'Early Adopter" Employers Sign on for Targeted Benefits Communication

April 24, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Only about a quarter (23%) of employers - and 44% of large firms with at least 25,000 employees - are ready to sign on to offer a targeted benefits campaign, a survey has found.

A MetLife news release said that its Employee Benefits Trends Study polled both workers and employers about their views on a communications effort designed around an employee’s life stages and/or personal demographics.

A MetLife spokeswoman said the comparatively low employer sign-on rate so far illustrates the fact that companies are historically used to viewing their workforce as one homogenous group to be communicated with the same way.

“Unlike the consumer products and retail financial services sectors where customers have been segmented for years,” said Toni Griffin, MetLife’s Public Relations director. “The workforce has traditionally been viewed as a single group. The 23% of employers – and 44% of large employers – who are interested in life-stage communications are the leading edge of the new guard. They are the early adopters who are viewing the workforce as a diverse group of employee-consumers and who are looking to customize benefits to boost recruiting, retention and overall employee satisfaction.”

According to the news release, among certain life stages – e.g., Singles – more than 80% of employees believe their companies need to provide better benefits education to help workers to make the best benefit choices.

In fact, most employees feel unprepared to make benefits decisions for themselves and/or their families. Only one-third (38%) of the employees surveyed by MetLife report understanding which benefits offerings best meet their life-stage needs. Among Singles and Young Families, the percentages drop to 31% and 34% respectively.

“To maximize their employees’ understanding of – and appreciation for – their benefits program, employers should provide targeted benefits education and advice based on employee life stage,” said Ben Colvin, vice president, Institutional Marketing at MetLife, in the news release. “Steps can be taken to proactively remind employees about key trigger events – getting married, buying a home, having a child – which create a need to reevaluate insurance coverage and savings contributions. Open enrollment and benefits communication channels may also need to be customized based on life stage.”

The Workplace as Benefit Supermarket

Exacerbating the need for benefits education and advice is employees’ growing dependence on the workplace as a channel for purchasing protection, investment and advisory-related products. Currently 40% of all employees purchase more financial and protection products (e.g., life insurance, dental insurance, banking products, etc.) through the workplace than outside of work. By life stage, Singles (41%) and Young Families (40%) are somewhat more likely than Baby Boomers (38%) and Pre-retirees (25%) to purchase the majority of their financial products at work.

However, only 29% of Singles and 37% of Young Families, for example, feel confident in their ability to make the right financial decisions. Not surprisingly, then, a large percentage (37%) of employees say they would like their companies to provide access to a financial planner. Nearly half (43%) would also like access to 401(k) planning advice.

Despite employee desire for planning and advice, many employers do not see education/advice as a top priority. When asked about their most important benefits objectives, employers listed “controlling health/welfare benefits costs” (53%) as their number one priority. Only 14% identified “helping employees make better benefits decisions” as very important.

As a result, only 28% of employers believe that their benefits communications programs effectively educate employees about benefits choices. And, more than two-thirds (67%) of employers believe their workers do not understand the value/cost of the insurance benefits that they provide.

The MetLife Employee Benefits Trend Study was conducted during late 2005 and consists of two distinct surveys, one which polls employees and the other, employers. The employee survey, fielded by NOP World in September, polled 885 full-time employees (age 21 and older) at companies with at least two employees, and an additional 328 employees who work part-time and/or are currently on maternity leave. The employer survey polled a total of 1,514 HR/Benefits executives from companies with at least two employees, and was fielded in September by GfK NOP.

For a copy of the study, visit http: www.whymetlife.com/trends1 .