For employers with calendar year plans, it is time to start preparing for annual enrollment. Properly designed, positioned, and communicated group benefit packages are one of the best tools in your arsenal to attract the right talent, enhance employee engagement, and retain your most valuable employees. As you head into this year’s annual open enrollment, consider the strategic value of your employee communications to maximize the return on your benefits investment.
You have been analyzing your workforce, studying usage and costs, and probably surveying your employees regarding their benefits preferences, so that you and your broker can compile the best benefits package your budget will allow. The next step is to put your marketing skills to work so that employees and their families make the best benefit choices during annual enrollment. Build your communications plan by:
Reviewing workforce demographics and benefits usage to get a better understanding of employees’ stages in the lifecycle. Knowing your audience and targeting benefits communications to meet those lifecycle 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.
Packaging benefits by target group and promoting messaging that speaks to that group’s needs while consistently reinforcing the overall benefits strategy and employer branding in the messaging. Different communications delivery systems may also be important to different employee groups.
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 bad news about changes in the benefits program or costs. The best employees will see through the slick messaging and resent those attempts to hide changes that may be perceived as negative. This is a good time to highlight the important value of their benefits programs, promote wellness, encourage retirement savings, and incent cost-effective usage of benefits programs.
Keeping 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, it 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.
Bringing company managers and supervisors into the discussions prior to launch. Give them a heads up regarding the upcoming benefits changes and enlist their help in the process.
Explaining the benefits options in as many ways as the budget will allow. Multimedia messaging that provides different methods for employees and/or their families to watch videos or webinars, read detailed benefits materials, review infographics, use “hands-on” decision tools, view desktop dashboards or popup “did you know” benefits messages, read questions and answers or consider examples helps employees recognize the value of the benefit and make better benefits decisions. Determine the campaign for repeating key messages and the frequency of those communications.
Looking at all of the elements of your benefits communications program, including:
Communications delivery methods. Electronic communications? Webinars? In-person company meetings? Packages mailed to home addresses to involve the family? Use of social media? Intranet messaging? Frequent emails or instant messaging? Live hotline for questions and concerns? Combination of all of the methods?
Enrollment methods. Online? Manual? Make it as administratively simple as possible for both employees and the benefits administration staff. Use electronic tools if the budget allows.
Timing. 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.
Frequency. Employees need time to consider their options and allow the information to soak in. Consider sending employee prompts and reminders so that the enrollment process is completed in a timely manner.
The annual open enrollment communications opportunity is important in many ways — you can influence how employees see benefits or cost changes, motivate employees to change their health or savings habits, and let employees know that management is listening, considering their feedback valuable, and responding to their needs.
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