A keystone of President Trump’s campaign was getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. Even before he took office last week, speculation about what might happen to the law was ubiquitous in the media.
For most employers, it’s probably too early to address the ACA within your organization. But if ACA gossip is spreading among your employees, you might want to consider some proactive communications. After all, nothing dispels water-cooler rumors as effectively as clear and honest information.
You might be thinking, “What is there to say? We are still trying to understand the current landscape and have not made any plans to change anything so far.”
Well, that’s exactly what you want to tell your employees. Here are a few tips to create an effective communication:
Start with a clear statement about what’s happening. You know there has been a lot of talk in the media, and you know the President signed an executive order on January 20 to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of any provision of the law (see the latest Trion HCR Alert for more on the executive order). However, Congress has not yet acted to repeal the law, and there’s no clear replacement on the table.
Next, tell employees where the company is. Say what you are doing – are you’re sitting tight and waiting for Congress to act? Are you working with your broker, legal counsel, etc., to understand the implications?
Say what you’re not doing, too, especially if you’re hearing specific rumors (e.g., “We’re not going to have benefits through the company anymore.”). If you are not currently planning to make any changes to your benefits strategy as a result of what’s happening now, state that clearly.
Be careful, however, that you don’t create misconceptions. For example, just because you’re not planning to change anything right now, doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. In fact, depending on what happens with the ACA, you may have to. And you will still do your due diligence at renewal time and may make some changes, like you always do – as of right now, the ACA’s fate won’t change that.
At the end of the day, employees want to know whether the rug will be pulled out from under them. Employer-provided benefits pre-date the ACA by decades, so pretty much all of your current workforce has known that world, even if they haven’t always worked in a job that offered employer benefits.
To assuage concerns, re-state your commitment to the health and well-being of your employees, to be executed in a way that is sustainable for the company and compliant with all applicable regulations. That’s what you do now, what you’ve been doing for years (long before the ACA), and that’s not changing.
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!
The Trion Communications team stays pretty busy year-round, but Open Enrollment is a whole different story – and if you’re reading a blog post about Open Enrollment, chances are you know what I mean. One of my favorite analogies aptly fits the overdrive that kicks in at this time of year: it’s like the difference between throwing a bullet, and shooting it.
This is my third full-fledged OE season in the benefits communication world. Over the years, I’ve developed a few strategies that work really well for me to keep a grasp on at least a few tattered shreds of sanity during this insane time of year.
There’s (almost) never a reason to panic. I only learned this the hard way, but a few gray hairs later, I’ve come to realize that there is some equitable solution out there to whatever crisis is facing you. Are you being asked to do something that you’ve never done before? Talk to your colleagues; they may have faced a similar situation or can recommend a resource to help. And if a mistake happens, which it does when we’re moving 500 miles an hour in the thick of OE, be honest and do what you can to make it right. Even if there is no real fix, your sincerity and effort can go a long way to smoothing things over.
Stay organized. There’s a lot going on during OE. For me, it’s keeping on top of multiple deliverables for multiple clients. This year I purchased a really nice personal organizer for myself. I splurged a little on one I really liked, to up the odds that I’d actually use it regularly – and it worked! I’ve got one place to keep track of everything – deliverables, client meetings, to-do lists and more. It just takes a quick peek to re-ground myself in what my priorities are on any given day.
Be mindful. Perhaps the thing I struggle with the most during this time of year is just being able to shut it off. While my workload can put a strain on my non-work life (case in point, I’m writing this blog on a Saturday night), I do have time to focus on the other things in my life. The problem is, I waste those times worrying about the work, instead of giving my attention to the things that matter to me most. To help keep me present in the moment (instead of being mentally at work even when I’m not working), I keep to two rules from late July through early November.
- First, my Friday nights are my own. Even if I stay at the office late, once I’m home on Friday, the laptop stays closed. If I don’t expect myself to work, I won’t feel guilty when I take one night to step away completely.
- Second, I make a point to indulge in some serious stress relief by getting a massage regularly. It really helps me clear my head, decompress, and gives me something to look forward to during the week – not to mention working out the kinks from all those extra hours sitting at my desk.
