Open Enrollment for 2010 Will Be Different

Three factors to consider in crafting benefits communication to ensure success

By Jennifer Benz, Benz Communications Sep 2, 2009

Open enrollment for 2010 benefit programs will be a lot different. There’s a lot happening—the economy, the national debate on health care, the increased influence of social media. All of this is changing the way employees think about their benefits.

To meet their enrollment targets for 2010, HR managers need to consider the following factors in crafting their benefits communication:

1. Employees care about their benefits more than ever before, and benefits are a larger part of their total compensation in 2010, given businesses’ response to the economy. Multiple surveys attest to how much employees value their benefits — health care and financial. With salaries frozen or decreasing, and the value of health care benefits always on the rise, benefits make up a larger part of total compensation and, as a result, a larger part of employment brand and value proposition.

2. Benefits are on the national stage, and you’re going to get more hard-to-answer questions. National health care reform has put health care benefits front and center in the national news. Employees and families will want to know how legislation might change their benefits, including health care. As such, this is a prime opportunity to demonstrate and reinforce the value of benefits offerings.

3.Social media are changing expectations as to how, when and why employees receive information. In an age of iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, and real-time access to any piece of information, the traditional methods of communicating benefits information are not good enough. Employees want easier access to information, and they want it to be easy to take action on the information they receive.

With these factors in mind, below are guidelines for benefits communication during open enrollment for 2010:

Connect benefits to the business. Educate employees about the company’s benefits philosophy and how it is connected to the business. Arm managers with information about total compensation, and use it to help tell the whole story. Talking points or checklists will allow them to push the benefits message further.

Keep it simple. Employees' top concerns during enrollment are: “What's new? What will it cost?” Spell out these answers, and why, in simple terms along with step-by-step instructions on how to enroll. Create a one-page enrollment tip sheet that lists what’s changing in as simple a form as possible (perhaps just a bulleted list), gives brief enrollment instructions, and tells employees and families where to go for all the details.

Focus on employees’ needs. Resist the temptation to include figures about the firm’s total benefits spend and to tell employees how many billion dollars per year bad health care decisions are costing the U.S. Employees need to know how it impacts them, their lives and their families. Break down discussion of overall health costs into what the company spendsper employee. Emphasize the impact on employees’ pocketbooks.

Promote missed and under-utilized benefits. Put together a list of the five to 10 benefit plans employees aren't using enoughhealth savings accounts, fitness benefits, voluntary insurance, hidden features of the EAP, preventive care benefits, commuter benefitsas a one-page flyer. Title it “The Top 10 Employee Benefits You’re Missing” or “10 Ways You’re Not Getting the Most from Your Benefit Plans.” Ask employees for their ideas.

Start using social media. This is especially important if enrollment meetings have been cut. In-person meetings are valuable, but travel costs can be expensive. Substitute those live meetings with virtual ones and post recordings online for employees who can’t make them. Start a benefits blog to focus on reminders and tips, and give employees a way to join the conversation. Use Twitter to post frequent updates and provide low-cost customer service. Social media provide a cost-effectiveway to get employees engaged.

Jennifer Benz is founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, an HR communications strategy boutique creating integrated employee benefits campaigns. Benz Communications' clients include Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, and small- to mid-size companies.​

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