You can help make the open enrollment process easier for your employees with these four steps.

Each employee has different needs when it comes to health benefits. By providing "digestible" pieces of information, you stand a better chance of making sure they understand what the benefits entail and are empowered to make the best choice for themselves.

We know first-hand that open enrollment can be both a busy and stressful time of year. I'm sure you've heard one or more of the following from your employees:

  • "If my benefits are changing, tell me what that really means. Help me understand what choices are available."

  • "Every year, I get a gigantic package of information on benefits. I don't know where to start."

  • "What's with the alphabet soup? HSA, FSA, HRA, HDHP / CDHP – stop the madness! I'm afraid to enroll in these programs because I don't get what they are or how to use them."

  • "How do I figure out the best plan for me (and my family)"?

It All Starts with Communications

Yes, yes — I get it — your job actually starts much earlier in the year when you have to evaluate existing plans, make decisions about what to continue to offer, eliminate or add, and negotiate with your vendor partners to maximize your investment...among other things.

The first step is to engage your associates and help them understand your current benefits offerings by putting together a thoughtful communications program with clear, concise and compelling materials to help enable them to be better health care consumers. This means speaking in layman's terms and not overcomplicating information.

Tips to Get You Started…

1. Empower — Consumerism is the name of the game in today's benefits landscape. And that means we need to help our employees become better consumers of heath care. Employees have more choice and ownership of their health care options, which can be both a blessing and a curse. With that control comes an obligation — and opportunity — for employers to provide information and tools to help employees determine the best plans for them and their families.

  • Explore methods such as: decision support tools, calculators, personas, testimonials, short video clips, infographics, and the like.

2. Diversify — Understand that one (communications) size does not fit all. You have one employee population made up of multiple audiences. They vary by gender, age, marital status, worksite, generational communications preferences, computer aptitude and much more. Your benefits communications should consistently and frequently communicate the choices offered to each of your constituents in a way that will resonate.

  • Mix it up with a variety of deliverables: electronic (email, digital signage); social (blog posts, podcasts, texts, mobile apps); multimedia (video, webinars); interaction (manager meetings, employee meetings, pre-shift meetings, benefits fairs, "ask the expert" calls).

  • Reaching an unplugged workforce: Keep in mind that print (postcards, table tents, posters, mailers) is still alive and well, particularly for workforces that are "unplugged" or not behind a desk all day. Even if you can't get super fancy with the delivery method, you can shorten your messages, add call out boxes and checklists with important action items for your employees.

3. Create Change Champions — Having a familiar face or local contact to direct questions to can help. Not every organization has a team of HR business partners or field support to saturate the entire population.

  • Establishing a change champion network at the local level is helpful to serve as a frontline resource for general questions (i.e., "How do I access the system?", "When is open enrollment?" and "Where do I go with a question about X?")

  • You can also leverage the change champion network to help filter feedback back to HR so you can respond, clarify or repeat communications as needed.

  • Try it out: Collaboration tools such as Workplace by Facebook, Slack, internal portals or SharePoint sites.

4. Quantify Results — It's critical to measure the performance of your communications campaign so that you can report back to senior management, refine the plan, and repeat what worked (and get rid of what didn't) the next time around. Measure campaign performance using metrics that will help your senior leaders gain clear and crisp insight into pertinent data.

  • Metrics Matter: Demonstrate data-driven metrics such as enrollment, participation in programs (i.e., wellness, biometrics), evaluate annual surveys, call center data and volume, and tap into anecdotal insights through informal conversations, focus groups, and your change champions.

Benefits represent a large portion of an employee's total compensation. To optimize each employee's understanding of their benefits and to increase satisfaction levels, communicate with your employees throughout the year — not just at open enrollment. The most effective communications plans are consistent and ongoing.

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