As summer wraps up, thoughts turn to open enrollment. Now, more than ever, you need effective benefits communications. But, what makes audiences step up and take notice? Communications that answer their pressing questions. Incorporate the 5 W’s into your messaging for a successful open enrollment.
Who is the target audience for your open enrollment communications? That’s easy, you might say. It’s my employees. And, you would be correct.
Yet, you may need to drill down even further. Effective communications sometimes requires you to target specific audience members. You can deliver information to people who are uniquely affected (targeting folks enrolled in a particular plan to let them know it’s going away). You can develop audience personas that allow you to segment people with shared characteristics into groups. These approaches further define your messaging and approach.
For example, do baby boomers know they can make additional contributions to their 401(K) plans? Do employees who take public transit to the office know they can set aside pre-tax money through a commuter reimbursement account? Do parents of pre-teens know the dental plan offers orthodontic coverage?
You get the point. Find the message that speaks to each demographic.
What is the most important thing you need to convey? This could be a universal message across employee groups (e.g., Open Enrollment is coming!) or it could vary based on population. Either way, identify the core messages you need employees to know so they can select the right plans and enroll successfully. Then, communicate, communicate, communicate.
For example, are you introducing a High Deductible Health Plan? If so, explain new concepts, like a health savings account and how employees can use it to their advantage.
Are premiums going up? Don’t be afraid to be transparent and show employees the true cost of their benefits. 41 percent of respondents to a recent poll did not know their contributions, employer contributions, and the cost of services make up the total cost of healthcare. Give employees tips for saving money. Show how they can use covered preventive screenings or tobacco-user discounts to their advantage.
Where do your employees go for information? Online? Their home mailboxes? The shared breakroom? All of the above? You need to provide communications that meet them at each of these places. That’s a 21st century best practice for a successful open enrollment.
Even in today’s digital world, there are people who favor a printed Guide (52 percent, according to a Jellyvision poll). Yet, many others will look elsewhere for the tips and tools they need to choose and use their benefits. Make information available both inside and outside firewalls, so spouses and other dependents can access it.
And don’t forget in-person meetings. Face-to-face communications will always be the most powerful way to share information. Create the time and space for employees to ask questions about their benefits. If you can, bring in representatives from your carriers so employees can learn from them, too.
When will you deliver your message? If you’re not being strategic about timing, you risk missing the boat. Too many people wait until the week before enrollment starts. That cuts it too close.
Instead, do a drip campaign two to three weeks in advance that tells employees enrollment is coming. Teach them how to prepare for it. Then, when the season is in full swing, send frequent reminders to employees to take action.
Create a marketing plan three months before open enrollment and draft communications two months before. Thoughtful collateral takes time to write and design. Outsourcing to a benefits communications firm, like Trion, can give your pieces that professional touch. And you’ll focus your energy on other necessities.
Why should your employees pay attention? Your communications need to give them a reason.
Resist the temptation to lead with what’s in it for the company. Instead, stay focused on what’s in it for the employees —or the “WIFFM.” Include a call to action in your communications. Make the next steps obvious.
Share employee success stories and testimonials that show how folks have made smart benefits choices. This not only makes benefits tangible, but promotes the idea that employees trust each other. They will use the stories as guideposts for making their own decisions.
Employees want help picking their benefits. Lay out the pros and cons of the choices available and how each works. That will help employees understand the benefits offered and make good choices. Ditch the jargon. Instead, use simple language. Write like you talk and be conversational. Benefits terms may be second nature to you, but, when it doubt, spell it out.
And the bonus question: How?
How do you know what employees want from the open enrollment process? Ask them! Poll your workforce on their preferred methods of communication. Ask if the frequency and timing of messages work for them? Do they feel rushed to make decisions because the timing is off? You will gain actionable insights by simply talking to your workforce
Of course, there is no such thing as a worry-free open enrollment. But if your communication strategy addresses these 5 “W’s”, you have a better chance of a successful open enrollment. Good luck!
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.
Gratitude: That’s what I’m feeling right now. We come to the office every single day in the hopes of working with great people, doing meaningful work, and making a difference. And I’m delighted to say, in 2016, we did it! Thanks, in great part, to all of you.
Which is why, as we bring this year’s Open Enrollment and holiday season to its festive close, I want to give a big THANK YOU to those who’ve touched our practice, helping us do what we do. Thank you for entrusting us with your business, your time, your challenges, your opinions, your faith, your support, your ideas, and your collaborative genius. Thanks for sharing with us all the things that make you uniquely YOU. We look forward to doing it all over again next year!
Until then, have a very happy holiday season. Enjoy. Sleep in. Eat a lot. Give presents. Read a book. Hug your friends, shop the sales, and get your fill of holiday movies. Do your thing. And we’ll see you in 2017!!!
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?
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!
As an organizational leader, how do you keep yourself engaged in your day-to-day tasks? Do you find that you sometimes want to mix things up a little and bring something new to your daily work process?
People depend on you for your skills and knowledge you have of your job and the company, so keeping yourself motivated is very important. With the busy months of open enrollment, it’s easy to get burned out and even lose focus. If we’re not motivated everyday by something, we may fall off track. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated, gain focus and keep you engaged in the daily demands of a busy work environment.
Remind yourself that it’s worthwhile. Recognize that you are helping your employees, peers or staff, by educating them on their benefits and helping them choose the right coverage for their families. Health insurance can be a tedious subject, but the knowledge that you bring can be both enlightening and invigorating.
Keep yourself and your employees informed. Not only do you want to keep your employees motivated about enrolling in their benefits, but you also want to make sure you are well informed about what your company offers. Learning more about your company and discovering hidden perks and programs that may be offered will keep you in the know – and to know is to believe.
Practice what you preach. When communicating good health and wellness behaviors to your employees, make sure you are taking your own advice. Stay motivated by choosing more healthy snacks during the day and making time to fit in an exercise or two. Take a walk with a colleague, or just stretch at your desk a few times a day. If you’re encouraging your employees to set goals to live a healthier lifestyle, show them that it’s not all talk.