Solving the Communications Challenge

Fall 2013

Open enrollment can be a headache. For employees, it’s a time to commit to benefits that they may have trouble affording. And for employees, the process of reading technical jargon, understanding options, and making a choice can be overwhelming. In a 2011 survey*, AFLAC reported that 75% of employees said they made mistakes during open enrollment, and only 40% said they felt informed about the benefits that were offered. Mistakes from misunderstanding can be costly – not just in dollars, but in perceived value, since the very benefits that are intended to protect people and foster good will may instead cause resentment with Human Resources and the company as a whole.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.

With the right communications, open enrollment becomes an opportunity to boost employee morale, promote loyalty, and leverage workplace satisfaction to make an employer more competitive. The key is demonstrating benefits value. The result goes beyond increasing participation to make employees feel appreciated, valued members and part of a team. The education, then, can be as important as the benefits themselves in making a significant impact on workers’ perceptions and workforce satisfaction. And a satisfied workforce is a more productive one.

Benefits communications also helps ensure that plans are utilized in the most efficient way possible. So the case for professionally designed benefits communications is clear. The question is, how to use them. Here are some key steps to help give a benefits campaign maximum effectiveness.

Start early.
A well planned open enrollment process needs to begin long before open enrollment. Employees need to know well in advance when the process will begin and what they should expect. A company should provide clear explanations of each benefit plan – how much it costs, and, most importantly, what has changed from the previous year. If there have been any significant changes in plan design, such as the introduction of a Wellness offering or the option of a consumer-directed health plan (CHDP), employees will need enough time to understand and evaluate changes in their personal contributions.

Communicate in a variety of ways.
Explaining employee benefits to employees can and should be done with several types of media. In addition to hanging posters, sending emails, and mailing reminder postcards and enrollments kits to homes, digital solutions are becoming increasingly powerful, effective, and easy. By combining digital and print communications, employees can access information at home, allowing them to discuss options and make decisions with spouses and partners. Even in this digital world, printed materials are still critical, as are employee meetings, benefits fairs, videos, and one-on-one information sessions with your employees. The greater the variety, the more likely you are to reach employees through their preferred methods of learning.

Give employees time to make decisions.
Communications don’t just flow in one direction. You should see the process as a dialog. As such, it’s essential that you give employees ample time to ask questions. Until points are clarified, and assumptions are confirmed or corrected, education is by no means complete. It is only then – after the questions and answers – that you will reap the full advantage of benefits communications. That’s when employees will take advantage of the opportunities you present to them and enroll in appropriate programs with a minimum number of mistakes. Employees will be satisfied, and your Human Resources Department will have been given enough time to ensure a smooth enrollment process.

Partner with a proven communications specialist.
The biggest challenge is how to create your benefits communications campaign. Most companies don’t have all of the required skills on staff – copywriting, design, audio, video and digital media development, print production, and more. Even more important, the people with those skills need to be well versed in the language and intricacies of employee benefits.

That’s where BeneCom can help. We’ve been solely dedicated to helping employers create benefits communications for more than 20 years, serving Fortune 100 as well as small companies. No job is too big or small. Our goal is to provide effective, clearly written, competitively priced open enrollment programs, no matter what the scope of need.

Please contact us with any questions about this article or benefits communications in general. We’ll be more than happy to help.