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There are a growing number of dual-income and single parent families that depend on the income of working women. Meanwhile, these women may also be juggling childcare and eldercare responsibilities. Today’s women are not only facing greater financial obligations than before but, according to MetLife’s sixth annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, they are also more concerned than men about their families’ financial futures in the event of their premature deaths. What’s significant is that despite these trends, there is a gender gap in life insurance coverage.

Employers are in a position to help address the underinsured issue and close the insurance gap for women. They are able to offer access to the advice and guidance on appropriate benefits offerings that employees desire. They can also provide focused enrollment opportunities for life insurance, with the goal of assisting employees in building a strong personal financial safety net. In doing this, employers can capitalize on the opportunity to address employee retention goals through benefits satisfaction, which is a top benefits objective of employers.

An increasing number of employees are relying on the workplace as a starting point to build a sound financial plan, and this is particularly true for women. According to the MetLife study, the number of working Americans who obtain the majority of their financial and retirement products through the workplace has increased to 52%, up from 46% last year; for women, the percentage climbs to 58%. Employers may capitalize on this interest in workplace benefits – especially since, according to the study, more than half of women (54%) say that benefits are an important reason they remain with their employer.

The gender gap in life insurance is particularly disconcerting given the heightened financial concerns that women have for their families’ futures. Sixty-four percent of working women are very concerned about their families’ financial futures in the event of their own premature death, and 70% are very concerned in the event of their spouse’s or domestic partner’s premature death. This is compared to 52% and 49% of men, respectively. Yet so far, these concerns do not translate into action to obtain adequate coverage.

While many men could be considered underinsured given the financial responsibilities they most likely face, women’s coverage is generally even less. According to MetLife’s study, working women who have life insurance generally have only twice their household income in coverage compared to men, who have three times their household income.

Despite their concern for their families’ financial futures, a surprising 46% of the working women surveyed for the study (and 40% of the men) have taken no steps to determine their life insurance needs. Another 56% of women who own life insurance and know how much coverage they have are not sure, or don’t believe, that this amount is adequate. Fortunately, there are several ways for employers to help their employees to address the underinsured issue – for women and men. The following tactics will help employers optimize the value of their life insurance programs and assist employees in building stronger financial safety nets.

1) Provide personalized benefits information and communication. Women are looking to receive personalized guidance and advice at the workplace when it comes to their employee benefits. Not even half (43%) of the women surveyed feel that their employer’s benefits communications effectively educate them. Information should address the importance of determining the proper coverage for employees as well as their spouses or domestic partners. Direct certain messages specifically to female employees – sixty-five percent of women (compared to 50% of men) say that receiving personalized benefits information with costs would help them make decisions about their workplace benefits. And provide them with access to financial planners to help with financial decision-making; 47% of women are interested in this service, up from 32% last year.

2) Offer opportunities to buy supplemental coverage through the workplace. Supplemental coverage allows employees to purchase more appropriate levels of coverage based on their personal needs, which may be greater than those met by their employer-paid plan. The ease of purchasing supplemental coverage through the workplace is valued by employees and may bring them one step closer to financial security. In fact, 46% of women would like a wider array of voluntary benefits from which they could choose. Over half of the women surveyed (52%) cite the convenience of buying voluntary benefits through the workplace as an important advantage, with 68% citing payroll deduction as an added advantage.

3) Host an off-cycle enrollment for life insurance. Offering an enrollment opportunity that focuses solely on life insurance is one way for employers to provide employees the chance to appropriately consider this important benefit. Health insurance often takes center stage across the board for men and women during annual enrollment periods; employees tend to view medical benefits as the most important and timely, and therefore may neglect other offerings such as life insurance, not realizing they may be crucial components to a sound financial plan.

In order to allow employees to hone in on their life insurance needs, employers can host a separate life insurance enrollment period that’s off-cycle from open enrollment season. This could help maximize employees’ participation rates and highlight the value of life insurance benefits. Additionally, off-cycle enrollments allow employers to directly measure their employees’ appreciation of and participation in certain benefits programs. In fact, MetLife has seen a 10% increase on average in employee participation when employers host separate life insurance enrollment events.

4) Send reminders about reevaluating life insurance needs after significant life events. When an important change takes place in life, such as a marriage, divorce, birth, or the purchase of a home, employees should be reminded not only to update their own coverage, but to reconsider their spouse’s or partner’s coverage as well. Life insurance needs change as lives change.

5) Add features that make life insurance germane and top-of-mind at any lifestage. By providing value-added features such as will preparation and estate resolution services, the overall value of a life insurance plan can be increased much beyond a death benefit. Life insurance becomes more pertinent and applicable when it’s in the form of a benefit that evolves and can be used at present. Features are available pre-need for employees and upon-need for executors and beneficiaries.

By understanding and addressing these issues, employers can help empower their female employees to make smarter, more confident decisions about planning for their financial futures. Employers looking to attract and retain this important segment of the workforce can use the simple steps outlined above to help enhance the value of their benefits program and reduce the gender gap in life insurance. Ultimately, this could help employers to address their goals of increased employee loyalty and improved retention rates.

The MetLife study has shown an apparent link between benefits satisfaction and employee retention: Of those who are satisfied with their benefits, 70% say benefits are an important reason to remain with an employer, compared to just 14% among those who are not satisfied with their benefits. Employee retention, which is rated by employers as a top benefits objective, could be improved by creating a benefits program that meets the diverse needs of a workforce.

Employers looking to recruit and retain mid-career women may have a strategic advantage if they provide benefits offerings that appeal to this key demographic. Employers have the opportunity to enhance benefits offerings for all employees to help improve both employee satisfaction with group life benefits and the outlook on their employees’ financial futures.
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