It makes this season a little easier knowing I have strategies to handle whatever curveball OE throws my way. These are the things that work well for me, but everyone is different. Find the things that help you keep a lid on the crazy, and remind yourself of them regularly. Good luck!
When the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on June 23, it took everyone by surprise. The media and economic indicators seemed to be sure that the UK would remain in the EU, and that we didn’t need to think about what would happen if Brexit succeeded.
So when the votes were tallied and proved we were wrong, chaos hit. Britain’s currency fell to its lowest value in 30 years. Financial markets all over the world went haywire, including here in the U.S. where the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 600 points the day after the vote. Economically, we’ll be hearing about and dealing with the aftermath for months to come.
At this point, you may be thinking, “What does Brexit have to do with employee benefits and communications?”
The lesson here is in not making assumptions. Most clients tell me they know how their employees think or feel about their benefit offerings. Meanwhile, I know they’re not actually asking. They’re assuming based on the information that’s easily available to them: mostly, enrollment data and the questions that come into HR. It’s not that this information is inaccurate, but it doesn’t tell the full story.
While it doesn’t happen all the time, I have seen clients make changes to their benefits based on those assumptions, and then scramble when employees unexpectedly react negatively.
We all like to hear what we want to hear and ignore the things that make us uncomfortable. The things that make our jobs harder, or that make us have to look at things through a completely different lens. However, when we don’t put in the effort to consider the true picture, we can be caught completely off guard.
To put it in the terms of my 9th grade English teacher, ASSUME = ASS+U+ME. That is, “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.”
Brexit polling actually showed that it was a very close race throughout, and for the month leading up to the vote, more people were actually leaning toward leaving. But pundits and analysts made assumptions about what undecided voters would do and convinced themselves that the status quo would prevail.
Don’t fall into the assumption trap. How? Focus groups are an excellent way to discover what your employees really think about your benefits, and how they’ll feel about possible changes. But if that’s more than you can handle, a simple employee survey can give you some reliable data. Just ask your questions wisely so that you’re sure you’re getting a clear snapshot of your how your population feels. There are plenty of great resources online to help you, and you can always call on the Trion Communications Team if you need more support!
“If you build it, they will come.” Sure, it’s one of the more memorable lines in movie history. But it’s terrible business advice, whether you’re talking about a startup company, a new location of a retail store or restaurant, or employee benefits.
If you don’t tell people what’s available, they don’t know it exists. That’s why the U.S. spends $180 billion a year on advertising.
Benefits are one of the biggest operating expenses of any business. But are you getting the maximum value out of that investment?
It makes sense, both financially and in terms of recruitment and retention, to encourage employees to take advantage of the benefits you spend so much on. Consider the following:
- 38% of global employers report difficulty filling jobs, according to a 2015 survey by the Manpower Group.
- 96% of workers who are satisfied with their benefits also say they are extremely/very satisfied with their job, according to the 2016 Aflac Workforces Report.
- Companies with no communications strategy are three times more likely to lose high-potential talent, according to 2016 data from Aptitude Research Partners.
- The same data showed a strong link between communications and both employee engagement and positive candidate experience. Among employers with a communications strategy in place, 78% report improved employee experience and 82% reported improved candidate experience in the past year.
If you offer a competitive benefits package, you’re already most of the way there. You just need a plan to communicate those benefits that factors in best practices, such as:
- Communicate year round, not just at open enrollment.
- Include voices from leadership to convey sponsorship and model desired behaviors.
- Use a variety of tactics to appeal to different kinds of learners (e.g., email, print, video, face-to-face meetings, webinars, etc.)
- Emphasize the WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me) – that is, put it in terms that resonate with employees’ needs, not the company’s.
- Keep it simple by using clear, straightforward messages and calls to action. Don’t dump every single thing you want employees to know in one email. Avoid jargon or overly complex scenarios.
You’ve already taken the ball to the one-yard line. A communications plan is the push you need to get into the end zone. Find more tips on creating a good plan by downloading our white paper, Educating Employees About Their Benefits: A Six-Step Approach. You can also take a look at some of the ways we’ve helped clients unlock the value of their benefits programs in our online portfolio.