Communications: Want a more successful benefits enrollment?

Five common communication errors to avoid

June 7, 2017
| United States

By Lisa Beyer, Senior Communications Consultant

Communicating with your employees about their benefits is critical. For employees, informative and consistent benefit education helps them choose coverage that makes the most sense for their personal situation — and use those benefits wisely. For the HR department, a strong communication program can minimize the calls and issues that arise from a lack of understanding. While employers do their best to create a strategic plan around benefit education, most HR professionals are not communication experts and struggle to fit this additional task into an already busy schedule. Numerous resources (online education, industry seminars and workshops, and professional consultants, to name a few) can help employers develop an effective benefit communication program. In the meantime, here are five common errors to avoid.

Underestimating the value of a strong visual identity, including a benefit program name

A strong visual identity helps your employees relate your benefit program to your organization. This typically includes common colors, typefaces and images that are used for all of your communications. You might also use a corporate or benefit logo, and a tagline for instant recognition. Your identity could even include a style of writing (casual, fun, humorous) that you employ with all of your benefit communications.

Using long emails with multiple attachments to share benefit information

Your employees receive information from multiple sources every day. This includes personal email and text messages; solicitations, catalogs and flyers in their personal mail; social media; and if they work at a desk, corporate, IT and possibly spam emails. You need to break through all of this noise, and to do so, your messages must be visually appealing with crisp and informative writing.

Expecting an employee to read through a long email, then to open and read one or more attachments, is unrealistic. Say what needs to be said using the fewest words possible, and if needed, provide a link to more information. Avoid repeating the same ideas in an email, especially if they are stated differently, as this can cause confusion. Consistency begets clarity. Use a compelling, newspaper-style headline as the email subject. You may even want to test your emails with some employees to get their feedback.

Communicating with employees only before, during and immediately after the open enrollment window

This is a common error that results from HR departments being so busy with other tasks that communications that are not considered critical often fall by the wayside. However, communicating with employees year-round helps maintain engagement with and awareness of your benefit program and any related goals. In addition, a predictable pattern of communication helps employees feel informed and included, reinforces your messages and helps increase comprehension. If your enrollment window is in the fall, you have at least eight months — when employees aren’t on a deadline to read their enrollment guide and enroll — to provide benefit education. If you’ve not developed an annual communication schedule, consider doing so to establish a regular pattern of communication.

Sending enrollment packets that include contract-like carrier materials and legal notices

Open enrollment can be a stressful time for the HR professional, but it’s even more stressful for employees. Keep in mind that your employees need the right amount of, but not too much, information to make informed benefit decisions. This is best accomplished in a high-level guide that outlines their benefit coverage options, but doesn’t get into the “weeds” with overwhelming detail.

Most employees will not take the time to dig through carrier information to ferret out the details they need, nor should they have to. And when was the last time you read a plan’s legal notice? Keep benefit information short and action-oriented, using an eight-page guide as the main source of information, then offering resources for additional details. This will save you time and money. And your employees will thank you for it!

Relying on a single communication channel to convey benefit information

You probably have a preference for how you receive and engage with information. Some people like print materials, while others insist on getting their information online. Your employees are the same. Using all-print, or all-electronic communication almost guarantees that you won’t reach the majority of employees. You can easily use multiple communication platforms to share information. For example, a benefit guide can be mailed to the home and shared via email in a PDF or a flip-book link. You can use posters in common areas while mailing a postcard to the home for employees who work remotely. And to promote employee self-service, you can host all information on an intranet or enrollment site. Other delivery channels include videos, infographics, email blasts, decision-making enrollment sites, microsites and online wallet cards. Face-to-face meetings are a great idea if you have large groups of employees in common locations.

Taking time to address these five common missteps can help you expand your communication program in a way that’s actually more focused toward the ultimate outcome: employees who understand their benefits, see their value more clearly, make better choices and are more satisfied with them (and their employer, too!).