For City Administrators, Open for Business Means Open for Benefits

In this guest post, Colonial Life’s Johnny Castro shares two reasons why benefits communication should be a year-round effort for local governments.

Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Johnny Castro.

If your city government functions like most companies in America, you just completed your annual benefits enrollment. The meetings are over, the posters are down, and the enrollment forms are tidied away in their virtual filing cabinet. Even with good benefits providers on your team doing the heavy lifting, it was likely a lot of work. Thank goodness it only happens once a year – except for a few new employees you’ll probably hire over the next year, you’re good until next fall, right?

In order to truly maximize the major investment your city administrators make in its benefits program, helping city employees understand and make the best use of their benefits requires year-round effort. But it’s worth the work, and here are two great reasons: employee engagement and cost control.

Build a bond with workers

Strong benefits communication does more than help your employees make better benefits choices during open enrollment – it also helps you hold onto your top talent by increasing job satisfaction and workplace loyalty. Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. In fact, employees who rate their benefits education highly are also 76 percent more likely to rate their workplaces as very good or excellent, according to a Colonial Life/Unum U.S. Worker Benefits Survey released last year.

Building a strong, long-term relationship with your employees drives up retention, morale and productivity. Think about what it costs you to replace a worker who leaves for perceived greener pastures. Now add in the resource drain of performance-managing out a disengaged employee who later then must be replaced. While great benefits communication alone isn’t going to change a slacker into a superstar, there’s a clear connection between how well you communicate and how committed your employees are to their work and your government agency.

The bottom line on the bottom line

Avoiding turnover is only part of the cost-control formula. There are hard dollar costs associated with your employees not understanding and using their benefits to protect their health and well-being. Take chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis, for example. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they account for three-fourths of health care costs. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation says arthritis is the nation’s top cause of disability.

Yet these types of chronic conditions are among the most preventable problems. Not taking advantage of preventive care coverage such as health screenings and flu shots for fear of the doctor’s bill can lead to more serious illnesses and lost time at work that might have been avoided.

If your city offers more than one health plan option — for example, a lower-deductible, higher-premium traditional preferred provider organization plan or a high-deductible “consumer-driven” plan with lower premiums — it’s important for your employees to understand how each works so they can make the best financial and health decisions for themselves and their families. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts can help employees plan for and manage health care expenses — but only if they participate in them. And that won’t happen if they don’t understand them.

By the way, if you’re ready to pat yourself on the back because your benefits communication is pretty good, you might want to ask your employees if they agree. Research shows there’s a pretty big disconnect on this issue. Less than 40 percent of employers have a formal benefits communication plan (surely, you’re not one of those), yet the vast majority — 90 percent — think their approach is effective, according to LIMRA’s 2016 Help Employers Connect the Dots report. But only a third of employees in our U.S. Worker survey said they understand their benefits very well.

Keep talking

Keeping the benefits conversation going all year long doesn’t have to drain your resources. Here are some simple low- or no-cost ideas for city administrators to build benefits and health knowledge beyond enrollment season:

  • Benefit of the month — Run a series of articles on your employee intranet site explaining in plain language different benefits and how to tell if they’re a good fit. Just because you explained the difference between term and whole life six months ago doesn’t mean every employee will remember the details. Keep the articles archived where they’re easy to find.
  • Share success stories — Use email newsletters, websites or visual displays to celebrate employees who are proud to share they’ve lost weight, committed to an exercise program, or reduced their dependence on medication for high cholesterol, for example.
  • Think seasonally — Create a calendar to talk with employees about seasonal health issues such as staying in shape in the winter and safety for outdoor summer activities.
  • Promote free external resources — Websites such as Colonial Life’s WorkLife have a wealth of information on benefits and health. Or check out Colonial Life’s interactive Benefits Learning Center, which can be customized with your benefits.
  • Bring in experts — Invite your benefits providers to hold open hours or brown-bag lunch-and-learns to explain different benefits throughout the year and answer employees’ questions.

If you’d like to learn more about how to keep the benefits conversation going with your employees all year, call or email us. They say talk is cheap – but in our opinion, it’s sometimes priceless.

About the author: Johnny Castro is assistant vice president of public sector at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. He can be reached at JCastro@ColonialLife.com or (803) 678-6746. Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support 85,000 businesses and organizations, representing 3.5 million American workers and their families.

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