Communication Planning 12+ Weeks Before Open Enrollment

Posted by Kate Grooms on 10/5/2017

In Employee Benefits, Benefits Management, HR strategies

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You’ve planned. You’ve strategized. You’re ready. Congratulations, the countdown to open enrollment has begun. 

 

PART 2: 12+ Weeks Before Open Enrollment

You’ll find this is a complicated time to start any benefit-specific communications, because we both know the finalization of your benefit package can sometimes (ehh, all the time) come down to the wire. While details are still firming up, this is a good time to push out some general communication and get started on some of the more complex and robust materials you’ll be communicating in the coming weeks.

 

Give them a tickle.

I used to giggle (no pun intended) when I would hear people use the word ‘tickle’ in a professional setting. Tickle is what I do to my two-year-old, not to my employees!? But if you dig deep to the number 3 or 4 definition of “tickle” on Merriam-Webster, it starts to make a lot more sense. “To poke, to excite. To get something moving.” Hello. Let’s tickle.

Send out a “get excited” email. If you’re lucky, open enrollment might be top of mind to your employees. But its highly likely they have lost track of what time of year it is, and will need a gentle reminder. Time to remind them! If not much is changing from previous years, this communication can be as simple as the fact that your looking forward to an exciting open enrollment. If you’re considering a major change, like increased premiums or major benefit changes, this would be a good time to break the ice on the topic. If you’ve confirmed these details in advance, you can choose to be specific when delivering this news. Or, just let people know that it will be extra-important for them to spend time carefully considering their options this year, as plan details have significantly changed. You can also use this opportunity to request feedback, but beware of doing this before you have painted a very clear picture, or you could flood your email inbox with panic.

Add a tagline to your email signature. On a scale of 1 to impossible, this activity is about as easy to execute as they come. In the months leading up to Open Enrollment, have your HR department (or for smaller businesses, company managers) add a brief line just below their internal email signature that reinforces your upcoming activities. People will see these reminders every time you email them. You’ll be planting the seeds for employees to be on the lookout for more information to come in the next few months. Here are some examples you can use that become more specific as open enrollment draws closer:

-Don’t forget! Open Enrollment starts <date>!
-Please join our webinar on <date> to review important benefit plan changes for the upcoming year!
-Open Enrollment is happening NOW! Have you completed your elections? You only have until <date>!

 

Get your big projects going.

Some tasks are easier than others. Smaller benefit decision support activities, like making a flyer or pushing out a text, are going to be easy to execute as you get into the thick of things down the road. But some of the larger tools take planning and preparation. If you haven’t already started on some of your bigger projects, it’s time to get going.

Evaluate and update your benefit guides. If I were the betting kind, I’d put money on the fact that some of the feedback you received during your planning phase included: “This information is too hard to understand!” Why? Because it is! It’s important to remember that your employees don’t work day-to-day with benefits the way we do, and the amount of information provided to them can be downright overwhelming. It’s important to make your benefits guides easy to understand and easy to use. Here are some tips for a user-friendly guide:

If you have major plan changes, it’s a good idea to add a “What’s Changing This Year” section at the very front of your benefits guide. There are many employees who stay on the same plan year-to-year just to avoid a hassle. If they only read one page of their benefit guide, this should be the one they read.

This may seem elementary, but everybody loves a good health benefit glossary. Not sure what the difference is between co-pay and co-insurance? Or between HRA and HSA? A glossary will help employees get their answers faster, and avoid any confusion when it comes to electing or using their benefits. You can download a useful benefits glossary from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) here.

Make your important information look important. Use big fonts, color coding, or call out boxes to highlight the importance of the information. Do what you can to visually distinguish these messages from the rest. For those employees who may just be skimming through, it’s the one of the few things they will take note of.

 

Start an employee testimonial campaign. An honest, first-person account of using a product or service is an extremely powerful communication tool. Getting your employees to talk about important benefits topics to their peers can be a great way for you to increase engagement. Jane from accounting, who uses her dependent care FSA to pay for daycare, would love to share her experiences saving pre-tax money with other moms. Joe from IT, who used his telemedicine benefit when he had the flu, definitely wants to tell you about how he didn’t wait hours around the doctor’s office for an appointment with a fever of 103. It’s just human nature; people love to share their success. A campaign like this can be a huge undertaking, so get started early (yes, right now) on your content planning, and identify your:

Channels
If you haven’t already, start making a list of all the channels you’ll be using to communicate benefits - email, mail, social media, intranet, team meetings, etc.

Media
What kind of testimonials do you have time (and budget) to make? Video is always best, but it can get pricey, unless you have an in-house team. If you’re not afraid to be informal, ask for “selfie” phone video submissions. Paper testimonials (quotes or stories) can be the most versatile to use.

Content
Is there anything that stands out to you as extra-important this year? Make a list of subject topics you’re interested in hearing about before reaching out for volunteers.

Volunteers
You’ll need to recruit enough people to be able to selectively choose what testimonials are right for your campaign. Consider sending a staff email blast or writing a newsletter article asking for volunteers. Be specific about what you are looking for, and don’t be afraid to offer an incentive for participation, like an extra PTO day. They’ll be knocking down your door to help.

 

Time is ticking away, but this should be enough to get you started, right? Need more? By our next installment, 8 Weeks Before Open Enrollment, you should have your dates and times of open enrollment locked down, and a much better understanding of the full benefit package offering. At that point, it will be a good time to start developing messaging, content, and an activity calendar. See you next week to kick this off!


Related Reading:

Open Enrollment Communication Planning Part 1: Planning and Strategy