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March 16, 2000
Going Paperless--Employee Benefits On-line
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h all the talk and all the sales pitches and press releases we receive for on-line administered benefits administration -- we have to ask -- just how prevalent is it?

Well, according to a study by the Corporate Benefits Institute, only 29 percent of the companies surveyed are currently using Internet/intranet technology to communicate benefits information to employees. Also, most of the companies that are using new technology have only been doing so for less than two years.

One Company's experience

"We are committed to going paperless, but are only in the initial planning," says Kathy Morse, assistant vice president for human resources for SunTrust Banks, Inc., speaking about rolling out information on its health care benefits. "But we are very serious about what we want to put on our Intranet. We've done the brainstorming and the dreaming, and now it's time to be practical and determine the phases and steps."

SunTrust has had to start slowly. As so many other companies have discovered, finding qualified people to set up the site is not always easy. "We did not want to reinvent the wheel. We wanted people to design our site who were familiar with such projects," says Morse. "With Y2K and so many companies going on-line, some of us have had to stand in line and wait to get the resources we needed. Interestingly enough, we found that some of our carriers don't even have any kind of Web site at all."

Starting with health care

The bank, with over 30,000 employees throughout the Southeastern United States, decided its first step was to list all of the different health care carriers it worked with on its intranet. Included with this information was a listing of all the physicians associated with the different carrier plans, as well as basic information employees will need to review before their annual enrollment time.

"The main reason we started with the providers was to avoid mailing out provider directories because they are very heavy and expensive to mail," explains Morse. "In addition, we knew that if we put it up on our Intranet, we could keep the list more current. Making it easier for our employees to get up-to-date information on which providers were part of the different plans was probably the biggest motivating factor. People want to know if their doctor is on the list. Others are ready to change and want to find out about doctors before they have to enroll for the year."

Employees can go to the Web site and find the carriers listed for their area and then proceed to the pages that list the different providers. They can also get current information on dental plans and reimbursement accounts.

Everyone has access to the information

"We still have this information available to [employees] if they don't have access through a computer," explains Morse, although approximately two-thirds of their employees do have computer access. "As we continue putting more of our benefits information on-line, we will probably end up having to place kiosks at different locations where employees can find the same information," he says. "But we assume that, at least for a while, we will have to provide some hard copies of employee handbooks."

"There are regulations that have to be followed about making sure all employees have ready access to the information they need," Morse continues. "As more and more companies continue to use the Intranet to inform their employees, we will find better solutions to those types of problems."

Just the beginning

Currently, SunTrust has only health and dental information on-line, but it plans to have the enrollment process on its Intranet by next year and have the site available to its employees from their homes. "Eventually, we believe we will have everything from information about training, recruiting, and especially 401(k) s, which is one benefit that employees want to check on frequently. They want to get loans or change their contribution percentage, so that would be a natural benefit to put on our site."

She concedes that while the Intranet site will be of great value to employees, it will also eliminate some of the burden on the HR department. "We know it saves money. In addition, we are trying to encourage employees to get information for themselves and to take responsibility for it," she says. "If they can access this information without a lot of handholding, it will free up some of our time."

Tips:

  • Information on the company's Intranet should be in short blurbs. Try using bullets, bold print and short paragraphs to keep the reader's attention.
  • Graphics can help employees find what they are looking for quicker than reading lots of information.
  • Make the site easy to navigate. Use several pages instead of trying to cram all the information on just one or two.
  • Offer training for your employees on how the site works.
  • Continue offering the information off-line until employees are comfortable with the change.

Helpful Hints

Take time to review all of your benefits to find out which ones are most adaptable for your company's Intranet. You will be surprised at how many benefits can successfully be transmitted via your Intranet site with just a little creative thinking about how to present them.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Business & Legal Reports, Inc., from "Best Practices in HR". Copyright 2000, BLR.

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