5 fool-proof strategies for engaging benefits communication

Communicating employee benefits is a year-round job — making sure employees remember key dates, know how to make changes when they have a life event such as getting married, submit claims on time and so much more. But open enrollment is when you hit your biggest communication challenges — because there’s so much to communicate in so little time.

According to a Davis & Company survey:

Employees care about HR communication

  • 75% say it’s a “good use of their time”
  • Nearly 100% either “read every word” or “skim/browse”

But, HR communication does not meet employees’ needs

  • Only 30% are happy with the communication they receive
  • 50% are indifferent

 

So what can you do to improve employee communication during open enrollment? Use these five strategies:

1. Help employees choose the best plan

2. Explain the “why” behind benefits changes

3. Boost appreciation for benefits

4. Use the right channels to engage employees

5. Increase participation in voluntary benefits

 

1. Help employees choose the best plan
Most employees don’t read lengthy, complicated plan details. Instead, they skim materials to find the information they care most about. So how do you encourage employees to pick the right plan for them? Here are three ways:

Find out what employees most want to know
Set up focus groups or informal meetings between employees and your benefits team. Throw in a free lunch to boost attendance and find out what they understand about current medical plans, and what they need to know to make the best decision. Use these insights to craft communication geared to employees’ needs.

Keep it simple
Eliminate complicated explanations. Instead, focus on:

  • Highlighting what’s changing this year. Create a color-coded chart that visually shows the changes.
  • Putting everything in one place. Don’t make employees search for information. Provide FAQs, physician directories, spending calculators and all open enrollment materials in a centralized location.

Think outside the box
Come up with new ways to convey familiar information. For example, leverage a concept from the world of online dating to get employees’ attention and illustrate how plans work. Create profiles that are similar to the ones you might find on eHarmony or Match.com:

  • Courtney, a single 30-something female looking for peace of mind and ability to go where she wants when she wants
  • Dave, young and married, seeks value and broad network connections

Then match the profiles to the benefit plans that best fit the needs of the ads through a poster campaign and series of online videos.

 

2. Explain the “why” behind benefits changes
Benefits communication too often focuses on the negative: describing cost increases and takeaways. What you need to do differently is to provide context and make sure employees understand the big picture. Here’s how:

  • Talk about the strategy. Why does your company offer competitive benefits? How does the package stack up against the competition? Share the long- and short-term goals for benefits and employees will know what changes to expect in the future.

  • Share reasoning behind the decisions. Chances are, the executive team has given the benefits changes a lot of thought, looked through the data and made strategic decisions based on cost-benefit analysis. Walk employees through that process.

  • Make employees part of the decision — and communicate that you’ve done so. The best HR departments periodically survey employees to know what benefits are best understood and most valued. If you’ve done so, and data is used to make changes to benefits, share the results and how the information influenced decisions.

  • Show the value of their benefits. On a micro level, provide each employee with a statement of their individual benefits — including employee and the company’s share of the cost — to help them make smart decisions for their families. On a macro level, tell employees what the overall benefit bill is to the company, how rising costs are affecting it and what the changes mean to the bottom line.

 

3. Boost appreciation for benefits
Because health care costs continue to increase, companies are seeking ways to manage those costs — often by asking employees to contribute more or by reducing certain benefits. But there are ways to keep your employees satisfied with their benefits despite the cuts and higher bills.

Be clear and candid
Even if employees don’t like the news, they’ll appreciate clear and accessible information. Explain the business case and what employees can do to save. Use multiple communication channels — print, online, email and face-to-face — to deliver timely messages and answer employee concerns.

Communicate the whole array of benefits
Our research tells us that employees often don’t realize the overall value of their benefits package because they’re rarely presented as a total program. Provide employees with a big-picture view showing the complete package.

Package benefits to address life and employment events
When employees need to amend their benefits, it’s usually because of a life event (marriage, birth, adoption) or employment event (i.e., changing from part-time to full-time status). Address these needs and organize content accordingly. By making the benefits experience easy, employees will feel more satisfied.

 

4. Use the right channels to engage employees
During open enrollment you’re faced with the challenge of engaging employees in a variety of topics: wellness, medical, dental, FSAs and HSAs.

Email is often the default communication channel. But it isn’t the only tool in your toolbox. How do you know what to use? Here are a few situations you might face and the right tool to accomplish the task:

 

Scenario

Tool

Why it works

Helping employees choose the health care plan that’s right for them

Printed brochure

For employees to choose wisely, they need time to weigh their options. A brochure provides tables that compare features of different plans, example profiles and an easy way to share information with a spouse.

Answering employees’ questions about a complicated topic, such as a new prescription drug plan

Social media

An online chat with a benefits expert provides real-time answers from a professional.

Getting factory employees to participate in voluntary benefits

Electronic displays

Since factory employees are rarely sitting at a computer, utilize workplace communication to get them involved.

Helping new employees learn about an important initiative

Online learning module

Learning modules allow you to have a little fun what is often dry material. Create a memorable character that employees can relate to and they will be more likely to remember it.

 

5. Increase employee participation in voluntary benefits
You have a robust lineup of voluntary benefits — programs like long-term disability, pet insurance and cancer insurance — which employees can choose to purchase at lower rates than they could get on their own. But, despite your top-notch offerings, employees are not taking advantage of these valuable benefits. How can you raise awareness and increase participation? Here are three ideas:

  • “Membership has its privileges”
    To spread the word about voluntary benefits and boost knowledge of your value proposition, create a promo card insert for employees’ ID badges. The card markets your voluntary benefits program, providing discounts for special deals and linking to an online resource. The card also provides a daily reminder of the “perks” of being an employee.

  • Employee testimonials
    There’s no better advertisement than a satisfied customer. Conduct focus groups and ask employees which voluntary benefits they’ve used and what they would recommend. Then pick a few enthusiastic spokespeople to share their experiences, via an online video or a newsletter feature called “Best-kept benefits secrets.”

  • Something new on the menu
    Want an out-of-the box way to feed employees information? Head on over to the cafeteria and create placemats or tray liners highlighting your voluntary benefit menu. List menu items in logical buckets: a stress reduction lunch-and-learn with an employee massage discount, a retirement seminar in conjunction with incentive payouts. That way, employees get a healthy side of voluntary benefit information as they eat their lunch. Definitely food for thought.

 

Originally publsihed on medium.com

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