The recent push by many insurers to promote green ideas and get their customers to go paperless seems to be paying off. Over the past five years, there has been a 165% rise in the proportion of employees who use some combination of Web-based technology to enroll in their benefits, thus reducing the high volume of paper used during the benefits enrollment season, according to a new study from The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian).

The study, "Benefits & Behavior: Spotlight on Technology and Enrollment," sheds light on a larger trend of technology and Internet usage contributing to paper reduction and operating efficiencies in the workplace. Conducted in February of this year, Guardian contacted a national probability sample of 1,015 adults (504 men and 511 women) via telephone to compile its results.

"If the trends that we are seeing continue, the workplace of the future might be paperless, at least as it pertains to employee benefits," said Elena Wu, group marketing and worksite officer, Guardian. "And we're talking 10 or 20 years into the future—not a half-century from now. In just a short period of time, we've already seen a dramatic shift toward the use of paperless technology to manage workplace benefits. This technology is most popular with younger employees but, surprisingly, mature workers also embrace online access to their benefits."

Additional highlights from the study include:

• 40% of employees enrolled via computer-only versus 12% five years ago

• 36% used paper only to enroll versus 58% five years ago

• 21% report that they used a combination of paper and computer versus 11% five years ago

• 61% used computer-based enrollment for some portion of their employee benefits enrollment

 

Among the 61% of full-time employees who used computer-based enrollment for some portion of their employee benefits enrollment:

• Most (92%) cite convenience as the top reason that they access their benefits online

• 87% said online access to benefits saves time and 73% said it gives them more control

• While not the top choice, the environment was mentioned by 67% of employees as an important reason for accessing their benefits online

• Women (75%) were significantly more likely than men (61%) to value the environmental benefits of online enrollment

 

"Convenience should be the headline when employers are encouraging employees to transition to online benefits access," added Wu. "Once you establish advantages of online access such as saving time, improving service and giving employees more control, it is then an important bonus if you are helping the environment. The one exception might be with employers that have a largely female workforce. Women are more likely to factor the environment into their decision to use the Internet. Consequently environmental concerns can be placed front and center when reaching out to women."

Guardian finds that the movement toward online enrollment is likely part of a larger trend where employees are becoming more accustomed to using the Internet to manage their finances.

To this end, the study found that:

• 63% reported that they paid their monthly bills using online banking. This virtually equaled the percentage of employees (61%) that report using computer-based enrollment for some portion of their employee benefits enrollment during their last benefits enrollment period

• Men are significantly more likely to bank online with 69% of men vs. 55% of women

 

Also, those under the age of 45 are significantly more likely to use online banking to pay their bills. When asked if they pay their monthly bills online, 77% of people aged 18 to 34 answered yes, compared to 71% of people aged 35 to 44, 53% of people aged 45 to 54 and 40% aged 55 and older.

"Online banking has been around for more than a decade now and employees, particularly those from Gen X and Y appear to be increasingly comfortable with managing confidential information online," said Wu. "This is relevant to the issue of electronic health records and health care reform. Privacy is often cited as one of the barriers to storing private health information in a Web-based environment. Our research shows that most employees and employers have already embraced using the Internet to manage highly confidential information."

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