Benefits play a major role in the employee experience, as most can attest on a personal and professional level, but new research suggests that it’s simply not enough to make benefits available to employees.
Instead, employers must go out of their way to educate employees about their benefit offerings, as employees who understand their benefits were found to happier and have a greater sense of overall stability at work, according to the second wave of MetLife’s 21st annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS). The study, which was fielded in July 2023 by Rainmakers CSI, is based on interviews with more than 2,600 full-time employees to examine some of the most poignant issues in the workplace. The first wave was fielded in March 2023.
According to the data, benefits play a large part in helping to make workers feel more cared for, more stable, more engaged and less anxious. The research further shows, however, that benefits comprehension plays a critical role in employee happiness—and even retention. In this case, MetLife found that:
- 76% of workers who understand their benefits are happy, and 82% say understanding how to use their benefits would give them a greater sense of overall stability (versus only 47% and 52%, respectively, who don’t); and
- 50% say having a better understanding of their benefits would make them more loyal to their employer.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
This comes as employees say “being happy” is the most important aspect of their work experience,
and coincides with the workforce’s transition from “The Great Resignation” to “The Big Stay,” wherein employees are increasingly indicating they will stay with their companies for the long-term. According to the findings:
- 73% of employees say “being happy” is the most important aspect of their work experience, followed by doing meaningful work and being successful; and
- 77% of employees now say they intend to be with their employer in a year.
“Employee benefits play a massive role in employees’ lives both at and outside of work—and a big part of this is not just the benefits themselves, but also the awareness of how they are used,” says Jamie Madden, senior vice president of Workforce Engagement and Benefits Connectivity at MetLife. “Understanding benefits leads to more informed open enrollment decisions, better utilization, and a happier, more stable, and generally more satisfied workforce.”
Still, nearly half of employees (45%) say there are elements of their benefits package they do not fully understand. And while roughly two-thirds of employees (65%) say open enrollment will be extremely important this year against the backdrop of a challenging economy, many are still not being proactive when it comes to the benefits election process—which, in turn, is leading to feelings of regret. Here, the findings show that:
- 31% of employees procrastinated when selecting their benefits last year and 37% of employees say they wish they’d had more time to make the right choice;
- 44% of employees say they didn’t consult others before enrolling in benefits last year;
- 16% of employees say they regret their open enrollment choices last year; and
- 60% of those who regretted their benefits choices said a lack of understanding/information was to blame.
Gen Z & Millennials
Perhaps not surprisingly, Gen Z and Millennial workers are among the least likely employees to understand their benefits, and the most likely to feel regret over the open enrollment choices they made last year. This, in turn, has implications for their financial health, the study notes. Consider that:
- 53% of Gen Z and 55% of Millennials say there are elements of their benefits package they don’t fully understand;
- 25% of Gen Z and Millennial employees regret the open enrollment choices they made last year;
- 27% of Gen Z and 23% of Millennials felt they enrolled in too few benefits last year; and
- 64% of Gen Z and 61% of Millennials believe that having a better understanding of open enrollment would make them feel more financially secure.
How Employers Can Help
As employers look to support employees at open enrollment, they can help their workforce make more confident open enrollment decisions by using multiple channels and incorporating personalization into benefit communications strategies, MetLife notes. They also should be mindful to not overlook the essential role managers play in shaping the employee experience when it comes to the benefits election process, the study suggests.
Employees also say that employers can improve their engagement at work by:
- Providing easy-to-use benefits tools (47%);
- Having the HR team available to answer questions (38%);
- Providing access to expert guidance about benefits (36%);
- Helping employees better understand how electing the right benefits can improve their financial health (31%); and
- Communicating more often around benefits/open enrollment (28%).