A recent benefits survey by VSP Vision Care found that Americans prefer bathing suit season, back-to-school season and tax season to open enrollment. It’s a universal truth: choosing benefits each year can be an arduous and stressful process. But it doesn’t have to be.
HR departments have an opportunity – and some would argue a responsibility – to provide the information, tools and resources employees need to make wise benefit decisions. With the right strategy and communications plan, HR can transform open enrollment in a way that helps employees and the company as a whole.
“It’s time for organizations to change the perception of open enrollment. By reassessing benefits annually, employees can determine if their elections align with their current personal situation or if they need to make a change. Creating an effective benefits communication strategy where employees understand their options is key. Organizations need a strategy that is engaging, insightful and helpful,” says Anita Magnuson, Vice President of Compensation, Benefits & Payroll at Ceridian.
Everyone knows it’s important to make the right benefits choices, but for many people, annual open enrollment can be daunting if not outright overwhelming. And in the universal juggling act of life, the benefits ball is one that’s likely to be dropped.
Aflac’s 2018 WorkForces Report found that rather than making changes during open enrollment, 93% of employees choose the same benefits each year. Further, during the previous open enrollment, more than half (56%) spent less than 30 minutes researching their benefits options, and on average, employees spend just 32 minutes on research.
These findings reinforce the need to offer employees better resources to assist in making educated benefit decisions.
While benefits decisions happen once a year, they can have a ripple effect on employee engagement and overall happiness. Studies show that employees who don’t have the coverage they need, or who are worried about the cost of health care, are less productive at work, which in turn decreases their overall engagement.
Additionally, Metlife reports in its 2019 Employee Benefit Trends Survey that half of employees say that better benefits “are key to thriving,” helping them feel more engaged and cared for.
Here are four tips to engage your employees in open enrollment:
The average individual has a limited (at best) understanding of “benefits speak,” and may struggle to understand concepts that seem straightforward to an HR professional. According to a PolicyGenius survey, only 4% (!) of Americans can correctly define co-pay, co-insurance, deductible, and out-of-pocket maximum.
Introduce benefits information in bite-sized pieces that use everyday language, not HR jargon. Break down each to-do into small, manageable steps – communicating each step one at a time and with clear and simple instructions and examples.
While people’s life circumstances and health priorities can change each year, more than 90% of employees keep the same benefits selections year after year. Encourage employees to closely evaluate their benefit options by catering materials and communications to employee demographics. The benefits important to a 20-year-old just starting out will be very different than what’s important to a 30-year-old who’s starting a family, and so on.
AI and technology play a key role in helping personalize the benefits enrollment process. For example, tools like benefits decision support help employees understand which benefits packages best match their needs and preferences. Additionally, using an open enrollment technology solution lets employees easily communicate life events and make changes to their dependents, beneficiaries and coverage as their needs change.
The next generation of workers expects to receive information, including benefits communications, on their mobile device. Don’t fall into the trap of delivering benefits information through only one vehicle. Instead, customize your benefits communications to how your workforce population wants to receive it – whether via print, email, video, web-based tools or mobile apps.
Put your benefits in the context of your employees’ lives and what they want, and drive your messaging accordingly. Employees would respond very differently to, for example, the idea that they can have massages covered by their benefits, versus having a co-pay and dealing with co-insurance percentages. Consider marketing benefits as part of your total rewards package. What differentiates your total rewards offering, and how does it support your employees in their personal and professional lives?
Sixty-five percent of employees surveyed in an Aflac WorkForces Report say their companies have only communicated benefits options two times or less over the past year. Extend your benefits communications beyond the fall and build a plan to regularly deliver bite-sized pieces of information throughout the year.
Get tips on crafting an open enrollment communications plan here.