Benefits Participation Requires Education

Many companies work hard to offer great benefit plans to their employees. But plan documents can be hard to understand and may discourage employees from enrolling at all – and if they do enroll, they may not use their benefits as much as they could, or should. As a result, employers pay for benefits not all employees are using in full and employees aren’t staying or getting healthy.

Study after study has shown that employees want and need help understanding their benefits, and not just during the enrollment season. Employees crave help, reminders and information year-round.

What employers need to share

Employees may make costly mistakes in how they approach healthcare, especially those who are new to the benefits plan. And if they had a bad experience in the past, they may be hesitant even to seek preventive care in the future. When employees don’t take care of themselves, they can’t do their best at work. A little educational help from their employers can go a long way in enabling workers to use their benefits to stay healthy and productive.

As an example, employers may offer a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). For 2022, employees can contribute up to $2,850 into an FSA to use for a wide variety of health products and services. Contributions are deducted each pay period before taxes are calculated to lower taxable income. But due in part to many employees not fully understanding how to use the accounts, an estimated $400 million is lost by FSA account holders each year.

Some employers with employees enrolled in high deductible health plans offer Health Savings Accounts (HSA).These tax-advantaged benefit accounts can also be used on health and wellness products and services. However, a Willis Towers Watson survey found that 69% of eligible employees did not enroll in an HSA because they did not understand some part of the program. These accounts can also serve as investment accounts, but only 15% of account owners actually use this part of the benefit.

New enrollment packet

Every enrollment season, employees should receive a packet containing important information. At a minimum, employers need to provide:

  • Summary Plan Description (SPD) – First, provide plan documents that are as easy-to-read as possible and explain plan details including limits, copays and deductibles.
  • Member ID Cards – Next, make sure members have ID cards for their accounts. The cards should show the member name, member number, group number, and important phone numbers.
  • Network Information – Be sure to explain the difference between in-network and out-of-network doctors. Help employees determine the best in-network providers for their needs, including hospitals and specialists.
  • Problem Resolution Process – If the insurance company won’t pay a claim, make sure employees know who to contact to question the denial and ask for a review.

Ways to provide education

Employees in today’s workplaces cover a range of ages and cultures. Generational groups include Baby BoomersGen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Plus, more people are entering the workforce who have disabilities. Others come from different countries, or speak other languages. They may all be comfortable learning in different ways. So, employers should provide a variety of education tools to help employees make the best choices. Some suggestions follow.


  • Group meetings – Hold company meetings, either virtual or in-person, and follow-up with answers to any questions.
  • Individual meetings – Some employees may not be comfortable asking questions in a group setting. Encourage them to talk to management one-on-one.
  • Health and wellness fairs – Live or virtual fairs can connect employees to plan representatives to ask questions and receive information.

Online tools

  • Web-based communications – Employees who practically live on their devices might prefer a web portal, blogs, webinars and videos to learn about and manage their benefits.
  • Emails – If you need to send short reminders, follow-ups, and plan updates, emails are a quick, easy way to do so.
  • Social media – Employers should communicate year-round, especially with seasonally appropriate information and updates. Social channels are a great way to share information and provide a place for employees to refer colleagues to providers they had good experiences with.

Other Tools

  • Print media – Some employees may prefer brochures, flyers, and mailers, but the same information can be hosted online as well. You don’t need to duplicate all initiatives.
  • Make it interesting – Not many people enjoy, or look forward to, reading stacks of benefits information. So, employers are turning to programs that are interactive and engaging to increase employee engagement and education. Infographics are a great way to do this!
  • Management – Get managers to talk about the plan(s) and share their insight to create a big impact on enrollment and participation.

Good communication tips

Benefits education and communication need to come in different forms. An effective communications plan should have information and recommendations based on age, lifestyle and financial status. Break up information into short, engaging bites that focus on employee issues.

Useful activities and different communication pieces can result in more educated employees who actually want to participate. For assistance in effectively communicating benefits information, consult with a trusted third-party benefits administrator (TPA) or your benefits broker.