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8 Best Practices for Open Enrollment Communications

Employees can miss out on the valuable offerings you spent so much time putting together

It’s no secret that a competitive benefits package—particularly in today’s job market—is one of the best tools to attract the right talent, enhance employee engagement and retain your most valuable employees. But without the right internal marketing and communication strategies in place, plan participation can falter and employees can miss out on the valuable offerings you spent so much time putting together in the first place.

To help ensure a smooth and successful annual enrollment period, here are communications tips to promote employee participation and satisfaction with your company’s health benefits:

1. Review workforce demographics and benefits usage to get a better understanding of employees’ stages in the life cycle.
Knowing your audience and targeting benefits communications to meet those life cycle needs makes the benefits more personal and relevant. Employees with young families, older workers preparing for retirement, empty nesters and young singles all have distinctly different benefits needs and interests.

2. Package benefits by target group.
Additionally, promote messaging that speaks to each group’s needs while consistently reinforcing the overall benefits strategy and employer branding in the messaging. Different communications delivery systems may also be valued by different employee groups.

3. Messaging should start with “why” the benefits are structured as they are and “what” the company’s overall benefits strategy is designed to accomplish for employees.
Most employees are smart, so don’t sugarcoat any bad news about changes in the benefits program, such as increased health plan premiums or deductibles. The best employees will see through the slick messaging and resent any attempts to hide changes that may be perceived as negative. But this also is a good time to highlight the important value of your benefits programs, promote wellness and encourage retirement savings through the effective use of provided benefits.

4. Keep the messaging simple.
 Provide clear information, checklists and decision support tools that are easy to follow. While the details behind a certain benefit may be fascinating to benefits specialists, exhaustive explanations may cause some employees to set that carefully crafted document aside. By all means, have the details available, but keep the key messages and “what you need to do for enrollment” information central to the enrollment materials.

5. Bring company managers and supervisors into the discussion prior to launch.
Give them a heads-up regarding the upcoming benefits changes and enlist their help in the process.

6. Explain the benefits options in as many ways as the budget will allow.
Multimedia messaging that provides different methods for employees and their families to watch videos or webinars, read detailed benefits materials, review infographics, use hands-on decision tools, view desktop dashboards or pop-up “Did you know?” benefits messages, read Q&As or consider examples can help employees recognize the value of each benefit and ultimately make better benefits decisions. Structure a campaign for repeating key messages.

7. Tackle the “how” of your benefits communications program.
This should include communications delivery methods such as:

Electronic communications.


In-person company meetings.

Packages mailed to home addresses to involve the family.

Use of social media.

Intranet posts.

E-mails and instant messaging.

Live hotline for questions and concerns.

A possible combination of several, or even all, of the above methods.

Employees need time to think about their options and allow the information to soak in, so consider sending employee prompts and reminders so that the enrollment process is completed in a timely manner.

8. Provide administratively simple enrollment methods.
Use online platforms if the budget allows. Establish a timeline working backwards from the date that the information must be completed with the carriers and other benefits providers, then work forward to deliver the communications program.

Remember that your benefits programs will only realize their investment potential if the benefits are perceived as meeting the expectations and needs of your employees and their dependents.

The annual open enrollment communications opportunity is precious: You can influence how employees see benefits or cost changes and motivate employees to change their health or savings habits. Furthermore, it is a chance to let employees know that management is listening, considers their feedback valuable and will respond to their needs.

Laura Kerekes, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer at ThinkHR Corporation, an HR advisory firm.


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