Mastering Open Enrollment Communications: How to Make OE a Win-Win for Employees and Employers
Open Enrollment is more than an annual event on the HR calendar; it's an important opportunity for companies to showcase their commitment to employee well-being, and for employees to make pivotal choices about health benefits for themselves and their families.
It is easier said than done though: employers have a lot of information to communicate within a short period of time, and this is often overwhelming, confusing, and can be paralyzing to employees. Then, after all the hard work, HR leaders can get frustrated by the lack of engagement from employees, while employees can get confused about the different benefits options available to them.
How do you overcome this major obstacle and effectively communicate benefit offerings to help employees make informed decisions and ensure they are getting the most out of their benefits?
Put your marketing hat on!
Here’s how we approach our clients’ Open Enrollment communications with a marketing mindset.
1. Set clear objectives
Are you looking to educate employees about the value of their plans, encourage active enrollment, or communicate the status quo? When defining your goals, be specific (avoid broad statements and include measurable targets), realistic (can it be achieved within the current timeline?), and flexible (be prepared to adjust your objectives and communication plan as needed).
2. Map out the timeline and start early
Open Enrollment typically happens once a year, and it's important to give employees plenty of time to review their benefits and make informed decisions. Starting early will also give you time to address any questions or concerns that employees may have.
3. Craft clear messaging
When communicating with employees about their benefits, use clear and concise language. As Benefit leaders, at times, we take for granted that we have been working in the space for decades while many employees may be completely new to the world of employee benefits. Avoid jargon and acronyms that employees may not understand and explain complex concepts using simple, straightforward language.
Instead, personalize communications to their situation: we often develop blog posts and podcasts where we explain benefits through employee personas that are relevant to their lifestyle, and provide sample calculations that map out various scenarios. The end goal is to make the information as easy to understand as possible and be very clear on what employees need to do to enroll in their benefits and get further support if needed.
4. Map out Open Enrollment communications channels
Consider which channels are the most effective when communicating with your employees. Is it email, Intranet, dedicated Slack channels, town halls, or other digital tools like text alerts, or embedded chatbots? The most successful campaigns meet employees where they are already communicating.
5. Define Open Enrollment communications formats
Not all employees prefer to receive information in the same way. Some prefer to read it, while others respond better to educational videos or audio recordings. With our clients, we use a variety of formats, depending on their employee preferences: a benefits guide (print or digital), an interactive website, chatbots, educational videos, banners, posters, live and recorded meetings, educational videos, and audio files.
We often use infographics, charts, and diagrams to help employees understand the information. Overall, it’s an opportunity to tune into your employees’ habits and get creative. Also, have you made accommodations for employees with disabilities or considered any language barriers?
6. Engage key stakeholders and influencers
In addition to ensuring that company leadership is on board and not only understands the objectives of Open Enrollment but also actively supports it, consider what other stakeholders and influencers can contribute to the success of your OE campaign.
Are there employee advocacy groups that can promote certain benefits? Are there famous speakers you could bring in to host the main event? For example, if you focus on mental health benefits and preventive measures, can you bring a health guru or a meditation teacher to host a live chat?
7. Allocate resources and launch!
There are never enough hours in the day and enough internal resources; that’s why it’s important to ask for help and plan for extra resources when you will inevitably need them. Understandably, when you are working with vendors and negotiating and finalizing plan details, the last thing you want to think about is making a fun video to give a snapshot of employee benefits. Luckily, there are subject matter experts who can do this for you – in the most efficient, creative, and cost-effective ways.
8. Ask for feedback and improve the process next year
Effective communication is all about making adjustments to facilitate a better employee experience. We encourage you to get feedback from employees about your Open Enrollment communications. This feedback can help HR leaders improve communications in the future.
9. Bonus strategy: Keep your mind open
Technology makes many things easier these days - there are a number of software solutions available that can help HR leaders automate the communication process, track employee participation, and provide personalized information to employees. At Nua, we are product-agnostic and we can review and make recommendations on technologies and tools that suit your needs and fit your budget.
Now, this might seem like a lot of areas to think about but approaching Open Enrollment communications with a marketing mindset can deliver a successful Open Enrollment experience that benefits both employees and the organization. And if marketing isn't your forte, it might be time to get an expert involved. Of course, we're always here to assist!