Open enrollment is generally the best opportunity employers have to ensure that employees will take maximum advantage of the benefits available to them and that they will make sound choices. Unfortunately, employees sometimes struggle to fully understand those choices and, in some cases, may not even have been aware of the communications sent from the company. In any organization there may be pockets of "unreachables" — those employees who, for whatever reason, fall under the radar when it comes to receiving corporate communications. The overall impact for organizations is that they fail to gain maximum value from the dollars — and time — they have spent on their benefit packages.
According to the ADP Research Institute®, only 58 percent of HR leaders believe their staff has a "full understanding of their benefit options." That lack of understanding has significant implications when it comes to engaging with employees to ensure they're making sound benefit choices.
What does it take for HR professionals and the organizations they serve to reach these populations?
David Langton is the founder of Langton Creative Group, a digital branding agency in New York City and former manager of corporate communications at Home Life Insurance Company. When working with organizations to help them connect with employees during open enrollment, Langton says the following: "We use a combination of experiential techniques including videos, games, giveaways, print post cards, mailers and brochures plus online — a new web portal, email blasts and online guides." Brochures are particularly good for engaging with retirees, he says. Another important element of open enrollment is creating a consistent brand or theme that will be consistent across all communication channels. "Sometimes we create a 'character' or 'mascot' who can send 'save the date' notices and messages via email, short videos and internal communication systems." The more channels you use, the greater the likelihood of connecting with even the most unreachable among your employee audience.
Engage Employees on Multiple Fronts
With any form of communication, it's important to ensure that the message is broadly delivered and that nobody is left out. During open enrollment that becomes even more critical. The big message — don't rely on just one, or a few, communication methods and techniques to get your message out. Success during open enrollment communications requires a multitude of channels, messages and touch points to make sure that messages have been adequately delivered — and received.
There's a yin and a yang to open enrollment communications. On one hand, employees have a definite interest in their benefits — they know this is critical information. On the other hand, much of this communication is dry, confusing and filled with insider jargon. So attacking this on as many fronts as possible should help you get the results you're looking for.
Go Digital, But Remember Analog
Digital is, of course, a quick, cost-effective way to communicate with employees and should be a big part of your overall plan. But it shouldn't be the only part. Not only because your organization is likely to include people who aren't digitally engaged (the unreachable), but also because people need to hear, see or be engaged with information through a variety of channels for it to really sink in.
You should be trying to cast as broad a communication net as possible. So don't forget to supplement your digital efforts with more traditional communication tools, such as table tents and posters in break rooms and other common areas, mailers sent to employee homes and notices in print newsletters.
Personalize Your Message
Benefit communications can be confusing, so do your best to use simple language focused on what matters most to your audience. So a good place to start is answering the question: What's in it for them? Provide them with plenty of way to access information that will really help them understand exactly what it is they need to know about how these benefits will affect them.
Whenever possible, it's a great idea to find ways to deliver your messages in person. That can happen through a trickle-down approach whereby senior leaders communicate to their direct reports, managers to theirs and so forth. Arming these groups with communication tools that contain key messages and other materials can ensure that a consistent message is shared. Additionally, you could consider involving your marketing communication colleagues in crafting the messaging for optimal effect.
Visual images are another way to ramp up employee engagement, so don't limit your message to text-based missives — use graphics, photos or video, too. Even within the text you should use various devices like bullets, checklists and boxes to break up the text and provide greater visual appeal.
Don't just use one go-to communication channel to get the open enrollment message out to your employees. Reach the unreachables through an array of tools that can help you convey this crucial information in the most clear and efficient way to the people who need it most.
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