As employers shift to an employee-driven benefits model, plan participants' perceived value and satisfaction in their benefits is declining. In a 2010 study of employee benefits, Prudential determined that more than 45 percent of plan participants indicated their level of benefits had decreased in 2010. Employees often pay more for reduced coverage. For example, in 2007, approximately 32 percent of plan participants surveyed by Prudential said their companies paid all or most of employee benefits, compared with 26 percent in 2010.  

Employees feel their benefits diminish: What HR can do

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As employers shift to an employee-driven benefits model, plan participants' perceived value and satisfaction in their benefits is declining. In a 2010 study of employee benefits, Prudential determined that more than 45 percent of plan participants indicated their level of benefits had decreased in 2010. Employees often pay more for reduced coverage. For example, in 2007, approximately 32 percent of plan participants surveyed by Prudential said their companies paid all or most of employee benefits, compared with 26 percent in 2010.

Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist at Benz Communications, strongly feels that HR professionals must proactively address these concerns -- especially with annual enrollment season upon us.

Become proactive in the face of today's realities
"With the economy still on shaky ground," Benz says, "Many employees honestly feel grateful to be employed. But as benefit plans become more complex and employees perceive that benefits are dwindling, there are some steps that your HR team must take to stay ahead of perception and to deliver meaningful messages more simply."

"It is important to understand your employees' perception of their current and future benefits," Benz says. "Don't count on what you used to know about employee perception. Frequent informal communication between employees, HR and managers, coupled with meaningful surveys, can help you gain information. Set a benchmark and work from there."

Some organizations had to make tough decisions about benefits packages, perhaps offering fewer options or increasing employee contributions. "You are not alone," Benz says. "Many companies have been forced to make tough decisions about health care benefits. The realities of today's economy dictate the actions of employers of every size, in every industry -- and an increasing number of your employees are aware of that fact. Be purposeful in your communication. Keep the focus positive. Encourage and motivate employees and their families."

Counter the "negative buzz" about benefits
"There are ways to counter the negative discussion about the cost and availability of health care benefits," says Benz. "It is good practice to present employees with concrete, simple actions they can take do to control costs -- in both the short- and long-term. You can even turn this into a 'positive' by building employee engagement. When your benefits offerings are on display, promote missed or underutilized benefits."

Another best practice: Get managers in the game. "Enrollment season is an opportunity to spread your benefits message by people who can really have a positive impact on employees -- the managers. Employee benefits are a key reason in attracting and retaining a top workforce; managers can make a difference in motivating an employee. Give your managers the information they need to have conversations with employees about benefits and can answer their questions.

"Use social media to its fullest. It's easy to set up a blog, and it's easy to solicit employee feedback that can be used to help others. By proactively addressing perception, you are on your way to a more positive enrollment experience."

Improve your benefits strategy to meet your business goals. Ceridian Benefits Administration can help you strengthen compliance while freeing up your time for a more strategic HR practice.