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It’s no surprise: Benefits are integral to employee attraction and retention—especially in today’s competitive job market. 

One study reports that, “56 percent of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits said that whether or not they like their health coverage is a key factor in deciding to stay at their current job.” 

This makes effective internal HR employee benefits communications essential. To retain employees, they have to understand the value of the packages the HR team has spent significant time creating, and how best to take advantage of them given their current life situation.

Without a proactive internal communication strategy in place—one intentionally designed for the open enrollment period—program awareness and understanding will suffer, participation will fall short of objectives and employees will miss out on valuable benefits. Lack of awareness, comprehension and participation negatively impacts employee health and well-being, while leading to higher employee turnover.

As we enter open enrollment season, here’s how to get proactive with your open enrollment communication plan.

  1. Segment your audiences. Since not every employee is in the same life-stage, you understandably offer multiple health insurance options and benefits packages to choose from. But most employees do not know why those package decisions were made, and more choice often leads to more confusion and less satisfaction.

    Better communication helps, and that starts by dividing your audience into smaller, more-focused groups. Think about age groups and life stages. Young singles, young families and older empty nesters each have different needs; You can often focus your communications around these life stages, explaining which packages may best fit which group, and why. Also consider the length of time at the company. New hires who have never been through open enrollment, will appreciate more educational content and a different style of communication than those who have been with the company for ten years.

  1. Identify your communication channels. How are you going to get the message out? Often, analyzing data from past enrollment seasons can help determine the communication preferences of your employee audiences. Again, you might alter your channels based on your segments. New employees may respond better to a social media push. The majority may respond best to email, whereas older employees may respond best to a conversation with their manager. To account for diverse learning styles, generational differences and accessibility requirements, plan to use a multi-channel approach, but not necessarily an every-channel approach.
  2. Remove process roadblocks early. Lost or forgotten login credentials and complications have been known to sideline the best enrollment plans. Before open enrollment begins—when every HR representative is pressed for time—run a campaign to encourage employees to sign-in and update their system login credentials, especially if you offer self-service enrollment. Pre-open enrollment season is a smart time to run this, getting updated credentials, home addresses, phone numbers and family member info. By eliminating these minor roadblocks early in the process, you save time, effort and frustration during the rush to deadline.
  3. Create an FAQs document. Prior to open enrollment, document any changes made to your benefits packages and summarize these changes in an easily shareable format. If your department hasn’t created an open enrollment FAQs document, now is the time to do it, saving everyone time down the road. Here’s a solid example that includes answers to common questions like, “When is Open Enrollment?” and “I’m having trouble deciding which benefit plan to choose. How can I get additional assistance?”
  4. Plan a schedule. Rather than wait until the heat of the moment, think through all past communications, and address everything within an open enrollment communications schedule with specific dates. Here are eight steps to include.

Step One: Create awareness. One to two weeks before the official open date, get the open enrollment period and deadlines on people’s calendars.

Step Two: Open the gates. When open enrollment begins, send general announcement messages to each segment: new participants, experienced participants and non-participants.

Step Three: Involve the family. Often, benefits are a family decision. One or two days after the initial announcement, provide appropriate segments with the ability to opt-in family members to receive future messages or information packages directly.

Step Four: Provide education. Too often, employees only receive a dense, complicated dump of information prepared by your insurance company. 

While this detailed information can be helpful to compare prescription coverage or medical device coverage, more education, earlier, is often necessary. As soon as you know your plans, write summaries that include a descriptive summary sentence and three key bullet points. Then, a few days after the general open announcement, start your educational campaigns, with content targeted to each of your segments.

Consider using multiple learning formats: writing, videos, online if/then tools. The key here is to distill complex insurance and benefits options into crisp, clear, differentiated and descriptive sentences using key points, along with links to details. Crafting and sharing employee case studies is a great way to impart education in a more interesting, helpful and relatable way.

Step Five: Respect employee time. Shorter and more frequent messages will be more effective than a few heavy broadcasts. Automate thank you messages to go out as soon as an employee completes any key step in the process. And once an employee completes their enrollment, remove them from any future reminders or campaigns.

Step Six: Send smarter reminders. Pre-program at three general deadline reminders: a ‘midpoint’ reminder, a ‘three days left’ reminder and a ‘morning of’ reminder. Ideally, use current data to encourage more active participation. For example, at the midpoint reminder, use your actual data to say, “52% of your colleagues have completed the enrollment process.” You can also create more targeted follow-up messages. If your system can identify people who visited but did not complete your enrollment, or only partially completed it, anticipate that—and include relevant FAQs with links that make it easy to learn more.

Step Seven: Deadline push. Some employees will put off enrollment until the last minute, so multiple reminders in the days leading up to the deadline will help. But others are often stuck due to some pending question or confusion. To help these people across the finish line—and ensure they feel good about their decisions—consider scheduling a special live Q&A or help session during the last week of enrollment.

Benefits are a big deal. Your HR team has invested a significant amount of time creating competitive benefits packages, and communication is the only way employees will be able to take advantage of them. This pre-open enrollment communication plan is intended to help you improve participation and employee satisfaction, let us know what works for you, and if you have found other ideas that work.

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