Annual enrollment can be intimidating for both employers and employees. More complex plans and a wider variety of voluntary benefits offered mean that communication and transparency are vital to a successful annual enrollment strategy.
Finding the right way to communicate with employees, especially across generations, makes effective communication challenging. Many employers are utilizing various communication channels and the support of their brokers to find the best fit for their workforces.
Different Generations = Different Ways of Learning
HR professionals are acutely aware of the differences between generations, to the point of nearly stereotyping age groups: baby boomers are technology averse; millennials only want to work in teams; Gen Xers want to go into the office and close the door; for example.
Regardless of the needs and styles of your workforce, all of your employees are keenly interested in finding the right insurance benefits for themselves and their families. What you need is a communication strategy that is flexible enough to handle the differences among your employees while still meeting their needs.
To do that, a multi-pronged approach is generally the most effective. Written communications, such as a memo or brochure, may be helpful to some workers. Paper allows employees to take materials home and discuss it with family members.
Other workers may be more receptive to information they can access online or through their mobile devices. You can send tips and reminders through social media vehicles, like Twitter or Facebook. Video options, such as webinars or YouTube, may also be an effective communication channel for your workforce.
On the other hand, email is still the go-to means of communication for many HR departments. Incorporating PDFs of enrollment material is recommended so the documents can be taken home and shared with family members. Emails also provide direct access for employees to ask questions or consult with HR. Links from carrier websites or broker resources can also be included.
Who's up for a meeting?
Large annual enrollment meetings are not as common as they used to be. The downside of formalized meetings is that they can be perceived as too long or not focused on an employee’s particular issues.
If possible, keep your annual enrollment meetings reasonably short. Meeting in smaller groups can improve the effectiveness. By making the meeting more intimate, employees often feel more comfortable asking questions, and consequently, answers to specific questions can be more helpful for the entire employee population.
What’s clear is that there is room for improvement. Recent surveys suggest that companies need to do a better job of communicating about annual enrollment. A survey by benefits software company Namely found that more than a third of employees surveyed gave their company’s annual enrollment process a “C” grade or worse.
Other findings from the survey:
- The biggest causes of open enrollment frustration are: 1) constant changes in plans, 2) open enrollment information that is hard to understand, and 3) a rushed process.
- Many employees don’t see HR as their first choice for enrollment help: “Only 1 in 5 employees say they consult their HR representative. Instead, they turn to coworkers and family members to help make plan selections,” the study said.
- Workers lack understanding of how much their company is contributing to their insurance costs. “Employees vastly underestimate how much employers spend on health care,” the study said. “53 percent of employees think their employer spends under $5,000 on their healthcare benefits annually—where the average per-employee spend in 2016 was $8,669.”
- One month is the magic number when it comes to open enrollment. Fifty percent of employees said they want at least one month to make their selections.
Your organization can address annual enrollment communication deficiencies by first, getting feedback from employees on strategies for what works best when it comes to education and answering annual enrollment questions. Second, be sure to take action on the feedback you receive. Do what you can to make adjustments based on employees’ feedback and let them know that you did so. Your employees are more apt to offer feedback in the future when they see that they can make a difference.
You may be offering a wide variety of benefit products to your employees in an effort to become a destination employer and to retain the best talent. Of course this is good business, but it can complicate annual enrollment and make benefit communication even more challenging.
Voluntary benefit products such as disability insurance, accident insurance, critical care insurance, and others, are increasingly popular, and are especially in-demand with enrollees of high deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) HDHPs and HSAs continue to grow in popularity. These “consumer-directed” plans have advantages and disadvantages. They may come with lower premiums, but higher deductibles and no copays. They may be a good deal for certain types of employees and not others.
The HSA-type plans work best for consumers who are willing and able to be more proactive with their health care. Workers who don’t understand the risks of consumer-directed plans might not be prepared for the high deductibles; other workers who would be a good fit for the plans might think they are too complicated. The more you can do to provide educational resources, the better.
Communicate Often and to Many
The best strategy is ongoing education and dialogue—not just during annual enrollment, but year-round—to help employees determine the plans that are right for them. Helping your employees become good benefit consumers is good for them and for your organization.
Continue to train your HR staff as well. They are on the front-lines making your benefit offerings work for both employees and your bottom line. Give them the resources they need, and keep lines of communication open with brokers and carriers, so that your company stays on top of the issues that might be important during next year’s annual enrollment season.
For specific questions about annual enrollment or for strategic advice, call your local MMA representative for assistance.