The annual open enrollment period for employee benefits can be a nerve-wracking experience for some human resource professionals.  Conveying changes can be tricky and you need to be able to communicate them in a clear and concise way that your employees will understand. 

Our advice? Get ahead of the game and start the planning early. Keeping in mind that employees are hearing and reading about health care reform, you'll need to be prepared to help them separate the fact from the speculation. Also, employees today expect their employers to be creative, consider employee needs, make the benefits easy to use, and offer them choices to help manage their lifestyles.

Steps for Success

Properly designed, positioned, and communicated, the employee benefits package is one of the best tools in your arsenal to attract the right talent, enhance employee engagement, and retain the most valuable employees. To prepare for this year's enrollment, you must first determine the best benefits packages and communications program. Make the most of marketing your benefits programs to employees by:

  1. Reviewing workforce demographics and benefits usage to get a better understanding of employees' stages in the lifecycle. Knowing your audience and targeting benefits communications to meet those lifecycle needs makes the benefits more personal and relevant.
  2. Starting the messaging with "why" the benefits are structured as they are and "what" the company's overall benefits strategy is designed to accomplish for employees. This is a good time to highlight the important value of their benefits programs, promote wellness, and incent cost-effective usage of benefits programs.
  3. Being ready to address the questions triggered by any federal and state proposals to change benefits rules. Clear the misconceptions and incomplete information and focus on how the benefits package has been designed to comply with the current laws in place.  
  4. Keeping the messaging straightforward. Provide clear information, checklists, and decision support tools that are easy to follow. Have the details available but keep the key messages and "what you need to do for enrollment" information central to the enrollment materials.
  5. Tackling the "how" of the benefits communications program, including communications and enrollment methods, timing for delivering your messages, and ensuring employees completely their enrollment process in a timely manner.

The annual open enrollment communications opportunity is precious -- you can influence how employees see benefits or cost changes, alleviate any fears about federal and state benefits changes that are still being considered by lawmakers and regulators, motivate employees to change their health habits, and let employees know that management is listening, considering their feedback valuable, and responding to their needs.