"Here comes open enrollment season," says Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist at Benz Communications. "And this year is an excellent time to reconsider the ways in which you share information about benefit plans with your employees. This year, especially with more-complex plans and an increasing number of government-related notices, it's time for simplicity. It's time for new avenues of communication. This year, less is more." 

When less is more: Keep benefits communications simple

"Here comes open enrollment season," says Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist at Benz Communications. "And this year is an excellent time to reconsider the ways in which you share information about benefit plans with your employees. This year, especially with more-complex plans and an increasing number of government-related notices, it's time for simplicity. It's time for new avenues of communication. This year, less is more."

How to keep things simple
HR professionals may feel that it is not possible to over-communicate when benefits are so complex. Benz offers some guidelines. "Smaller, concentrated messages distributed on a more frequent basis are better absorbed than large amounts of information provided once or twice a year," she says. "These days, employee attention spans are short, and people are unlikely to make their way through to the end of a 20-page benefits guide that is handed to them at open enrollment time."

A better approach, Benz says, may be to break this document up into smaller communications that are distributed over time using different communication channels. "Get rid of benefits jargon and complicated benefits manuals," she says. "Define complex topics and terms. Remember that your employees and their families are not benefits experts. Do not assume they know what coinsurance is or that they know why open enrollment matters to them.

"Make sure your communications use plain language-not benefits jargon-and that you define key terms, even if you've defined them before. Redundancy is actually helpful in benefits communications. Be aware that some employees grasp information when it is presented visually. Use comparison charts and graphics to deliver your messages in a different manner."

Use social media and other channels
Getting started with social media can be surprisingly easy. "A blog or Twitter are easy ways to start using social media-and will help you get more communication out, keep things simple, and get feedback from employees," Benz says. "This is a very cost-effective way to create better results, and is really useful for companies that operate with a lean HR staff. You can push out useful information about the enrollment system or hidden features of your health plan.

"You can give employees insider tips about their benefits. Chances are your benefits team members know a ton off the top of their heads that employees would be very interested in. And social media gives you instant and ongoing feedback from employees. When you know what the questions are, you can instantly provide the answers."

Best practices for benefits communication 
To communicate simply and clearly, Benz says, "Provide only the information required to make a decision or use a plan. The tendency is to give employees every plan detail during open enrollment, but that just adds to their sense of being overwhelmed by information and choices." Benz recommends considering the demographic makeup of your workforce, too. "Don't assume that Baby Boomers are your only audience," she says. "'Generation Y' workers make up a large component of the workforce at many companies, and the way you deliver information to a Boomer might not be the same way you communicate with Gen Y. Boomers tend to prefer printed collateral, webinars, and person-to-person exchange. Gen Y likes electronic communication. They may actually prefer blogs or instant chat as a way to get support and information."

Streamline your information so you are only giving employees what they need to make a decision or use a plan. Focus on the value to the individual-not the company. "In our cost-conscious world, it is easy for benefits communication to take on the voice of what the company needs. Rather than beginning your presentation by saying 'Here's what the company needs to do to control costs,' begin your enrollment meeting by acknowledging your employees' efforts over the last year, and thanking them for their continued dedication. Then, end your presentation the same way."

Ceridian helps you automate employee-benefits enrollment. Empower employees to answer benefits questions themselves, and attract and retain high-performing employees with simple, comprehensive benefits services. Learn more about Ceridian Benefits Services.