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MyChoice Recommendation Engine Dashboard

Overview

People love choice, but they really don’t like making choices. This applies to everything from routine trips to the grocery store to employee benefits elections. According to a one study, more than one-quarter of employees would rather give up their favorite food than go through benefits enrollment, and 93% simply pick the same options year after year.

Although almost three-quarters of employees say their benefits are extremely or very important to their financial well-being, many employees also see the easiest choice as the best one.

However, in 2020, none of our choices were easy—and benefits were no different. COVID-19 cut the economy off at its knees, sending millions of people into un- or under-employment and associated significant financial hardship. Benefits came into sharper view as the health, financial and emotional toll of COVID-19 grew increasingly pronounced.

It was in this context that the American workforce made its benefits decisions for 2021, and we gathered data from that unprecedented point in time for the 2021 MyChoice® Recommendation Engine Benefits Insight Report. In this, the third year of the report, we look specifically at the impact of COVID-19 on three factors that influence employee decision-making that we’ve been tracking since 2019:

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Benefits literacy

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Risk tolerance

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Financial preparedness

This dashboard offers guidance for employers around MyChoice Recommendation Engine data, and highlight areas for refining their benefit strategy.

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Health

Lack of benefits knowledge isn’t a new challenge for employers to combat. Benefits are complex, and many employees report being just plain confused. Since 2019, just under a third of employees say they don’t understand their benefits. However, employees enrolling in the middle of 2020 reported even more confusion, at just under 40%.

By the fall, the workforce displayed higher levels of confidence about their benefits comprehension, and the level of confusion had returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, less than one in five employees feel truly confident about their benefits knowledge, leaving the other 83% with either foundational understanding (“I know where my ID card is”) or downright confusion.

These numbers have held steady for the past three years, suggesting benefits literacy and comprehension remains an issue that employees continue to struggle with—long before tackling more in-depth benefits education issues like planning for medical events or targeted communication based on medical history/risk.

Financial

In the past few years, employees seem to have doubled down on saving and, overall, the workforce is saving more consistently. The number of employees indicating they are always able to save has increased, while those reporting they are never able to save has decreased.

Each generation has made strides, with Boomers seeing the most improvement in their ability to save consistently. However, saving seems to be more a function of income than generation.

Those earning the least showed the smallest improvement in a consistent ability to save, while some employees in the middle range actually lost ground during the past three years. Employees earning over $100,000 showed the most gain in their saving habits, with just over 50% indicating they always save.

In terms of saving for health care costs, more employees have the protection of an emergency fund than in previous years. Those who indicate they would “get soaked” by a large bill has decreased, while more have an “umbrella” to protect them. Employees enrolling mid-year indicated they were much less prepared than those enrolling in the fall.

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Risk Tolerance

In general, humans don’t like risk, and this is borne out when it comes to benefits.

When asked to rate their risk tendencies, employees overwhelmingly identify with activities that are low risk, including lounging and golfing (66%). About a third characterize themselves as bikers with just a small percentage considering themselves as high-risk-taking rock climbers.

This aligns with loss aversion, a basic concept of behavioral economics. People don’t like to give up what they have. So, even though saving may feel good, spending what you saved can be uncomfortable. From a benefits perspective, this applies to employees who have money earmarked for health care costs but are uncomfortable with the prospect of using it for an out-of-pocket cost.

Generally, the more an employee earns the more likely they are able to bear the cost of a large bill. However, the ability to pay for a bill doesn’t correlate with someone feeling good about doing so.

Interestingly, during the same three-year period, the percentage of employees who had “no worries” about facing a large ER bill increased only slightly, which seems to demonstrate that how employees feel about out-of-pocket costs is more related to avoiding a loss than to how much they have actually saved.