Employees care about their benefits. Strong benefits make employees feel safer, more covered by their employer, and more likely to continue working at their organization. However, educating employees on and engaging them with benefits offerings can be challenging in a culturally diverse, multi-generational workforce. Furthermore, addressing the rising importance of benefits use and understanding is key to meeting the needs of employees. With the right tools and strategies, built into a comprehensive, always-on communications plan, employee groups can be reached in targeted ways, empowering employees to make the most of their benefits by choosing and using products that best support their needs. By meeting diverse employees where they are, employers can reap the rewards of increased worker satisfaction, retention, and engagement through increased employee care.
Benefits are important to unlocking employee care
Benefits offerings play a key role in supporting employee care and retention. Data from MetLife’s 2023 U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study revealed over 60% of employees say their benefits make them feel more cared for and more loyal to their employer and 59% say the benefits they receive make them more engaged at work.
Low benefits understanding is of increased importance in an uncertain economy
Half of employees say that a better understanding of their benefits would make them more loyal to their employer. Employees who are more confident in their knowledge of available offerings are 16% more likely to be engaged at work.
Unfortunately, 45% of employees do not fully understand their benefits package and only 38% of employees are completely confident that they know about all the benefits and workplace perks offered to them. This lack of understanding can also coincide with a decline in use as employees who do not fully understand their benefits are also less likely to use certain offerings, including their financial wellness tools.
Lack of understanding may be especially important this year given the current macroeconomic uncertainty. Sixty-five percent of employees say that open enrollment is incredibly important this year given the current economic situation, up 4% points from last year. It is expected that benefits costs will rise 6% in 2024¹ – higher than the 2023 expected cost increase – given inflation pressures. These rising costs will likely prompt employees to more carefully evaluate their 2024 benefits options to make the most of every benefits dollar.
Generational nuances may be key to establishing the right portfolio of relevant benefits
Employees across today’s multi-generational workforce have differing needs and preferences when it comes to benefits and communications. All employees typically expect core medical benefits; beyond that, demands vary significantly based on age. Gen Z and Millennial employees prioritize less traditional offerings such as legal services, identity and fraud protection, and pet insurance. Gen X and Baby Boomers look for traditional benefits offerings like health insurance.
Generational nuances also inform communication and learning preferences for benefits
An intentional communication approach is key in driving benefits understanding and, ultimately, utilization. Just as different generations desire different benefits offerings, they also have varied communication preferences, meaning a single-channel approach may leave certain cohorts feeling overlooked.
Millennials and Gen Z employees are significantly more likely to feel benefits communications are irrelevant to them and are consequently more likely to struggle to understand communications about benefits and open enrollment.
Employers can consider employees’ preferred methods of learning to deliver more relevant and effective communications that better resonate with different generations. While Baby Boomers prefer to learn about benefits through in-person conversations, Gen X employees look to online resources. Millennial employees prefer video and podcast content, while Gen Z employees cite social media (i.e., short-form explanation) as their top choice communications source.
Exploring generational differences can be a great starting point in creating tailored experiences, but it may be worth considering how other nuances that exist within subgroups can further drive communication effectiveness. More than 40% of Gen Z Hispanics consuming media in both Spanish and English². Given the advancement in translation technologies, employers can offer benefits content in additional languages to better resonate with and accommodate bilingual employees.
Three considerations for better care delivery through this year’s benefits offerings
1) Offer Benefits Portfolios Tailored to Employee Needs:
Fifty-four percent of employees say they wish they received personalized benefits recommendations. Continuously collecting information on workforce preference can allow for a better understanding of employees’ needs and inform the creation of benefits packages that are more targeted to those needs. Looking at population data year over year can guide how employers can prioritize investment in the most desired products over those with less demand. While employers cannot fully fund all benefits, allowing some flexibility around employer funding for different benefits choices or offering a more comprehensive list of voluntary benefits can bridge the gap on some generational and individual differences in preference.
2) Drive an Always-On Communication Plan
Half of employees say they would feel more cared for if their employer improved benefits communications. Timely, easy to understand communications and resources can create a simpler, more accessible, “always-on” employee benefits experience that drives year-round use. Clarity at time of enrollment sets the stage for initial awareness and benefits selection, but employees face challenges when trying to access and use their benefits at the time of need and simply forget to use them.
3) Develop Audience-Specific Education Touchpoints:
A deeper understanding of the diverse needs of employees can also help to individualize education. Sixty percent of those who regret their benefits choices say a lack of understanding and information was to blame. By pinpointing gaps in understanding of relevant benefits, employers can aid in employee decision-making, boosting usage and ultimately increasing employee retention.
Since levels of benefits understanding may vary by cohort, education can be more focused on driving learning where it is needed most. For example, Gen Z and Millennial employees may require additional educational support as they are significantly more likely to feel that there are certain elements of their benefits packages that they don’t fully understand when compared to more experienced populations.
How AI capabilities can bolster individualization and bridge the benefits understanding and utilization gap
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already enabling tailored benefits experiences and care delivery. MetLife is enhancing the employee benefits experience through a new collaboration with Nayya. A digital platform provider of benefits decision support and engagement, Nayya’s capabilities are integrated within MetLife’s Upwise platform. Focused on delivering simplified and holistic benefits experiences, these new capabilities provide tailored and actionable benefits recommendations based on individual needs to encourage utilization of employer-offered benefits.
AI tools like benefits decision support platforms can also help deliver proactive notifications and claims-based opportunities. These timely communications ensure employees are made aware of and use relevant benefits in times of need, as well as year-round.
Additionally, research-based, cohort-specific education materials resonate with and feel more relevant to employees. For bilingual employees, for example, AI tools can be leveraged to translate content to multiple languages for more accessible learning.
When it comes to benefits, one size does not fit all. But crafting custom benefits strategies, and embracing AI tools to support those strategies, can empower employers to engage more employees. Such developments can evolve benefits programs and their accompanying messaging to be significantly more individualized. As a result, employers can achieve greater employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.
Note: All data above unless otherwise specified is derived from MetLife research in 2023 as part of its Employee Benefit Trends Study.
To learn more about benefits and communication preferences for different generations, please access MetLife’s Infographic on Driving Care for a Multi-Generational Workforce.
MetLife’s 21st Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study was conducted in November 2022 and consists of two distinct studies fielded by Rainmakers CSI – a global strategy, insight, and planning consultancy. The employer survey includes 2,840 interviews with benefits decision-makers and influencers at companies with at least two employees. The employee survey consists of 2,884 interviews with full-time employees, ages 21 and over, at companies with at least two employees.
Wave 2 of MetLife’s 21st Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study was conducted in July 2023 and was fielded by Rainmakers CSI – a global strategy, insight, and planning consultancy. The survey included 2,650 interviews with full-time employees, aged 21 and over. All employees were based in the U.S. and were nationally representative of the U.S. Data in this release was collected as part of Wave 2 and was not reported in MetLife’s 21st Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study.