New research is the latest to find workers dread open enrollment. But employers can help with these strategies.

For HR and benefits professionals, the work of preparing employees for the dreaded task of open enrollment “is never fully done,” one expert says.

How much do employees dread making benefits decisions? As much as they hate asking for a raise, almost as much as renewing their driver’s license or passport and maybe even more than talking about their weight.

That’s among the findings out this week from MetLife, which surveyed more than 1,000 employees to find that confusion runs rampant in open enrollment decisions. One in five workers spends only a few minutes reviewing benefits offered by their employer before making a decision, MetLife reports, and the majority would rather do more undesirable tasks than research benefits choices.

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The findings are the latest to reveal the frustration employees have over benefits, even as more employers boost offerings and promote them as a way to entice workers in a hot job market. Other research has found similar results. For example, Businessolver recently found that 30% of employees admit they are confused by their benefits. Meanwhile, just 9% of employees understand the terms health plan premium, health plan deductible, out-of-pocket maximum and coinsurance, according to UnitedHealthcare.

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“Making benefits decisions can be challenging for employees because they aren’t necessarily confident in their choices, and they may not immediately recognize the connection between the decisions they make once a year and their overall financial wellbeing,” says Meredith Ryan-Reid, senior vice president of group benefits at MetLife.

Employees are still struggling to understand which benefit options their employers offer, often overlooking coverage such as legal plans and employee auto and home insurance discounts, and what traditional benefits cover, such as life insurance, disability insurance, critical illness insurance and accident insurance, MetLife says. Its survey found nearly a third of respondents chose “I don’t know” when asked whether disability insurance could be used for a mental or emotional illness, while one in five respondents chose only “funeral expenses” as a reason to buy life insurance.

For HR and benefits professionals, Ryan-Reid says, the findings underscore “that the work is never fully done” when it comes to preparing for open enrollment. “More can always be done to improve communications, experience and information regarding the benefits employers offer.”

Simple, clear and consistent communication is key to help turn the tide, she says.

“Even double-checking to make sure all the hyperlinks work properly and direct people to the right websites can cut down a ton of needless confusion,” she says.

Pointing employees to the right resources also is important, Ryan-Reid says. Employers should encourage employees not only to seek out the resources they make available to them, such as a handbook or conversation with someone in HR, but also to talk to friends, family and colleagues who may be able to share personal benefits stories. “People with similar situations can help place more context around individual benefits, which can help alleviate their lack of confidence in their decision-making,” Ryan-Reid says.

But perhaps most important is making sure benefits are part of the employee conversation all yearlong.

“When employers and employees approach benefits season as the culmination of a yearlong conversation with those they trust, the outcomes can be that much better,” she says. “Employers must look for opportunities throughout the year—the key moments that matter for an employee—to connect what they offer as an employer to supporting the employee holistically. We see this as a critical piece of driving employee loyalty and engagement.”

Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver. She can be reached at [email protected]

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