Preparing for Open Enrollment: Employee Communication

Last updated on August 24, 2021 at 02:39 pm

This year, communicating about open enrollment is more important than ever. The pandemic put a lot in perspective for employees. Many frontline workers have felt undervalued and expendable after literally putting their lives on the line at work. And although vaccines have changed the game from a health and safety perspective, employees are now taking a hard look at what they get out of their jobs. In many industries, employees have decided it just isn’t worth it. The result? Turnover. Lots of turnover.

And one of the things being scrutinized is benefits and compensation. And it makes sense, right? During a global health crisis, having access to affordable benefits is critical. We saw this have a big impact on open enrollment comms in 2020…but we aren’t out of the woods yet.

Understanding OE in the Modern Workplace

Employee Open Enrollment can be very stressful for communications and HR teams. Why does everyone wait until the last minute to change their benefits? Why do so many people ask for extensions?! Did they get the emails? Didn’t they see the signs posted in the break rooms, hallways, and elevators?! Didn’t they check out the intranet where the reminder has been displayed for months?!

The reality is 78% of workers say that employer-provided health insurance has an impact on whether or not they stay at their company. But only 19% of employees understand their benefits. And SHRM found that about 90% of the employees who don’t understand their benefits spend less than an hour enrolling in their benefits

It’s possible that your employees don’t really understand the value of the benefits package available to them. And that can be a big source of turnover. So, preparing for open enrollment and shifting your communication strategy can make a big difference.

What to Consider When Tackling Open Enrollment This Year

1. Get the messages in front of ALL employees—including your frontline workers! The effectiveness of common ways of communicating OE, like trickle-down communications and signage, are hard to quantify.  Do you have an employee communication channel that reaches everyone? Email might be a solution for deskbound workers, but what about those employees who don’t have company email addresses? Do you have ways to get information to them and know they actually received it?

2. Give employees easier access to benefits information and resources that help them understand how to update or enroll in benefits. Don’t assume everyone understands what they need to do or what is even available to them through company sponsored benefits. Create simple materials that show employees what’s in it for them. For example, hold a webinar or Q&A session that is available to all employees. For Millennials and Gen Zers, create short videos that answer the important questions that you know employees will have.

3. Communicate early, and follow up on a regular cadence. There will always be those employees who will enroll right away…and there will be those that wait until the 11th hour. Start communicating about open enrollment one month in advance and schedule regular reminders, increasing your cadence as the deadline approaches.

Try Something New

We can sometimes fall into the habit of using the same strategy each year for annual campaigns like benefits enrollment. But the workplace is changing rapidly, so should your approach to HR communication

  1. If you can’t reach all employees with your existing communications channels, there are ways to figure out why your strategies have not worked in the past or to improve the process at your organization. Consider conducting a channel assessment to figure out which communication channels are effective and if they are reaching all audiences. 
  2. It’s critical to start with objectives before planning your OE comms. What’s the goal this year? What were the pain points last year? Are you losing employees due to them not feeling valued—can that become central to your open enrollment campaign? To have success here, you’ll need to make sure your tools provide you with analytics and data to know what OE content is working and what isn’t.  
  3. Have you asked your employees about what you could have done differently? About what they don’t understand? Or about the information they wish you provided? Asking people what they think or need goes a long way.

Most importantly, recognize that Open Enrollment is an employee communications effort. This is a great opportunity for HR and Comms to work together, be creative, and to not go at it alone.

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