Grouping Benefits to Enhance Financial Wellness

Instead of giving employees a list of benefit products, plan sponsors should consider presenting them as resources for different life stages, which can lead to better participation.

Packaging a group of benefits and using one communication strategy for an entire workforce can be arduous and generic. A MetLife study suggests that, instead, employers should organize a suite of tools designed to navigate an employee’s financial well-being at every stage of their lives.

As workforces diversify and face greater challenges, employers are tasked with offering benefits that support financial, physical, mental and social health, all while providing employees with what they want: more options, according to a research report from MetLife’s 19th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS).

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To take on a more targeted approach, employers need to come up with a strategy. “As a first step, employers should consider their approach to communications and make sure that it is not ‘one and done’ during open enrollment each year,” says Missy Plohr-Memming, senior vice president of group benefits at MetLife. Plohr-Memming points to research from MetLife’s 2021 EBTS study that found nearly seven in 10 employees wanted to hear from business leaders about their benefits after they had already signed up for them.

Next, she says, plan sponsors should develop a communications plan that speaks to any distinctive needs. One way to do this is by promoting value-added features of benefits that coincide with different major life events.

“For example, employers can highlight how benefits for the birth of a child can be relevant to improving an employee’s financial wellness,” Plohr-Memming says. “Sharing real-life stories of how benefits work together to support employees is a personalized and effective approach to drive engagement and enrollment in benefits.”

Alok Deshpande, CEO of SmartPath, says sponsors face challenges when communicating about their benefits, and many employees do not view their employer as a source of financial wellness help.

“As employers think about their communication strategy, the first step is for them to let employees know that they can use their employers as a resource,” he explains. “Employers should be able to provide some format of tools and support that they couldn’t get on their own.”

Plan sponsors can provide benefits to participants beyond medical insurance and a retirement plan, he adds. For example, offering calculators and decision-support tools allow employees to answer their own questions while helping them decide what steps to take.

Increasing engagement with such benefits and products can also lead to other perks for employees. As an example, Deshpande says employers can use their buying power to drive discounts on interest rates for homeowners who do not hold a high enough credit score to receive a loan at a reasonable rate. “You’re starting to see people lean into that, and I think early wage access for certain loans have been the winners of providing real, tangible benefits to those that might not be able to get it outside,” he says.

Offering benefits for all stages of life includes retirement, too. MetLife’s study found 48% of employees cited their ability to retire as a top source of financial stress and anxiety. To improve employee well-being and keep them on track for retirement, employers should build a comprehensive benefits package that offers a solid retirement plan—including implementing automatic enrollment and a company match—as well as supports employees’ short-term and long-term financial health, Plohr-Memming says.

Deshpande says a focus on retirement can vary in different life stages. For example, younger workers at the start of their careers might focus on building an emergency savings account or paying off student loan debt. Offering a full match and an investment lineup allows these employees to contribute more without adding to their financial stress. “Getting 100% of the match and making investment selections are the most important steps people can make earlier on,” he says.

Even if employees forego certain benefits, communicating with different demographics ensures each employee is informed and understands how benefits can impact their financial wellness, Plohr-Memming explains.

“By offering comprehensive financial wellness programs for employees at all life stages—and communicating the value of those benefits effectively through regular emails, workshops and more—employers can ensure that their employees are thinking critically about their financial futures when the time comes to make benefits elections,” she says.