Fall is easily my favorite time of year! With it, comes the start of the football season, crisp, cool weather, pumpkin and apple picking and of course, the beautiful fall foliage. Fall also marks the beginning of one of HR’s busiest times which typically “kicks off” with open enrollment.
Even with all the fall favorites, the ‘dreaded’ open enrollment season is often a source of anxiety and stress not only for HR professionals, but for employees as well. For HR, the time spent ensuring a smooth open enrollment period — which can last weeks or even months — leaves little time for anything else. For employees, trying to compare different benefit plans and understanding the implications of their decisions can be an overwhelming experience.
The below tips can help HR professionals meet their annual open enrollment challenges and, in turn, equip their employees with sufficient information to make informed benefit decisions.
Ways to Communicate
Open enrollment communications should be just one part of an employer’s benefit communications efforts. If benefits are effectively communicated throughout the year, open enrollment communications can focus on changes to the benefit plans and on helping employees through the decision-making process. Your employees will want to know “What’s in it for me?” So be sure your communications answer that all important question.
Use a coordinated communication campaign that meets everyone’s needs. While traditional mailings such as postcards, brochures and newsletters and employee meetings are powerful resources, also consider using blogs, social media outlets, texts and video conferences and webinars. Keep your supervisors in the loop also. Provide them with a communications calendar and an overview of what is changing and why. Make sure they understand the role they are expected to play in the open enrollment process.
You can’t ‘over-communicate’ when it comes to open enrollment. Using a variety of communication methods allows you to reach your employees in different ways. This continually reinforces your message and provides for increased employee engagement.
Communicate the Changes Early and Often
Be upfront about the changes being made and communicate them early and often. Cost is at the forefront of employees’ minds, so are increases in premiums and other costs. As a result, the impact of those increases for both the organization and the employee should be clearly communicated.
In addition to communicating the changes, also consider letting employees know:
- The rationale for the changes;
- What other alternatives were considered;
- Why the employer chose a particular approach; and
- How these changes benefit the employee and help the organization meet its strategic objectives.
Open enrollment can also be used as an opportunity to reinforce the value and flexibility of the benefit plans.
Know Your Audience
With multiple generations in the workforce, it is challenging to meet each group’s needs when it comes to benefit options and particularly health care choices. It is equally challenging to come up with a communications strategy that appeals to different generations.
Baby Boomers are older and tend to have more health problems, resulting in higher health care costs. This group has seen first-hand the shift to increased responsibility for managing their health care choices, and more than likely, need benefits education the most to help them appropriately manage their medical expenses.
Simplifying benefit choices and providing decision-making resources can help Generation X employees, who are often caught in the middle trying to manage their own health care needs, while also juggling child care and elder care issues. Flexibility in benefits that meet their different needs suits this group best.
Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, are a key factor in making the Affordable Care Act work due to their age and relative good health. Higher deductible health plans and wellness programs are typically preferable for this group. Millennials embrace technology and are adept at using the internet, and will use online resources to help them make their health care choices.
Keep It Simple
Employees are often overwhelmed when it comes to making benefit choices, so be sure to keep communications clear and to the point. The ultimate goal is to lead employees down a path so they can make appropriate decisions, so it is important to ensure that all open enrollment communications guide employees each step of the way.
You may think that employees ignore open enrollment communications because they are not interested when, in reality, it is probably because they are overwhelmed. Figuring out the best communication strategies is well worth your time and will go a long way to motivating and engaging your workforce.
What’s your organization’s biggest challenge when it comes to open enrollment? Leave a comment below to let us know.