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August 25, 2022

Open enrollment: The benefits of smarter communications

Engaging with your different employee demographics

Greg Haffely and Lauren Trost

As many organizations adopt permanent remote work options, it’s more important than ever to cater to the communication needs of various generations of employees. We now have five dedicated employee groups to understand and appreciate in terms of how you communicate with them: traditionalists (The Silent Generation), baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y (millennials), and Gen Z. 

Additionally, the differences in work behaviors and benefits preferences have never been greater. This is true regarding not only how generations communicate but also where they are when they need to be reached. How many of your employees are part-time, work-from-home, in distant locations, or mostly on the road? Those issues often create a situation where meetings or even phone calls are not the most efficient and effective ways to get in touch. 

As open enrollment approaches, you’ll need to communicate benefits options and instructions. A recent Mercer Employer Survey learned that 80% are planning to accelerate digital communication for increased outreach to employees. With that, many businesses are paying more attention to the generation gap now more than ever before. It all boils down to how different generations perceive and use technology.

So, how do you communicate effectively with each group, each with their different needs? While much has been written about technology use across generations, commonly held assumptions essentially boil down to this: younger people are more comfortable with technology and use it in their daily lives to communicate while those in the older generations typically prefer face-to-face or more traditional forms of communication. This is, of course, a generalization and according to the PCMag piece linked above, the times are in fact changing.

“Although the percentage of younger people using smartphones hasn't increased much in the last decade, US adults over age 50 have seen double-digit-percentage growth every three years since 2012, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center,” writes Eric Griffith. 

Ultimately, the most effective strategy is to find a happy medium in communication methods that embrace technology, satisfy different generational preferences, and reach all of your target audiences. No small task, but certainly attainable if done correctly.

A good starting place is to incorporate multiple communication methods that embrace technology but do not completely abandon other communication preferences. In the past year-and-a-half, the world shifted to mostly digital and virtual communications and experiences and employees have mostly gotten used to these communication methods as a result.

Does this mean you should eliminate face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and emails? Not at all. Just be aware that texting and other more “instant” forms of communication provide fast, responsive ways to reach your employees. Critically, putting serious thought into how you’re communicating to your employees signals that you’re invested in their well-being and the message you’re trying to get across is one worth listening to.

As stated earlier, the decision-making process of crafting communications is not always an easy one, especially as more options become available. Emails, texts, and Zoom meetings are familiar to most people, but something such as enterprise social networking (ESN) may be far less so.

ESN has taken the familiar look and navigation of sites such as Facebook and adapted it to the corporate world. You can now use tools like Slack, Yammer, Teams, and Chatter to send messages and open up intra-office communications. ESN is generally searchable, allows file sharing, and provides an instant, easy way to communicate.

When it comes to open enrollment communications, just remember that each organization and workforce has unique needs and what works for one organization may not for another. Whichever communication strategy you decide upon, here are some key tips to think about as you head into open enrollment season. 

  1. You’re not just communicating, you’re marketing. Make sure your subject lines, titles, and headlines grab the attention of the employee. Why would someone want to open your message? In other words, what’s in it for them and what about this is exciting.

  2. Use plain language. Jargon or overly-corporate writing can be a turn-off to employees. Talk to them like they’re sitting across from you, not as though you’re lecturing to them.

  3. Be as personal as possible. Remember to speak to your employees, not at them. Also, respect their time and keep it short and straightforward.

  4. Be creative. Use whatever you can—typography, video, links to your intranet, etc.—to attract attention and make getting the information as interesting and entertaining as possible.

  5. Send, re-send, and send again. Think of your open enrollment communications as a mini ad campaign. It should be not only compelling and interesting, but also effective in its messaging. This may require you to engage your employees multiple times for a single communication. Most employees won’t notice or pay attention to all of them, but one or two will capture their focus. 

  6. Mix up your “media.” A good rule of thumb is to use a variety of channels to push your message. For example, you could start with a message on the ESN, then follow up with an email or send digital postcards. You could go one step further and follow up with texts or phone calls. Think as wide and deep as possible.

Marsh McLennan Agency can work with you to develop just the right plan for your organization. To learn more about communicating with employees about open enrollment, watch for more articles on our website. You can also contact your MMA representative to set up a meeting to work through your plan.