For many Americans today, the process of planning or managing personal finances can be at the bottom of their to-do list, particularly when it comes to choosing their benefits. In fact, nearly half (45 percent) of U.S. workers equate benefits selection with the same level of dread as asking for a raise, according to a new MetLife survey on open enrollment.
With this in mind, it’s really no wonder that 1 in 3 employees would rather talk about their weight than their employer-offered benefits, and 1 in 5 spends only a few minutes reviewing these options before making a decision.
Unfortunately, this reticence can have a massive impact on employees’ financial futures — much more than they realize. For this reason, employers play a pivotal role in helping employees overcome information overload during the open enrollment process.
Here are a few tips to help employees overcome the challenges they feel during open enrollment:
1. Consider Financial Goals, and Plan for All Outcomes
Employees may not realize it, but outlining their financial goals — both short- and long-term — is a critical first step in the benefits election process. By taking time to evaluate their goals first, employees can better determine how different benefits can help them meet these goals.
For example, if an employee has set aside money for a future big-ticket purchase, choosing an accident or critical illness plan, which provides lump sum payments that can be used to help offset expenses like out-of-pocket medical costs, can help them avoid dipping into these savings should they suddenly find themselves with a covered illness or accident.
But it’s also critical for employees to recognize that planning for financial hurdles is as important as planning for financial goals. Electing benefits for events that may seem unimaginable — such as a house fire or a death in the family — may feel uncomfortable, but it can help make difficult circumstances more financially manageable down the line. In the recent MetLife survey, 18 percent of respondents selected “funeral expenses” as the only reason to buy life insurance, while in reality, there are plenty of other reasons to purchase life insurance, including caregiving costs for dependents and student loan debt repayment.
Understanding all the nuances of their benefits offerings and planning for varying circumstances is crucial for employees to maintain a firm hold on their finances and employers are the first-line in helping to guide workers who are making these decisions with both comfort and confidence.
2. Ask Questions, and Ask for Advice
Employees today simply aren’t having the frank, open conversations about their finances that they need to in order to fully understand each benefits option. That’s why it’s crucial for employers to make space for colleagues to connect with each other to share personal experiences and leverage HR resources to understand the details of their benefits. Employees who are encouraged to ask questions and gain insight from family and friends may foster a greater understanding of the benefits offered by their employer, and consider electing those they may otherwise overlook.
For example, when asked how they would provide for themselves in the event of an injury, one-third of millennials said they would rely on their family or friends for financial support. But strategies like these can be a risk, as individuals develop a financial dependence outside of their control. Encouraging candid discussions about benefits elections allows employees to protect both themselves and their loved ones against unforeseen costs.
3. Remind Employees: Employers Want to Help
Your employer clients spend much of the year making strategic decisions to create the best benefits packages for their employees, so it’s no surprise that at open enrollment, they are eager to educate employees and help answer all the questions that come their way.
In fact, many companies offer a range of enrollment resources from websites to mobile apps, beyond just the benefits handbook, that can help employees make the benefits election process as painless as possible. By clearly communicating these resources, it’s possible to help lessen (or even eliminate) the dread they feel around the open enrollment process.
In the end, the first step toward a solution is understanding the broader implications of the challenge. By pulling back the curtain on this process, allowing for candid conversations, and pointing employees in the direction of helpful tools for more informed elections, employers and their brokers can arm workers with the knowledge they need to make their elections with confidence.
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi. We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained here. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax or financial advisors to understand the tax, financial and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this article.