The dual impacts of health care reform and ever-rising health care costs are driving companies to push wellness programs more aggressively and tie those programs to premiums. However, the addition of wellness programs into the open enrollment mix adds complexity and communication challenges for benefits managers. Whatever the benefit offering, communication that drives employee engagement is key. This is even more important with wellness programs, because they are so personal.
Whether the company goal is to have employees get a biometric screening, complete a health risk assessment or engage in healthy behaviors throughout the year, effective communication is essential. Below are six tips to communicating wellness programs effectively during open enrollment.
1. Connect the dots. Explain clearly how the wellness program is connected to the company’s overall benefits strategy. Help employees understand that their participation in wellness programs can help keep them healthy, reduce their need for medical care and lower the cost of their health care benefits now--when incentives are linked to employee health care premium reductions—and in the future.
2. Make it clear; keep it simple. Just the names of some of the elements of wellness programs—biometric screenings, health risk assessments—can seem daunting. Most people don’t understand medical jargon; it’s overwhelming and often scary. Wellness programs need to be communicated in a way that makes sense to employees, so:
• Define terms and repeat concepts.
• Try different formats to say the same things.
• Don’t overwhelm with too much information.
• Use visuals and bullet points, graphics, charts and FAQs to boost understanding.
3. Focus on confidentiality and privacy. Health information is very personal and elicits strong emotional responses. Take care to reassure employees continually that their privacy will be protected and that the results of any wellness program medical tests will be kept absolutely confidential. Communicating the company’s commitment to maintain employee privacy and confidentiality clearly can inspire confidence, earn respect and win engagement.
4. Plan for questions and concerns. Remember that change—even change for the better—is unsettling. Change involving personal health, combined with privacy and confidentiality issues, can be that much more unsettling. Employee reactions will vary. Some employees might be resentful of what they perceive to be a “Big Brother” intrusion into their lifestyle choices. Others might be afraid of knowing their results. Employee communications should address these possible reactions. Include user guides and tip sheets that explain how the wellness program works. Anticipate lots of questions. Be sure to respond.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate—and make it a two-way conversation. Think beyond annual enrollment and talk to employees and their families all year long. A benefits website on the Internet is the single most important investment to provide easy access to benefits information for employees and family members. Once a site is built, add social media tools, like Twitter and/or a blog; these are the easiest and most cost-effective ways to publish a fresh stream of news and relevant updates. Moreover, these channels enable two-way dialog with employees and family members. Use the feedback or questions to create content and evaluate how the programs are working.
6. Keep it engaging. Results depend on employee engagement. According to Henry Albrecht, CEO of wellness program provider Limeade, the “five rules of engagement” for wellness programs (and wellness program communications) are:
• Be relevant. Successful programs speak to employees’ interests and concerns.
• Be social. Successful programs take a “we’re all in this together” approach with relevant health-enhancing activities in a social network.
• Be positive. Positive approaches oriented around improving well-being encourage rather than threaten and reward rather than punish. They help people feel good and give them the fortitude to tackle what isn’t working.
• Be integrated. Wellness offerings from multiple vendors must be integrated to provide employees with a simple, easy-to-navigate user experience.
• Be safe. Make sure to cover all the bases regarding data integrity, safety, security and regulatory compliance.
Following is a compilation of Benz Communications’ favorite free resources from the web.
Health Programs Employees Can Use:
SparkPeople—Interactive online weight-loss program.
Fit day—Online diet and weight loss journal.
Text4baby—Texts to help women during pregnancy and child’s first year.
CDC Lean Works! — A workplace obesity prevention program.
Communications Tools and Tips:
Society for Human Resource Management—Toolkits on benefits, business leadership, compensation, consulting, employee relations, ethics and more.
National Business Group on Health—Toolkits to help employees understand how health care works.
Health America—Employer wellness toolkit that includes posters, newsletter articles, and brochures.
Strategy and Planning Tools:
Metlife Open Enrollment Toolbox—Learn how to improve your open enrollment communication with these tip sheets.
Blue Cross—How to implement and maintain a worksite wellness program.
Jennifer Benz is the founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, a benefits communications strategy boutique creating integrated employee benefits campaigns for employers.
Jennifer Benz, CEO of Benz Communications, explains the advantages of sharing benefits information regularly with employees throughout the calendar year.
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Best Practices in Benefits Communication: A Year-Round Effort, SHRM Multimedia, October 2011
Message to Employees: Get Proactive During Benefits Enrollment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011
What’s the Rush? Employees Want Time to Mull Benefits Choices, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011
Gen Y: Employers Get Low Marks for Benefits Communications, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011
Open Enrollment: A Chance to Boost Employee Morale, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011
Open Enrollment: Communicating in an Uncertain Economy, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, August 2011
Online Benefits Education Should Target Spouses, Be Year-Round, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, August 2010
A Pollster's Insights for Effective Health Care Communications, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2010
SHRM Online Benefits Discipline
SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page