Louise Norris

Getting Creative With Your Open Enrollment Communications

Employees consistently rank health insurance among the most important benefits that employers provide. But does that enthusiasm translate to how they actually use their benefits? As open enrollment nears, it’s critical that your employees understand their benefits, including how to get the most out of them.

But if you’re hoping to improve how you market your benefits to your staff, it’s worth taking advantage of the wonderful resource you already have — your own employees. Try these open enrollment ideas to collaborate with communications experts and ensure that your employees understand and value the benefits that you provide.

Why You Should Lean On Communications Expertise

The HR professionals tasked with designing the benefits are often very good at it; where their skills sometimes fall flat is in simplifying that content and developing engaging employee benefit communication. So, leverage the people around you: Use your marketing or communications experts’ knowledge to making open enrollment approachable for employees.

In particular, look for ways to use visuals to support your efforts. Though text-heavy information is often the best way to convey the details, communications professionals can develop digestible, visually appealing introductory content that provides a helpful roadmap for the dense material.

Those same communications experts will likely also have insights into new channels for spreading the word. The traditional employee benefit communication effort is typically email and snail mail, possibly with a poster, some intranet messages or a live benefit fair thrown in. Fresh open enrollment ideas expand your reach to more employees and allow you to highlight key differences for the year that they should be aware of.

Communicators can also help you coordinate and leverage messages from leadership to support open enrollment. It means a lot if the CEO can add a line at employee events about how the company values and invests in them through offerings like health plans.

Create Focus Groups

Communications professionals know that understanding your audience is essential to developing effective messages, and they’ll have their own ideas about how to accomplish this within the context of open enrollment.

For one thing, you’ll want to make sure to prepare the benefit questions that matter the most to employees. One traditional marketing approach is to gather a small focus group of nonexperts, including employees and managers. This is especially helpful if you anticipate making significant changes to your benefits.

Employee benefit communication can get technical and complicated, so use focus group feedback to ensure that you’re answering critical questions in jargon-free language. Focus groups can also help you anticipate tough questions. If a focus group seems impractical, or you’re worried about information leaking early, make sure to at least leverage your in-house marketing or communications experts as a second set of eyes.

Simplify and Streamline

Well-intentioned organizations often try to bundle information to be helpful, but they mainly succeed in overwhelming employees with too much information. Wait to discuss things like details around membership cards, which won’t be sent to employees until around December, and health savings accounts that won’t be available until January of the following year.

Marketing experts can help you prioritize information so that employees can quickly scan for the information they need to know now. Checklists, bulleted lists and calendars are clear signposts that can lead employees to the right benefits decisions without overwhelming them.

Take things to the next level by analyzing your normal business cycle. Is there a month that’s traditionally busier for your service center? What about your sales team or your manufacturing and operations groups? Are there other high-visibility, company-wide initiatives in development? If so, try to structure communication and deadlines around other major events to respect your organization’s high-volume periods.

Establish Feedback Cycles and Prepare to Adjust

No plan is perfect, and even the best open enrollment ideas may have unforeseen consequences. Stay on top of developments by asking your communications partners to identify metrics that can help you determine whether your information is reaching employees. Feedback mechanisms keep you ahead of questions and confusion so that you can respond quickly and effectively in case rumors or frustration arise. For example, tracking email opens provides visibility into whether your employees are reading their open enrollment emails.

Making the Most of Communications Expertise

When you sit down with communications professionals for guidance on open enrollment ideas, consider starting with this basic set of questions:

  • What have you learned about the audiences at our company? Do they have computers and email addresses? Are any groups especially hard to reach?
  • What do you consider to be the strongest channels for reaching employees? Are there any channels that the company doesn’t use or could use better? Can we measure as we go to ensure that we’re reaching people effectively?
  • Can you help us with visuals to simplify communication?
  • Can you help us with key messaging that is free of jargon and resonates with employees?
  • What was one of the more successful examples of employee communication at the company, and what contributed to its success?
  • Are there other large-scale communication efforts planned for the same time period? If so, is it possible to adjust the timing or merge messages to help employees manage the volume of information?

With the right experts at your side, you can develop a full-blown communication plan that takes advantage of every tool at your disposal to continuously improve how you approach open enrollment.

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