Benefits Choices Hold Steady Despite Economy

Despite the tough economy, nearly nine in 10 employees are planning to maintain or increase the number of benefits they select and/or their coverage for next year, according to MetLife's 2009 Open Enrollment Poll.

A MetLife release said only 11% of workers plan to decrease their 2010 benefits coverage, and nearly one-quarter of those planning to decrease coverage this year indicated they will increase their benefits during next year’s open enrollment period if the economy improves.

More than one-third (37%) said their household’s discretionary income decreased this year.

“Recent economic events have caused many to be more mindful and appreciative of the benefits provided to them at work, which often form the foundation of their personal safety nets,” said Ronald Leopold, vice president for MetLife’s U.S. Business. He added that the low number of employees who plan to pare back when it comes to selecting benefits for 2010 “shows that they continue to value their benefits as essential to helping them plan for the future while protecting themselves and their families.”

Eighty-nine percent of respondents said they are somewhat or very confident in their ability to evaluate their options and pick the right employee benefits for themselves and their families. Three-quarters of employees (76%) plan to spend approximately the same amount of time this year as last when it comes to selecting their benefits. Only 3% of all workers surveyed said that they are not confident in their ability to evaluate their options and select the right benefits.

Thirteen percent of employees reported they plan to spend more time on their benefits decisions during this year’s open enrollment period. Nearly two-thirds of them (64%) indicated this was because of current economic events/financial security, and 31% cited a major life event. In addition, 15% said think they made some wrong decisions on the employee benefits they selected during last year’s open enrollment.

According to MetLife, employer communication makes a notable difference in employee engagement in their benefits decisions. Of employees who say they will spend more time making benefits decisions this open enrollment season, 29% said their employer has been communicating more about the importance of employee benefits.

MetLife recommends total compensation statements, decision support tools (such as Web-based calculators), personalized materials based on employee life stages and events (see “Zooming In”, and multiple communication channels.

Furthermore, MetLife recommends using off-cycle enrollment: More than one-third of employees (38%) would be interested in learning about and modifying their benefits choices more frequently than once a year, the Open Enrollment Poll found. One solution is an off-cycle enrollment period with a focused enrollment on one single benefit. That could result in higher enrollment rates, and greater employee benefits satisfaction and confidence in open enrollment decisions, MetLife said.

The Open Enrollment Poll surveyed 1,000 full-time employees by telephone in late July.