I am, have always been, and will likely always be, the sort of person who “wears his heart on his sleeve,” as the old expression goes. In other words, my emotions are never far from the surface. My wife tells me that I am a man of deep feeling, and I cannot argue.
This, as you might imagine, has its advantages and disadvantages ‒ most of which I will not explore here. But with respect to the workplace, someone like me has to be mindful of his emotional character, and not let it impede interactions with co-workers or, more importantly, with clients.
As you might have seen with some of the other recent blog entries, most of our clients have recently gone through “open enrollment,” meaning the annual event in which all of their employees must choose their benefits for the upcoming year. This is a very high-stress time for us here in the Communications Practice of Trion ‒ and this was my first one. It was a good time to test my adaptation skills.
So for open enrollment and other situations, it’s important that I be able to control my emotions. Of course, it isn’t always easy, so I’m constantly looking for tactics and tips that can help me out. Recently I came upon an article from Psychology Today that has some excellent advice for when your emotions are in danger of escaping your control and wreaking havoc about the office and your co-worker relationships.
1. Select the Situation. If there’s a circumstance that always, without fail, causes your heart to beat fast and your ears to turn red (a sure sign that I’m about to blow), try your best to control for that situation. For me, it’s when clients wait until the last minute to get their changes on a piece back to us, then expect us to drop everything and get those changes done yesterday.
While sometimes this is unavoidable, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of it occurring ‒ one good way is the “drop-dead email.” Draft a note in the friendliest tone possible, explaining that if we don’t have the edits by such-and-such date, we risk not being able to fulfill our timeline, because of this-and-that reason. Now, this will not always work, and perhaps not even most of the time. But it does help to know that you’ve done everything possible to avoid that situation.
2. Modify the Situation. Perhaps there’s a deliverable that you haven’t mastered yet. And trying to master it for the upcoming deadline is making you nuts. Well, maybe this isn’t the time to try and master it. Instead, try switching with a co-worker for something you do well, and hand off this one impossible task. Or, perhaps it’s as simple as asking for help ‒ being afraid to ask can add to stress in a big way.
3. Shift Your Attentional Focus. There’s one thing that’s getting under your skin. You can’t get it off your mind, and if you see it or hear it one more time, you’re going to flip your lid. Well, that’s your fault. You’re in control of yourself, remember ‒ you’re the master of your domain. You choose what to pay attention to, what to let in, and what to refuse to acknowledge. Go ahead, refuse to acknowledge that one thing that bothers you so much. Take a walk instead. Play a quick game of Pokemon. Put on your headphones and listen to the new album you just got.
4. Change Your Thoughts. I’m going to quote the article here, because it’s right on: “At the core of our deepest emotions are the beliefs that drive them. You feel sad when you believe to have lost something, anger when you decide that an important goal is thwarted, and happy anticipation when you believe something good is coming your way. By changing your thoughts, you may not be able to change the situation, but you can at least change the way you believe the situation is affecting you.” Absolutely. You control your thoughts, and you control your beliefs. Take charge of them.
5. Change Your Response. If you can’t do any of the above, harness your willpower and change how you respond to any given situation. If you’ve got to shout or explode, find a quiet room. If you can’t help it, type out that nasty email ‒ but don’t hit send. Just let it sit there until later, and maybe just reading it back to yourself will help you feel better.
Consumerism. I’m not a fan of the word. I’m also not a fan of being deemed a “good consumer.” It’s odd praise to me. However, I am a fan of making good decisions—which to me means those that affect me or those I love in a positive way. So when I think about this buzzword “consumerism,” I really just think about it as the power given when presented with a choice.
As a mother of two small children, it’s a careful balancing act for me to help my kids be independent while guiding them toward good decisions, and telling them what to do while creating opportunities for them to decide for themselves. Honestly, it can be exhausting – after all, choices are all around us, every day. Do you want milk or water? Are you going to wear your jacket or not? Do you want the applesauce or slices of apple today?
Yet guiding my children to make their own choices is important, so I do everything I can to set them up to be successful. I think about the information I need to share and, most importantly, how I need to share it so that they receive it in a way that will enable them to make good decisions.
