Employee benefits programs are major investments for any organization, especially for smaller businesses. To get the most out of that investment, companies must get their benefits communication and enrollment strategies right. An effective benefits program drives both better health and stronger engagement in your employees. Make no mistake: Employee engagement plays a major role in your bottom line. Research by Dale Carnegie Training shows companies with engaged employees can outperform less engaged competitors by up to 202 percent higher.
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If you're not completely ready for your next benefits enrollment, you're not alone. While research from Employee Benefit Adviser found employers with benefit start dates in the first quarter of 2018 more prepared for open enrollment than in previous months, it also found employers have made little progress in many key benefits enrollment activities, including benefits communication.
It's not too late to enhance your benefits communication strategy to ensure your open enrollment is productive. Here are four cost-effective tips to achieve better benefits communication this enrollment season:
1. Keep Things Simple
The realm of employee benefits is complex and can be stressful for you and your employees. By keeping communications as uncomplicated as possible, you can avoid unnecessary confusion that turns off your workforce altogether.
Use simple, conversational language to explain the options in your benefits package. Short, catchy headlines can nudge engagement, while visual aids like infographics can break down complex subjects into easily digestible chunks.
Oh, and about that "nudge": It may not be rocket science, but it is Nobel Prize-worthy. According to economist and Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, we'd all benefit if we were "nudged" to make optimal financial decisions.
Even if — or maybe especially if — you're fluent in the language of benefits communication, take a step back before finalizing your message. Ask a colleague who is less familiar to review your communications for clarity.
2. Get Personal
With many people continuing to work well into their 70s today, it's not uncommon to see up to five generations coexisting in one workplace. That means a one-size-fits-all benefits communication strategy just won't cut it.
A customized approach is essential to meet the preferences and needs of different generations. Being more targeted with your messaging about the core benefits and voluntary coverage available and emphasizing different options for different employees can work wonders.
For example, many Gen. X-ers, who are likely to have or be starting families, place high value on paid parental leave, on-site child care, and flexible work hours. Millennials tend to gravitate toward products and services that offer them peace of mind, while financial security resonates more strongly with baby boomer workers. Certainly, the same types of coverage can provide both peace of mind and financial security, so it's largely a matter of the language you use to talk about coverage.
You also can increase your employees' appreciation of your benefits package by showing them the financial value of their options, including how much the company is contributing. Ask your benefits provider for a total compensation report or individualized benefits statements for each employee at the time of enrollment.
3. The Medium Is the Message
Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "the medium is the message" in 1964, and more than 50 years later, this insight is still relevant.
In an era of devices, you may be fooled into thinking your employees want purely digital communication about their benefits. However, people still value the human touch when it comes to serious life decisions. According to Health Advocate Solutions, 71 percent of workers prefer telephone contact when it concerns personal and emotional well-being, and 61 percent want face-to-face meetings to discuss managing chronic conditions.
Offer your employees a variety of communication channels, including print, email, webinars, text messaging, phone, and/or online chat. Give employees the choice to use those channels that match their own preferences.
4. Build the Path to Engagement
The foundation of any successful communication strategy is a central and regularly updated one-stop hub employees can access wherever and whenever they want. Even if your business is small, you may have hard-to-reach employees who work from home or out in the field.
Seventy-two percent of American adults own a smartphone, and that number increases every year. If you're not currently offering employees access to their plans via a mobile app, talk with your benefits provider about the options that might be available.
Repeating key messages throughout the year, not just during open enrollment season, can also boost employee benefits engagement. Start by asking your workforce which benefits topics they'd like to learn more about and how they'd prefer to receive this information.
Send out regular reminders about the benefits information your workers request using different platforms. Keeping benefits on the radar throughout the year can help to lift the fog of confusion surrounding different types of insurance plans.
Rob Hecker, is vice president, human resources, for Colonial Life and Unum.