Employees Want Employer Help with Benefit Decisions

May 29, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employers and their human resource departments are now the number one source consulted for advice during open enrollment season (63%), according to MetLife's 2008 Open Enrollment Survey.

In a press release, MetLife said other sources of advice cited by respondents included coworkers (55%), spouse (54%), and benefits advisers (39%). More than a quarter (27%) of workers said they plan to listen to and act on their HR department’s advice during their next benefits selection period.

According to the release, among those workers that reported having access to resources to help them make informed decisions, 82%, were satisfied with their benefits offerings while 51% of employees who stated that they didn’t get the resources they needed said the same. Employees who feel confident about their benefits decisions credit themselves (80%) for their confidence more so than their employers (26%); however, employees who didn’t feel confident blamed their employer (54%) for their lack of confidence more so than themselves (45%).

The survey found more than a quarter of employees (27%) now pay at least half their benefit cost and 17% pay the majority. Perhaps because of the increased financial responsibility for benefits nearly half (47%) of employees now say they read their open enrollment materials from cover to cover.

However, respondents indicated they need materials and tools that are more consumer-friendly and interactive. While 22% of employees surveyed said they were happy during last year’s open enrollment period, 25% said they felt confused and 24% said they felt frustrated. The confusion and frustration could be the reason why three-quarters of employees made no changes to their 2008 employee benefits selection during their most recent enrollment period although nearly half (44%) experienced a major life event, such as a divorce, having a baby, buying a home, or getting married.

Those employees who did make modifications cited the availability of new benefits offered by employer (23%) as their primary reason and 10% cited education offered by their employer. Among established families, the percentage of employees basing their benefits changes/elections on educational materials jumps to 19%.

When asked what their HR department could do to make the open enrollment process easier, employees suggested providing more information about benefits (23%), presenting benefits information in an easier to understand format (25%), or offering guidelines or instructions for "people like me" (24%). Employees also indicated a need for straightforward product information.

More than one-third (37%) of respondents said they are confused by annuities. Almost a third (31%) indicated they have trouble understanding legal services plans, while one quarter have trouble understanding critical illness insurance.

Two-thirds (66%) of employees surveyed said they find meetings and seminars with HR representatives during open enrollment extremely or very helpful, but only 30% of employers offered such programs. A majority (79%) of employees said calculators or decision tools would be extremely or very helpful, but only 10% of employers offered these tools.

When it comes to the benefits that employees would most like their employers to consider adding, dental insurance (56%) tops the list, followed by vision insurance (47%) and prescription drug plans (32%).

MetLife's new white paper entitled "Open Enrollment at a Crossroad: New Employee Expectations, New Employer Opportunities" can be downloaded at www.whymetlife.com/enrollment2 .