As open enrollment periods near or get underway for 2022 plan year benefits, SHRM Online has collected the following reminders on effectively communicating with employees about selecting and enrolling in benefits offerings.
Make Communications Simple and Direct
To make the decision path as logical as possible for your employees:
- Explain the variables they should consider when determining the right plan. Beyond defining the terms, show how they apply.
- Do the math for them. Illustrate different health care use scenarios and associated cost differences between the health care plans that you offer.
- Explain coverage, especially for big ticket items. One solution is to create personas that help employees see themselves benefiting from the options offered by one plan or another.
- Make it easy to involve their spouse or partner. Recommend that employees discuss plan options with a significant other, and send hard copies of materials to employees' homes.
Things to Remember for Every Enrollment Campaign
Time-tested advice for open enrollment campaigns:
- Encourage your employees to run the numbers for themselves. Assumptions such as "high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are for healthy people who use very little health care" just aren't true—these plans can work for all types of employees, especially if your company provides health savings account funding.
- Provide a comparison tool to help employees see what their costs are under each medical option. If you don't have time to build an online tool, tell employees how to do their own paper-and-pencil calculation.
- Don't shy away from bad news. Use it as an opportunity to explain how benefits costs affect your organization.
- Stick to the facts. People are inundated with communications, so be clear, brief and direct.
Successfully Adjusting to the 'New Normal'
Employers have learned a lot about communicating to employee groups in the last year and a half. Here are a few takeaways:
- Know your audiences. "Working from home" can sometimes translate to "working with distractions" or "digital information overload." Essential workers onsite may be struggling with their current workload and have diminished capacity to look at or focus on traditional communications like newsletters or enrollment guides. To cover your bases, develop a variety of paper and digital communications to reach employees where and when they are available.
- Provide opportunities to ask questions. Build digital or safe in-person Q&A sessions into your communications schedule. It helps to offer a way for employees to ask questions outside of business hours—for example, an e-mail address or online question form that promises a response within one business day.
- Cover complicated changes several times and in multiple formats. In newsletters and enrollment guides, "Did You Know?" sidebars can be visually appealing and help you cover critical content in short text bursts.
- Leverage your resources. If your company uses third-party administrators to manage benefit programs, reach out to them for help. They've spent the last year and a half learning and adapting as well, and they likely have new enrollment resources to share with you.
- Emphasize wellness and virtual benefits. Some benefits, such as employee assistance programs, are especially relevant now. Reminding employees of how to sign up and access these benefits and making the contact information easy to locate after enrollment can help them get a leg up on issues that are weighing them down.
Streamline Your Communications
Trying to educate employees on their entire range of benefits within a short time frame can overwhelm them. Instead, focus your efforts on benefits programs that are:
- New or changing. Announce new programs, educate employees about how they work, perform demos and answer questions.
- Time-sensitive. Save the evergreen programs for another spot in your communications calendar after open enrollment.
- Relevant to everyone. New programs that affect most or all of your employees should be high on the priority list.
- In high demand. If you're delivering a new benefit that your team members have been asking for, open enrollment could be a good time to show you've been listening.
Advantages of Going Virtual
Employers' plans to return to large, in-person benefits meetings this year may be stymied by the delta variant surge of COVID-19. Instead, they can combine live and virtual benefits education, keeping in mind points such as:
- Virtual events save money. Holding a virtual event eliminates the expense of bringing in employees now working out of state and paying their travel and accommodation costs.
- Technology creates seamless experiences. Virtual benefits fairs can offer networking opportunities and breakout sessions that create an overall experience rivaling in-person events, and they can include employee engagement techniques such as live polling.
- Virtual events are calendar-friendly. Online benefits sessions are much easier on personal and business schedules. Those who can't attend in real time can catch the replay at their convenience.
- Virtual space is everywhere at once. For organizations with multiple offices and worksites, virtual events provide a consistent experience no matter the work location.
[Visit SHRM's resource hub page on Open Enrollment.]