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Take the Stress out of Health Insurance Open Enrollment With These 5 Communication Strategies

Health insurance open enrollment is an opportunity to highlight some of the most valuable benefits that your business offers. When open enrollment is done well, employees should see those benefits as a significant organizational investment in their well-being — but oftentimes, employees are too overwhelmed to make the best choices.

How can you encourage employees to evaluate their benefits options without stressing them out?

Help Your Employees See Benefits as an Investment

According to one recent study, 87 percent of employees agree that
having insurance and other benefits calms anxieties they have about the future, and 62 percent of employees say that benefits offerings were an important factor in choosing to work at their current company.

Still, while employees like having benefits, choosing those benefits is a different story. This isn’t to say that employees want fewer benefits options — they just need a little help navigating open enrollment. A 2017 survey found that:

  • Among employees whose companies offer health insurance, 55 percent want their employer to help them pick a plan
  • Forty-nine percent of employees say that making decisions about their health insurance is consistently “very stressful”
  • Twenty percent of employees don’t look at updates or correspondence about their benefits, choosing to skip company benefits meetings and ignore benefits materials

Stressed employees are less likely to view health insurance open enrollment as an opportunity and more likely to see it as a dreaded chore. Work to make sure that your employees know that when your company offers benefits, it is investing in its employees — and that they should think of the benefits they choose as an investment in themselves.

Make Benefits Enrollment Less Stressful

You already know that many of your employees will go into open enrollment with some trepidation. Don’t let that discourage you — it just means you have a head start on making the next open enrollment period the smoothest-running one yet. Here are some tips to help you communicate your company’s benefits in ways that will help employees appreciate and value your offerings.

  1. Allow more lead time. Employers typically start talking about benefits between one and four weeks before health insurance open enrollment begins. Consider moving that timeline up, jump-starting those conversations as early as eight weeks in advance of open enrollment. Benefits education should begin even earlier and run continuously. Occasionally throughout the year, offer educational opportunities that explain important benefits terms and offerings, leaving the actual open enrollment period free for employees to do exactly what they’re meant to do — enroll in benefits.
  2. Recognize communication obstacles. Be aware of your workforce’s specific needs and restrictions, and adapt your open enrollment communications to meet them. Employees in the retail, sales, customer service, manufacturing and health care industries often have jobs that minimize their access to computers. In some cases, these employees may even get written up for accessing company emails on the job. Coordinate with leadership to understand the best ways to reach employees and use those channels for maximum effectiveness.
  3. Customize how you communicate. Some people will never be comfortable with electronic communications, while others won’t touch handouts or mailings. Others want to hear someone talk and have the opportunity to ask questions in real time. While it’s impossible to please everyone, take note of how you can accommodate employees’ preferences. This applies to what information you provide as well as how you provide it — different people need different levels of information to make comfortable choices. Informative and dense benefits brochures will always exist for employees who prefer them, so prioritize circulating highly visual, concise content to introduce people to broad concepts, key offerings and major changes. Use those initial touch points to invite people to explore more thorough resources. For example, a single-page FAQ document can link to a more detailed explanation.
  4. Look to outside resources. Smaller organizations may not have the capabilities to develop interactive web tools or brilliant visuals to educate employees on benefits enrollment terms. Luckily, large health plan providers often have libraries of content that you can use to support your existing communications. Ask them to walk you through what they have, and don’t be afraid to ask for a little customization. Within your organization, managers can act as a direct line of information to employees. Managers should avoid giving direct advice about the benefits their employees should select, but they can encourage employees to pay attention to benefits communications. Send out manager-focused messages asking for their help in encouraging employees to engage with open enrollment communications.
  5. Make information easy to find. Create a single repository where all open enrollment content can reside — and then promote it. If someone doesn’t have time to read every brochure or email as it comes out, remind them that all the important information is conveniently located in one space. What this space looks like depends on your company — it could be a shared file online, a physical binder in the office or whatever else employees are most likely to find and use. In a similar vein, a long list of help line phone numbers just pushes people to call the first number they see. Cut through the confusion by providing one phone number or email address to field questions.

In the end, better benefits communication will ensure that more employees are making knowledgeable benefits decisions and encourage the right kinds of utilization to help manage costs. Follow these guidelines to make open enrollment easy. No stress, just confident benefits choices from employees — the way it should be.

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