It’s November. That means you can see the light at the end of the open enrollment tunnel. Or maybe your company’s already driven clear through.
Your communications strategy got you through this hectic season. But what happens at the end of the year? Although your human resources staff and communications team deserve a break, there is still work on the road ahead.
Communicate often. Don’t slam the brakes because OE season has passed. After the enrollment ends but before the new plan year starts is a great time to educate your employees and start thinking about the next journey.
According to an LIMRA study, just 38% of companies surveyed even have a formal benefits communications plan. Of that group, 65% measure their plan’s success. Measurement is a useful tool to create engaged healthcare consumers. Employees who think their companies communicate benefits well have increased loyalty and engagement.
Survey your employees now, when open enrollment is still top of mind. Some possible questions to ask:
- Did you feel like you received enough information about available benefits?
- What information was the most useful in helping you make decisions?
- How would you like open enrollment messages delivered?
- What could we do better next year?
Answers can be used to craft next year’s open enrollment campaign. Employee feedback sparks conversation, whether you use an outside benefits communications firm, like Trion, or handle your own communications.
One question to ask yourself is: What can we do to rev the engines for 2018? Create targeted communication pieces to explain to employees how and why to use their benefit. You already showed your employees how to choose benefits. Now, educate them on how to use those benefits. Take a lesson from employee benefits communications firms. They help clients teach employees about the available benefits and wellness programs year-round.
Introduce a communications plan around new benefits
Is your company introducing a high deductible health plan with an HSA next year? Now is the time to teach employees about what medical expenses do and do not qualify for their HSA funds. It’s their hard-earned money in that health savings account, help them make the most of it. Are you offering an EAP program for the first time? Remind workers about its online resources and counseling services to help cope with relationship and financial stressors and other concerns.
Remind employees of flexible spending account conditions
Can employees roll over funds? What is the deadline to use those rollover funds? Is there a grace period to incur claims? Craft communications pieces that teach the answers. If employees had a lot of money remaining in their 2017 accounts, educate them on making smarter choices for next year.
Talk to employees about wellness programs
January is a popular time for health-related resolutions, but many people think about their goals now. Create communications pieces that guide employees on the path to wellness. Remind them about reimbursements for gym memberships offered through your insurance carriers. Include education about how to sign up. Help workers start off 2018 by kicking their smoking habit. Let workers know about free or low-cost smoking cessation programs from the insurance company or EAP.
Simple, specific messages are key to post-enrollment communications. Lists and infographics are great uncluttered and engaging options. An infographic that shows ways the EAP can help employees destress or a list of the Top 5 Ways to Use Remaining Healthcare FSA Funds are two examples.
Tailor messages to the right audiences. Employees enrolled in a PPO for example, don’t care about how to take advantage of their HSA. Likewise, those with only a dependent care FSA don’t need reminders about rollover funds.
Use the information from your post-enrollment survey to choose the right vehicle. How do employees prefer to get benefits messages—flyers mailed to their homes, emails sent to their work address, in-person events? Meet employees where they will be most receptive to your message.
You can pat yourself on the back for a successful open enrollment season. You can also assess where the path was smooth and where the road was bumpy. Take this time to assess the highs and lows of 2017’s open enrollment. And make a plan to drive towards something bigger and better in 2018.
As summer draws to a close, I’m gearing up for open enrollment season. Communications consultants and HR staff face the brunt of challenges during the season.
As a designer, I manage much of the production, print fulfillment and mailings. Designers don’t develop tactics, answer employee questions, or oversee a large campaign. We have our own challenges to face. Let’s take a look at what goes into creating client campaigns throughout the season.
Our communications team talks to our consultants to discuss which clients are returning. We review how those clients received last years’ tactics. We ask what we can do to improve those tactics or propose fresh ideas to install for their new campaign.
Have any of our clients had any major changes to their business? Mergers, growth, down-sizing? Do any of the clients’ materials need a refresh? We could discuss with them the possibility it’s time to consider a major campaign update. As clients update brand guidelines and add new benefits, does their content look like a hodge-podge of updates? Also, we take stock of what new clients have knocked at our door. Out of all the proposals we made over the winter and spring, which client looks promising? What is the possibility of new clients that we never even took into account?
As we get deeper into August, we begin to get a better view. We fill in spreadsheets with more detail and assign staff to clients. Clients start to confirm their open enrollment dates. We talk to our printers and ask for revised quote, trying to get better prices and securing press space. By now, all last year’s files have been cleaned up and are ready to go. We hold weekly meetings to bring new team members up-to-speed and discuss the tactics and concerns of our clients.
We begin to research new clients to interpret their brand guidelines and capture their aesthetic . Working with clients’ design, marketing, branding and HR staff , we create templates for their new content.
For current clients requesting a re-design, we put the finishing touches on their revised look. The team is familiar with clients’ previous challenges, letting us to prepare the changes that will come to their plans.
Most importantly, we rest and take time off, while things are still calm.
Once Labor Day passes, the pace has begun to change, rapidly. More and more emails go between consultant and client. Things are begging to go into layout. Drafts pass back and forth. Printers and quantities are confirmed. Postage estimates start to come through. Finally, by the middle of the month, you realize open enrollment is here.
The first few campaigns make their way to press and mailing invoices need to be paid ASAP. Small, inevitable delays in production cause jobs to be sent to press a day late. But, our always savvy printers have already taken delays into account and fulfill requests by the mail date!
When I first came onboard, open enrollment was described to me as a wave. Just before it comes to shore, there is a drawback, then a small surge, then before you know it you are riding the crest of the wave. Before you know it, the wave has dissipated and you are back in the calm again. It’s really the best analogy I’ve ever heard for the period.
By now we are riding the crest of the wave. If you have done your homework and worked your best to prepare, it’s a blast. While everything is down to the wire, the rush of rapid turnaround does not leave any time for indecisiveness. We make decisions quickly and hammer out projects with speed and efficiency. It’s not unheard of to have daily deadline. Hundreds of emails that need your attention and response flood your inbox. The headset of your phone is permanently attached to our ears as we call printers with last minute changes and updates on any delays.
As October closes, things begin to wind down. We still ride the wave, but it’s lost much of its energy. Final jobs make their way out the door. We see print samples and mailing seeds. Our focus moves from communications to the implementation of employee benefits by the end of the year. Campaigns draw to a close and by Thanksgiving, things are ‘normal.’
Of course, with all our prep, our open enrollment season will be text book perfect! I’m prepared, are you?
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.
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!