It’s that time of year again! As summer fades and fall begins to emerge, many HR and benefits professionals have one thing on their minds: open enrollment season. It can be a confusing and hectic time for both employers and employees.
It’s common for employees to feel overwhelmed by the open enrollment process, and many may want to sidestep benefits conversations altogether. In fact, a recent MetLife survey revealed that only four out of 10 employees strongly believe their employers’ benefits communications are easy to understand.
So what can you do to get your employees ready for open enrollment? Here are six ways you can help your employees prepare:
- Communicate Year-Round About Benefits
Many employers communicate with employees about benefits only once a year, right before open enrollment. However, presenting so much information to employees all at once can be overwhelming, and important details can get lost in the flood of open enrollment materials.
Ideally, you should develop a plan to communicate benefits information all year, with open enrollment being only one part of your strategy. This way, when open enrollment approaches, you don’t have to present everything at once and can focus on changes to benefit plans and helping employees through the process.
Some ideas for communicating information about benefits include running periodic webinars or podcasts throughout the year and using surveys to solicit feedback from employees in order to get a better sense of how much they know about:
- The benefits that are available to them;
- The details of the plans; and
- Where to obtain additional information.
An employer can then use this employee feedback to develop a better understanding of how much, or how little, employees know about their benefits and adjust their communications to address any knowledge gaps.
- Plan Your Communication Strategy
To achieve success during open enrollment, it’s important to use a variety of different communication methods to reach all employees, realizing that people process information in different ways and considering the multiple generations currently in the workforce.
It’s often a good idea to have in-person employee meetings to review benefit offerings and any changes. Additionally, keep managers well-informed about the benefits being offered during open enrollment and important dates by giving them information ahead of time so they can also communicate open enrollment information to their subordinates. Finally, it is vital for HR and benefits professionals to be available to employees for one-on-one support throughout the process if they should need it.
- Embrace Different Communication Methods
Traditional methods of open enrollment communication like brochures, postcards and newsletters are a great place to start and may work better for some employee segments. However, it is also a good idea to use other communication techniques such as social media, webinars and text messaging to reach your entire employee audience.
Consider creating brief promotional benefits infomercials and having them run in break rooms, cafeterias or other employee areas, or placing them on your organization’s intranet or benefits portal.
- Involve Benefits Vendors
Benefit vendors are a key resource that employers can utilize. They are usually ready, willing and able to help HR and benefits professionals educate employees about benefits throughout the year and during open enrollment.
Many vendors will even come to your workplace and have lunch-and-learn meetings or set up benefit fairs that give employees an opportunity to meet with them in person and ask questions. Reach out to your vendors to see what they might be able to help your organization with. They may often have ideas that you haven’t even thought of.
- Stress the Importance of Open Enrollment
One of the biggest challenges during open enrollment is convincing employees to spend the time necessary to become familiar with the benefits being offered. One of the hardest things in years past has been convincing employees that sticking with the benefits they chose for the past year may not always be their best option.
The easiest thing for employees to do during open enrollment is to continue with what they did previously. It’s important for them to know that sometimes that strategy may work, but it is hardly a sure thing. Changes can happen in many respects, including an altered family situation or an employer reconfiguring the available plan options.
Encourage your employees to do some initial homework to prepare for open enrollment by suggesting that they develop a list of their needs ahead of time so they have an idea of what they are looking for and need. You could also recommend that they make a list of their doctors and prescriptions that they want to ensure a health plan covers them.
- Be a Calming Influence
Finally, just breathe! It can be a confusing and chaotic time for everyone in the workforce, but you and your employees will get through it. Employees are often overwhelmed when it comes to making benefits choices during open enrollment, so keep communications clear and to the point.
Make sure to communicate early and often about any changes to benefits that are happening at open enrollment. Since the ultimate goal is to lead employees down a path so they can make appropriate decisions, make sure that all your open enrollment communications guide employees each step of the way.
Also, don’t forget that open enrollment is a time when an employer can reinforce the value of the benefits it provides to its workforce. For example, if you are adding coverage during open enrollment, be sure to highlight such enhancements to employees.