You know that each of your clients considers their group benefit packages as a significant investment in their employees. Properly designed, positioned and communicated, the benefit package is one of the best tools in their arsenals to attract the right talent, enhance employee engagement and retain their most valuable employees. As you head into this year’s open enrollment season with your clients, it is more important than ever to work with them to strategically advise them regarding their employee communications strategies.

You’ve already helped them to analyze their workforces, studied usage and costs, possibly surveyed their employees regarding their benefits preferences, considered compliance issues with various Department of Labor benefits regulations and the Affordable Care Act, worked through longer-term benefit design issues with the impending 2018 Cadillac tax, and compiled the best benefit packages their budgets will allow. The benefits systems are loaded, the carriers have provided all of the documentation, and they’re just about ready to announce the new program to their employees. This is where your experience and role as a trusted adviser can continue to provide the extra value-added personal service to your clients. 

Also see: "4 factors poised to disrupt benefits delivery."

Provide them with these seven practical tips for making the most of marketing their benefit programs to their employees:

1) Review workforce demographics and benefits usage to get a better understanding of employees’ stages in the lifecycle.

Knowing your audience and targeting benefit communications to meet those lifecycle needs makes the benefits more personal and relevant. Employees with young families, older workers preparing for retirement, empty nesters and young singles all have distinctly different benefits needs and interests.

2) Package benefits by target group.

Promote messaging that speaks to that group’s needs while consistently reinforcing the overall benefits strategy and employer branding in the messaging. Different communications delivery systems may also be important to different employee groups.

3) Messaging should start with “why” the benefits are structured as they are and “what” the company’s overall benefits strategy is designed to accomplish for employees.

Most employees are smart, so advise your clients not to sugarcoat any bad news about changes in the benefit program. The best employees will see through the slick messaging and resent those attempts to hide changes that may be perceived as negative. This is a good time to highlight the important value of their benefit programs, promote wellness, encourage retirement savings and incent cost-effective usage of benefit programs.

4) Keep the messaging simple.

Provide clear information, checklists and decision-support tools that are easy to follow. While the details behind a certain benefit may be fascinating to benefit specialists, it may cause some employees to set that carefully crafted document aside. By all means, have the details available, but keep the key messages and “what you need to do for enrollment” information central to the enrollment materials.

5) Bring company managers and supervisors into the discussions prior to launch.

Give them a heads-up regarding the upcoming benefit changes and enlist their help in the process.

6) Explain the benefit options in as many ways as the budget will allow.

Multimedia messaging that provides different methods for employees and/or their families to watch videos or webinars, read detailed benefits materials, review infographics, use “hands-on” decision tools, view desktop dashboards or popup “did you know” benefits messages, read questions and answers or consider examples helps employees recognize the value of the benefit and make better benefit decisions. Determine the campaign for repeating key messages and the frequency of those communications.

7) Tackle the “how” of your benefits communications program, including:

  • Communications delivery methods. Electronic communications? Webinars? In-person company meetings? Packages mailed to home addresses to involve the family? Use of social media? Intranet messaging? Frequent emails or instant messaging? Live hotline for questions and concerns? Combination of all of the methods?
  • Enrollment methods. Online? Manual? Make it as administratively simple as possible for both employees and the benefit administration staff. Use electronic tools if the budget allows.
  • Timing. Establish a timeline working backward from the date that the information must be completed with the carriers and other benefit providers. Then, work forward to deliver the communications program.
  • Frequency. Employees need time to consider their options and allow the information to soak in. Consider sending employee prompts and reminders so that the enrollment process is completed in a timely manner.

Remind your clients that their benefit programs will only realize the investment potential if the benefits are perceived as meeting the expectations and needs of their employees and beneficiaries. The annual open enrollment communications opportunity is precious — employers can influence how employees see benefits or cost changes, motivate employees to change their health or savings habits, and let employees know that management is listening, considering their feedback valuable and responding to their needs.
Kerekes, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is ThinkHR Corporation’s chief knowledge officer and leads the ThinkHR Live, human resources service delivery and content teams. In addition to her company responsibilities, she writes management, HR and business articles and presents regularly to management groups regarding HR best practices.

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