If, for example, I give the choice of wearing a jacket, I need to present the right information – what the weather is like, whether they will play outside in the afternoon, whether I think will they be too cold without one if they decide to leave it home (or should they play it safe and put it in their school bags).
I also think about how to share the information they need. If, for example, I tell them about the weather when they’re just waking up, or as I’m helping them get dressed, it’s too hard for them to process.
The same is true for our clients and their employees. Most people need time to consider what information has been shared, and then think about their options so they can make their choice and accept the outcome. It’s not enough to just toss benefits information at employees. Rather, employers need to paint the picture with the right context.
This morning, it was cool – not cold, but cool. So I told my son, “It’s a little cool and it’s raining, so you’ll need your umbrella, but you won’t have recess outside. It’s up to you if you want your jacket.” He emerged from his room wearing a long-sleeved shirt, fleece pants, socks and shoes, and got his umbrella from the spot where we keep them beside the door. I gave him the “are we all set?” look and he smiled and said, “No jacket, I’m not cold.”
Just to be certain, I opened the front door and said, “Want to double check?” He peeked his head out, decided he was all set, and off we went to school.
Whenever we present someone with a choice, context is critical. With enough information, making a good choice (remember my definition of “good” being relative to affecting the person in a positive way) becomes easier, and we’re more likely to accept the outcome of our decision.
Without enough information or the right context, well, let’s imagine what would happen if I hadn’t told my son it was cool and raining, and he just assumed that since it was light out, it was warm: a sad, wet, 5-year-old who blames his mommy for sending him out unprotected.
Instead, I gave him the pertinent details, in a way he could absorb the information. I let him choose, and then gave him a chance to confirm his decision. He got the power to choose, and made a choice that felt positive to him: he didn’t have to carry his jacket, he stayed dry, and got to show off his cartoon character-branded umbrella. A true kindergarten win!
So, the next time you have the ability to create choice for someone, ask yourself: Did you share enough information, in the right context? Or will someone blame you for sending them out uninformed?
It’s finally over! I’m not talking about the presidential election, although I’m sure most of us are glad that’s over, too. No, I’m talking about Open Enrollment. My final client’s enrollment window opened this morning, which means all of the dozens of enrollment communications I’ve helped create for my clients are done.
That doesn’t mean, however, that my to-do list is blank. Far from it. My work now focuses on the “after” – that is, post-enrollment communications.
What does that look like? For some clients, it’s a video campaign slated for early January designed to help employees know what to do and expect when the new plan year begins. For others, it’s a wallet card listing vendor contact information so that employees can easily reach out to the right resource for help. We shape each client’s post-enrollment communications around who they are, what they offer, and what kind of support we believe their employees need most.
Whether you engage a vendor like the Trion Communications team, or you handle communications yourself, it’s a growing imperative in the benefits world to do something after enrollment season ends. Going silent the rest of the year is no longer the status quo. As I’ve said in a previous post, if you aren’t regularly supporting your employees in getting the most out of their benefits, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
So what should your post-enrollment communications focus on? These questions can help you get started:
Have you introduced a consumer-driven health plan or moved to total replacement CDHPs? CDHPs require knowledge and buy-in from employees. If you don’t tell employees what they need to know and support them in using the plan effectively, you risk setting them up for dissatisfaction, both with the plan and with you.
Have you changed, added or dropped any other plans or vendors? Have you added voluntary benefits like accident and critical illness insurance? Gotten rid of a popular PPO plan and pushed enrollment into a different type of plan? Changed vendors for dental or vision so that employees may need to find new in-network providers? Tell them what they need to know and do to use the new benefits successfully, and offer a place (intranet, benefits portal, enrollment site, etc.) where they can easily access information anytime they need it.
What were the most common questions you fielded from employees during Open Enrollment? If you got 20 inquiries from different employees about how much they can contribute to an HSA or how often they’re eligible for new glasses under the vision plan, you should take that as a sign. Your communications can be as simple as a list of FAQs that you post to the intranet, or you could turn it into a regular series of brief emails from HR, with each email providing the answer to one common question.
Do you offer benefits or programs that historically have low utilization/participation? Is engagement with your wellness program low? Does no one call the EAP? Do most employees not contribute up to your 401(k) match limit? Actively promoting what you offer year-round is a win-win for you and for your employees.
