements.

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at kmayer@lrp.com.