3 ways to boost HSA participation

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If your employees are barely using their health savings accounts, now might be the time to give your communications a swift kick in the benefits.

At Jellyvision, we’ve seen firsthand how engaging, persuasive communication can boost tax-savings account enrollment and contributions. Last year, employees who used our decision support software, ALEX, said they would put an average of $2,939 into their HSAs, 64% more than the national average.

As behavioral science nerds, we understand the roadblocks that get between people and their best interests and the techniques to help clear a path. To boost HSA participation at your company, try these three communication strategies.

1. Be concrete and tell stories. According to the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, you can make sure your communications are both memorable and motivating by being concrete and telling stories.

So don’t be afraid to give some real numbers. List out how many actual dollars people stand to save on taxes if they make various HSA contributions. You might also create and share a few employee scenarios — either real (if you’ve got ‘em) or made up. Consider telling the story of Dane, a weirdly healthy, 90’s alt-rock-lovin’ single dude who uses his HSA to pay doctor’s bills and to save for retirement. Or Hannah, a mother of three who maxed out her HSA and saved $300, which she turned around and spent on the most indulgent massage of her life. And so on.

2. Don’t be afraid to go negative. According to the theory of loss aversion, the pain we feel when we lose, say, $100, is twice as intense as the pleasure we feel when we win $100.

With this principle in mind, consider how you might reframe your messaging around HSAs to focus more on what employees will miss out on (or straight-up lose) if they don’t act, rather than what they’ll gain if they do. Describe their HSA tax savings as something that is theirs to lose. It’s money already sitting in their HSA piggy bank that they can choose to spend on something amazing (yay!)…or hand over to Uncle Sam (boo!).

3. Make it easy for employees to take action — and reach out often. Behavioral scientist B.J. Fogg argues that three elements must converge simultaneously to change behavior: motivation, ability and a trigger. Put another way, before we do that scary brand-new thing, we need to be convinced there’s a good reason to do it, we need it to be extremely easy to do, and we need something to spark us to do the thing now. Y’know, before we lose interest and find something shinier.

Once you’ve motivated your employees using the first two tips, give them a smooth path to action ASAP. Instead of writing a paragraph of HSA-related instructions, list out the steps in bullet points or check boxes with links to take immediate action.

And remember: Your employees can enroll in — and contribute to — their HSA at any time. So don’t just talk about HSAs around open enrollment. Reach out consistently, whenever your employees are best primed to care: at the beginning of a new plan year; in March and April when tax savings are front of mind; or after a pay raise or promotion.

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