Skip to content
Jennifer Benz November 8, 2016 5 min read

Annual enrollment causes stress for benefits professionals and employees

You spend months preparing for enrollment and when you finally launch, you discover the onsite signage is going unnoticed and the emails you sent weren't opened—plus you’re still getting countless calls about the information you provided in those thoughtfully crafted communications.

Turns out, you’re not the only one who's stressed. Nearly half of the employees surveyed in a Jellyvision/Harris Poll communications report cited health insurance decisions as very stressful. And 41% of them said their company’s open enrollment process was extremely confusing.

So stressful and confusing that a recent Aflac Open Enrollment survey found that 48% of respondents “would rather do something unpleasant, such as talking to their ex or walking across hot coals, instead of completing their annual benefits enrollment.” Ouch!

So what gives? Reading about benefits “is long, complicated or stressful,” reported 72% of those surveyed in the Aflac study. And for 36% of them, the benefits enrollment process makes them “feel frustrated, anxious or confused.”

Knowledge = power

Few employees actually understand their benefits plans. More than 60% of Aflac respondents said there are some things they don’t understand about their insurance coverage. And how could they? Nearly 90 million Americans have difficulty understanding and acting on health information according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The health care industry has its own language, and employees rely upon their employer to "decode" complex jargon. It's important to remember that they may not even understand words like deductible, copay, out-of-pocket maximum, and coinsurance, which are part of the everyday benefits language.

It's no wonder that one in four employees tune out when it comes to benefits information, and many say they completely disregard it, according to Jellyvision/Harris Poll data.

So what can you do? A lot.

Employers play a big role in educating employees about their benefits. More than half of the Jellyvision/Harris Poll respondents said they want help from their employer in making benefits decisions. But you have to capture and keep their attention, and if you’re using words and phrases they don’t understand, they’re going to tune out your messages. If they’re tuning out your messages, chances are they’re not getting the care they need.

In fact, several studies now show that health literacy has a direct impact on health outcomes. And poor health has a direct correlation to stress. Our health literacy white paper, 5 Ways to engage employees in health education and build literacy, outlines all this and gives you actionable tips to build health literacy among your employees. 

Benefits mistakes affect everyone

Health literacy—or the lack of it—can be a costly issue. The Jellyvision/Harris Poll survey found that only 15% of employees considered themselves very knowledgeable about high-deductible health plans, which are becoming more of a trend among employers. This means employees have distorted perceptions about their health coverage, which affects the plans they pick, good or bad. Furthermore, this can result in big losses—54% of Aflac respondents estimated they waste up to $750 each year because of mistakes they make during open enrollment with their insurance benefits.

Your employees want your help during enrollment, and if you’re still not convinced, check out these pleas from Twitter proving it.

Oldies, but goodies:

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.