It’s important for employers to educate employees about the benefits they offer—and encourage employees to use those benefits when needed. Employers may be surprised to find that they could be doing more. Health insurance literacy (the ability to interpret and understand health insurance information) is very low among employees. According to American Institutes for Research, three of four American adults said they knew how to use their health insurance. However, only one in four American adults could correctly calculate out-of-pocket costs.
Ensure your handbook is up to date. Make sure that your employee handbook has up to date language on insurance benefits, paid time off, FMLA, ADA, and grievance procedures. You should regularly check your handbook to ensure that you’re giving the correct information to your employees. Your handbook often protects you as an employer.
Go into detail during orientation. Instead of listing or briefly reviewing a benefit, go through the benefit in detail for your new employees.
- For health insurance: don’t just list the plans and the copays. Help employees understand how to compare plans’ Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC). SBCs are consistent across all ACA-compliant plans so employees can compare apples to apples when choosing plans. Go over deductibles, balanced billing, and out-of-pocket costs in detail. For more information on how insurance works, visit MHA’s web page.
- For time off: don’t just give employees the number of hours or calculations for their paid time off. Use this as an opportunity to encourage vacations for work-life balance, use of sick leave to prevent spreading illness at work, and describing the company culture around taking time off. Give employees advance notice of busy seasons and explain early on how taking time off around major holidays might work. Address how sick leave might be used to take care of sick family members.
- For Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): don’t just present an EAP as a service that employees can use when they’re sick. Successful employers have found that normalizing EAP usage by having managers or employees explain real contacts with an EAP program can help drive up EAP usage. EAPs often can be used as resources for healthy people—they can find doctors for family members or find financial representatives, for example.
- For telework and flexible schedules: don’t just have a policy that explains how and when an employee can work remotely. Use this opportunity to educate employees about tips and best practices for staying engaged remotely. Encourage them to communicate with managers and get accustomed to virtual technology.
Hold meetings or go into detail annually before/during open enrollment. Most of us focus the most on benefits during open enrollment for health insurance. Instead of only sending an email or listing materials on a company Intranet, hold one or more meetings to answer questions about all benefits during this time. Highlight important and significant changes, show employees how to use new benefits (especially ones that involve technology), and invite brokers or representatives from your health care company to answer more in-depth questions that employees have. Use this opportunity for senior leadership or management to showcase how they have used employee benefits to encourage usage by all.
Communicate regularly throughout the year. In addition to meetings during open enrollment, have periodic calendar reminders set so you can email employees about benefits throughout the year. You can use newsletters or the company Intranet to send employee information out. For example, you can use Q1 to let employees know about telehealth options, Q2 to advertise preventive care, Q3 to help employees navigate their insurance network, and Q4 to promote the use of the EAP.
Have a place where employees can ask questions anonymously. Encourage employees to ask anonymous questions and share their responses with other employees. Often, if someone has a question, someone else may have a similar question but might be afraid to ask it. It’s easy to set up a Google Form, but any technology will work.