Benefits Choices Hold Steady in Spite of Economy

September 3, 2009 ( - According to MetLife's new 2009 Open Enrollment Poll, nearly nine in 10 employees are planning to maintain or increase the number of benefits they select and/or their coverage for next year despite the fact that over one-third (37%) said their household's discretionary income decreased this year.

A MetLife press release said only 11% of workers plan to decrease their 2010 benefits coverage, and nearly one-quarter of those planning to decrease coverage this year indicated they will increase their benefits during next year’s open enrollment period if the economy improves.

“Recent economic events have caused many to be more mindful and appreciative of the benefits provided to them at work, which often form the foundation of their personal safety nets,” said Ronald Leopold, vice president for MetLife’s U.S. Business, in the press release. He added that the low number of employees who plan to pare back when it comes to selecting benefits for 2010 “shows that they continue to value their benefits as essential to helping them plan for the future while protecting themselves and their families.”

Eighty-nine percent of respondents said they are somewhat or very confident in their ability to evaluate their options and pick the right employee benefits for themselves and their families. Three-quarters of employees (76%) plan to spend approximately the same amount of time this year as last when it comes to selecting their benefits. Only 3% of all workers surveyed said that they are not confident in their ability to evaluate their options and select the right benefits.

Thirteen percent of employees reported they plan to spend more time on their benefits decisions during this year’s open enrollment period. Nearly two-thirds of them (64%) indicated this was because of current economic events/financial security, and 31% cited a major life event. In addition, 15% said think they made some wrong decisions on the employee benefits they selected during last year’s open enrollment.

According to MetLife, employer communication makes a notable difference in employee engagement in their benefits decisions. Of employees who say they will spend more time making benefits decisions this open enrollment season, 29% say their employer has been communicating more about the importance of employee benefits.

In a press release, MetLife offered several steps employers can take to ensure that employees get the information they need to make informed decisions:

  • Total compensation statements: For employers seeking to improve communications, distributing personalized, clear and understandable Total Compensation Statements, which communicate to employees the value of their total compensation and benefits, should be a top and immediate priority, according to MetLife. MetLife's Study of Employee Benefit Trends found only 43% of employers provide a Total Compensation Statement.
  • Decision- support tools: As medical insurance decisions tend to consume employee mindshare during open enrollment, employees often spend less time thinking about their need for other benefits. But some of these other protection products (e.g., life insurance or disability) can have a significant impact on family finances during times of income loss. Tools like Web-based calculators, which MetLife says remain the number one unsatisfied employee request, can advise employees on which benefits to select and proper coverage levels, and many can be found free of charge on the Internet or through most benefits providers.
  • Personalized materials: Provide access to information based on employee life stage and life events (e.g., getting married, having a child, buying a home). Recognize that the "one size fits all" approach to benefits communication is not as effective, and employees want customized advice for people like them.
  • Multiple communication channels: Recognize that a diverse workforce will have people that want to receive information in different ways. This includes a mix of communication channels such as onsite educational programs, telephonic consultation services, and online decision support tools.
  • Off-cycle enrollment: Over one-third of employees (38%) would be interested in learning about and modifying their benefits choices more frequently than once a year, in particular those that are planning on spending more time on their benefits decisions (64%), the Open Enrollment Poll found. One solution is an off-cycle enrollment period with a focused enrollment on one single benefit. This could result in higher enrollment rates, and greater employee benefits satisfaction and confidence in open enrollment decisions, MetLife said.

The Open Enrollment Poll surveyed 1,000 full-time employees by telephone in late July 2009.