Need more help crafting a post-enrollment communication plan? Check out the client samples in our portfolio to give you some ideas, or feel free to give us a call to see how we can help!
We’re almost there! We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as the annual Open Enrollment (OE) season winds down. Phew!
Perhaps you now have time to prepare a home-cooked meal for dinner instead of hitting up the Uber Eats number currently featured in your speed dial. It’s time to give yourself a pat on the back for all the hard work and let yourself breathe a sigh of relief.
As you look forward to the end of the Open Enrollment season and getting into the holiday spirit (can you believe it’s already that time?!), it’s important to consider the overall experience. What went well, what didn’t go so well? What were your strengths and weaknesses? What did you learn? Perhaps not everything went as smoothly as you would have liked, but there is always the ability to learn from your mistakes and make improvements.
Here at Trion, our Communications Team Leader, Jill Sherer Murray, embraces this particular learning method by hosting an annual Open Enrollment Debrief meeting. This gives us a chance to get together to discuss the happenings of this year’s Open Enrollment season, and share what worked and what didn’t. Reflecting on our different processes and procedures, and assessing the results, enables our team to build off of what we learned and polish our strategy or establish a new plan for the next year. Something that may have caused a headache this year can be talked out and analyzed in order to identify a more efficient and effective procedure to reduce the headaches next year.
Don’t wait – get it on the calendar now! Book a time slot in early 2018 so the debrief is on your team’s radar, and participants can make note of anything they may want to discuss while OE thoughts are still fresh.
Life is a constant cycle of living and learning. It’s remarkable to see the improvements that can be achieved based on simple experience and awareness.
The past several months have had me operating in triple time. There has been:
- preparations for my big debut on the TEDxWilmington Women stage,
- arthroscopic knee surgery the day after, and
- leading my team through the busy Open Enrollment season.
It’s probably no surprise that, with all three in the hopper, I’m feeling a bit down this week, which is why I’m taking the time to indulge myself in writing this blog – to help you and me, truthfully, find our way through it.
Here’s a six-step plan I’ve come up with as an antidote for living in the “after” – the gray space that happens when [that big thing] is over. Perhaps it can help you too!
- Just enjoy. Take a moment to smell the roses and bask in the afterglow of your achievements. I should be embarrassed to tell you how many times a day (15 to 30) I relive the standing ovation I got after I finished my TEDx talk, but the endorphin release has got to be good for my body. I worked hard for that moment and I’m proud of it. So, I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth until everybody is super sick of hearing about it (probably happened already) – including me (not there yet)!
- Reconnect to your peaceful and, if appropriate, spiritual self. The day after my talk and surgery, I spent a lot of time on the sofa binge-watching Doctor Foster on Netflix, reading People magazine (my version of pop rocks candy), and just breathing. While it helped that I couldn’t move around too much without crutches, I still would’ve taken the time to sit, think, process, and breathe.
- Imagine big. Ahhh, here’s the fun part. What comes next? I’ve just done my first TEDx talk. My knee is finally on the mend. I’m no longer worried about finding a team member on the window ledge during Open Enrollment. It’s time to paint a picture of what’s on deck next. I say challenge yourself and go for it! (Tedx talk number two? Maybe a book? Or a fun run?)
- Manifest. People, I’m here to tell you this works! I spent an entire year picturing myself in the red circle on the TEDx stage while listening to my theme song (yes, go ahead and laugh). And viola, I applied and they accepted. Just give it a try. What we give attention, we give power. So manifest away: your employees managing their health care spending like financial whiz kids, being fluent in the language of benefits, and thanking you for such a great benefits package and clear communications.
- Let go of anything that may be standing in your way. Letting go is, in fact, the subject of my talk. (I’ll share when it’s available!) That means problem-solving around whatever external obstacles may be in your way. And, doing the internal work necessary to have the life you want.
- Make it happen when you’re ready. That does not mean waiting for all conditions to be perfect. Rather, it means that when you’re equal parts exhilarated and terrified by the thought of doing something, you’re there. And if you need the kind of help the Trion Communications team offers, we are too!