This article was updated on September 7, 2018.

Employee benefits education may not have the same glamour as some trending HR topics, such as social media use at work or smart data, but it's still critically relevant. Data from the ADP Research Institute® reveals that just 58 percent of HR leaders believe their talent has a "full understanding of their benefits options," which means 42 percent of employees aren't being served by education efforts.

While the majority of employers are currently mailing educational materials to employees' homes and sending emails, these tactics aren't the most successful methods. Benefits content is inherently complicated, and employees cannot be satisfied by offerings they do not understand. In a tight labor market, CHROs must consider the correlation between benefits satisfaction and turnover.

Poor Benefits Understanding Is a Retention Disaster

According to Aflac, 16 percent of employees left a job or declined an offer in the past year because they were unsatisfied by the benefits offered, while 42 percent say their employers could "keep them in their jobs" with improved benefits offerings. Considering the fact that nearly half of employees don't understand the benefits available to them, CHROs and their employers have a real opportunity to improve retention through better communication.

Here are some of the sharpest strategies for educating your talent on available benefits:

Employee Benefits Education: Timing May Be Everything

How often should you communicate with your talent about benefits? It should be an ongoing effort, especially during open enrollment periods. For 63 percent of HR leaders, communicating complex topics is the top challenge, GuideSpark reports.

What's the solution? For Tammy Leslie, director at Saint Luke's Health System, an effective open enrollment strategy incorporated "paperless communications and multimedia" offerings to achieve "a significant lift" in employee benefit comprehension. In a more general sense, to avoid a hefty time-crunch during enrollment periods, HR teams should begin preparations several months in advance. By establishing baseline metrics and goals to improve employee comprehension, HR teams can shape a multimedia communications strategy that's tailored to employees' needs.

Open Enrollment Communication Isn't a Month-Long Project

Timing really is everything when it comes to a successful open enrollment period. The evidence is strong that benefits communications can't be centralized to a month or two each year; CHROs need to shift their thinking to benefits education as an ongoing effort. Year-round communication has a 79 percent success rate in improving understanding, making it the second-most effective tactic in use today, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

What's Really Working for Benefits Education

What are organizations doing to increase engagement with education around benefit packages? The data is pretty clear that it's not mailing packets to employees' homes. There's strong evidence that the most effective education strategies are highly personalized based on communication preferences associated with employee demographics. When asked about communicating benefits to millennials, consultant Karl Ahlrichs pointed out that "communication only occurs when the message you send is received in the way you intended," as reported by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Given the strong connection between benefits satisfaction and turnover, HR leaders should explore new channels for benefits education that align with how their employees learn and digest information. This can include mobile messaging, social media and visual communications. Despite the fact that the majority of your employees have adopted social and mobile technologies, less than half of organizations are using any form of non-traditional communications, per IFEBP.

Recent studies by the IFEBP indicate that the top five most successful tactics for generating a lift in employee benefit comprehension include:

  • Tailoring communications to "life stage" (parental leave or retirement) — 81 percent successful
  • Year-round communications — 79 percent
  • Using internal influencers — 75 percent
  • Multilingual communications — 74 percent
  • Simplifying communications — 72 percent

What's the trick to better benefits education? It's consistency and year-round persistence. It's ditching the "benefits-speak" and shifting into language your employees use on a daily basis. HR leaders need to look beyond mailed packets, meetings and emails and incorporate multimedia communications. Perhaps most importantly, the key to benefits comprehension is tailoring information so it's relevant and accessible to your talent.

Tags: Compensation and Benefits Benefits Administration Learning and Development Large Business Research & Insights Articles HR