Kip Soteres

Fixing Last Year’s Open Enrollment Communication Mistakes

Done well, open enrollment communication is a year-round effort. Health plan and other benefit options are becoming more complex, so while the enrollment period itself may generally be fairly short, the preparation leading up to it — for employers and employees alike — should be much more substantial.

On employees’ end, the upcoming 2019 open enrollment may require them to juggle multiple websites to access their insurance and provider information. They may have multiple accounts, including a health savings account, on top of tracking wellness requirements to receive incentives and staying updated on changes to their benefits. It’s no surprise employees find open enrollment stressful!

One of the most effective ways to simplify open enrollment is to focus on communication. If any of these three communication mistakes look familiar from a past open enrollment period, here’s how to address them going forward.

1. Relying Too Heavily on Email

HR professionals almost universally tell the same story: After sending out three or more mass email blasts, they receive complaints from employees that no one sent them an email.

The lesson here is that email should be part of your communication strategy, not the whole thing. Bear in mind that simply pushing information out into the ether doesn’t work, especially when not all of your employees are glued to their inboxes.

Consider dedicating a centralized location, such as a company intranet site, to providing information, updates and resources related to open enrollment. That way, employees can find information from last week without having to sort through a hundred emails in their email archives. It also makes it easier to fix mistakes. If there was an error in how a vendor’s website was listed, for example, making a correction is a matter of updating the post rather than adding a message to the bottom of an email chain.

Where you do use email, track how many people open it, and follow electronic communications up with in-person training events and benefit fairs. Depending on your workforce, it might also make sense to send at least one item in the mail. Even just a postcard could be a way to reach the employee or their partners and families with essential information.

2. Letting Contact Information Pile Up

A modern company benefits program may have 10 or more vendors, each with their own service lines for different types of insurance, financial accounts, employee assistance programs and other benefits. In addition to those phone numbers and email addresses, a company may have separate HR, payroll and IT help lines. All of those strings of names and numbers might force employees to randomly call numbers to find answers to their questions.

A contact list the size of a full-fledged phone book will be just as confusing to navigate as an inbox stuffed to the brim with open enrollment messages. That’s risky, because an employee who has a bad experience trying to contact vendors about their benefits may decide it’s not worth trying again. Consider minimizing the number of phone lines you provide to employees, down to one if at all possible. Service representatives on that line should be trained to vet calls and direct employees to the right provider.

A centralized line also makes it easier to capture accurate data about the kinds of questions employees ask and improves your ability to resolve those issues efficiently. You might find it makes sense to increase staffing during high-volume periods, the description open enrollment will probably fall into.

Now, sometimes employees have complex needs that require them to speak to more than one service provider. The vendors you use should be aware of each other, at least to the extent that their representatives can refer employees to the other vendor offerings specific to your organization. If an employee talks to their health insurer about not having funds for a course of treatment, that insurer can then direct them to the correct vendor for financial advice.

3. Not Covering Your FAQs

If you haven’t already, make sure to build an employee-facing FAQ. Map the material it covers to high-volume employee questions to ensure that your document answers the questions that employees really need. Add it to your centralized intranet site or information hub so your staff can easily reference it multiple times.

The ideal communication plan looks different for every organization. Your business’s size, geography and makeup all impact what your workforce needs to approach open enrollment with confidence. Whatever form your open enrollment communication takes, set clear metrics and track your progress toward reaching them. Even if it takes a few years to get there, you’ll be able to look back on your improvement knowing you’ve made a hectic time a little easier.

Stay up to date on the latest health care regulations and trends for your small business: Subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter.