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  • Writer's pictureCindy McGrath

5 steps for improving your open enrollment and year-round benefits communications


Employee Benefits Communications

Employee benefits are vital for attracting and retaining top talent, boosting morale, and enhancing organizational performance. Simply having great benefits won’t make a difference in these metrics, however. Effective communication of the benefits will. A well-planned and executed employee benefits communications campaign for open enrollment and throughout the year improves employee experience and company loyalty.


Employee benefits are not an insignificant portion of your total rewards program. It represents on average 29.5% of total compensation costs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). By boosting employees’ understanding and appreciation of their benefit options, you reduce turnover and increase the company’s return on investment. It pays to be proactive in your communications campaign.


Here are five strategic communication steps for achieving these objectives:


1) Take advantage of every time of the year to advance awareness and understanding


Four seasons
Engage employees throughout the year to help them understand, appreciate, and navigate their benefits

Frequently, organizations focus the bulk of their benefits communications during open enrollment. If this applies to your company, you’re missing a valuable opportunity. Open enrollment may only be a few weeks, and that’s a short amount of time to sift through and understand a lot of information. Enrollment time may also fall during a busy time of year when employees are juggling other priorities.


As a result, employees may not look at your enrollment communications, or maybe scan them and become overwhelmed. This can lead to no action, missed deadlines, and potentially higher out-of-pocket and company costs.


Instead, engage employees throughout the year to help them understand, appreciate, and navigate their benefits. Communicating year-round makes the information digestible, therefore increasing the likelihood that employees will take action during open enrollment. Your employees will appreciate it: a majority of employees (81%) are interested in learning more about their company-sponsored benefits throughout the year, according to a new LegalShield study.


The sky’s the limit with year-round benefits communication opportunities

Highlight benefits that aren’t widely known or used. Other year-round communication opportunities include:

  • Healthcare terminology

  • Telehealth benefits

  • Qualifying event rules

  • Pre-tax program use or lose deadlines

  • Discount programs

  • Wellness and financial help resources

  • Wellness tips

Communicate key information before open enrollment begins

When your company knows it’s making benefit or carrier changes, or introducing new programs, don’t wait for open enrollment. Get the word out when key decisions are made. Communicate multiple times and through a variety of channels about any major changes so employees don’t miss them.


Focus on what, where, how, and when in open enrollment communications

Communicating throughout the year enables you to focus open enrollment communications on helping employees codify their selections. Emphasize what, where, how, and when:

  • What employees need to do and what’s new or changing

  • Where they can get questions answered

  • How they enroll or make changes

  • When the deadline is for taking action and when changes go into effect

2) Help employees navigate their healthcare benefits and enjoy reduced costs

Navigation assistance

Health-related benefits are “very” or “extremely” important employee benefits, according to 88% of employers in a 2023 SHRM Study. But healthcare is complex to understand and navigate. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to learn the jargon and the ins and outs of how plans work. Healthcare costs are also an expensive item in company budgets.


Effective benefits communications can play a role in reducing these costs. By developing and executing a well-thought-out communications strategy, you can help employees choose the best value health insurance plan, appropriate settings for care, cost-effective medications, and needed services to help prevent more expensive care. This will reduce your employees’ out-of-pocket and your company’s costs.


Develop a communications campaign to steer employees to valuable resources, quality care, and cost-effective choices. Educate employees on money-saving features. Here are some topic suggestions:

  • Show how to reduce out-of-pocket costs. This will go a long way in improving comfort level and satisfaction, according to an EBRI/Greenwald Research Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey.

    • Highlight high-quality, high-value providers

    • Provide medical cost estimators and shopping tools

    • Identify in-network and prescription drug savings opportunities

  • Promote non-company-sponsored health coverage options. Consider offering a buy-out incentive for employees choosing to move to their spouse's plan.

  • Educate about Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Health Care Spending Accounts (HCSAs), Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs), Dependent Care Assistant Programs (DCAPs), and other pre-tax programs

  • Underscore mental health resources, how they can help, and how to access them

3) Take a marketing approach to your communications to capture interest


Appeal t your employees' needs and wants

For effective communications, translate your company’s goals to the employees’ interests. This will pique their interest and increase the chance that they take notice. Use a marketing approach in your communications: why should they care and what’s in it for them? Instead of outlining features, talk about benefits.


Example: instead of, “See clearer with your health plan’s online cost estimator,” try “Your health plan’s online cost estimator can save you time and money.”


Emphasize:

  • Why should employees care?

  • What do you want employees to remember?

  • What

Use an attractive format. This makes it easier and more interesting to read. Use:

  • White space

  • Bullets

  • Graphics

  • Color or contrast

  • Bolding

  • Easy-to-read and professional fonts

4) Use different forms of communication to effectively reach your audience


One size doesn't fit all


Every employee is different including the kinds of communication preferred. Use multiple forms of communication to get your message across. There’s a better chance employees will retain information when they hear it or view it multiple times in different formats. If you have the option to customize messages for different employee cohorts, take advantage of these channels.



Example: send employees with young children information on your pre-tax dependent care and emergency backup child care programs.


Consider reaching your employees via:

  • Email

  • Video

  • Social media

  • Intranet

  • Health fairs

  • Presentations

  • Webinars

  • Slack/chat discussions

  • Text messages

  • Posters

  • Interactive quizzes to determine needs and priorities

  • In-person meetings

  • Print

Tip: Mailing information to employees is generally more expensive than other forms of communication, but including printed materials in your communications strategy can be a game-changer. The tactile nature of print communications and the fact that employees are more likely to remember the message when they see it in print than on a screen is compelling. At a minimum, send a postcard to the house so family members are aware of important information and deadlines.


5) Determine what was effective, what wasn't, and ways to improve

Take stock and adjust as needed

After an employee communications campaign is complete, take stock. What issues came up? What were the concerns? Were there areas of misunderstanding? What was effective? Get feedback from HR staff and vendors’ customer service staff. Attending health fairs and holding in-person events is always a terrific way to hear what’s working and what isn’t.


Review your data and discover the topics that resonated and which vehicles were especially effective – and which weren’t:

  • Intranet traffic

  • Open rates

  • Click rates

  • Video views

  • Customer service metrics

  • In-person and online event attendance

With this information, adjust your communications strategy and the mix of communication vehicles, as needed. Also check your communications messages for whether they clearly outline why your employees should care, what you want employees to remember, and what they need to do.


Photos by Ylanite Koppens, Erik Mclean, Miriam Fischer, Alissa Nabiullina, Melanie Deziel, Susan Q. Yin, and Lina Kivaka on Pexels



Cynthia McGrath helps businesses connect with their employees and customers through strategic marketing communications.




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