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4 Steps to Hit the Mark for Open Enrollment

Is the benefits information you have to tell employees important before and during Open Enrollment? You bet! Easily understood? Not always. 

According to the latest MetLife employee benefits trends, close to 90% of employers believe their benefits are clear and easy to understand. Yet only 65% of employees (only 56% Gen Z) agree. 

Uncomplicating the complicated is not an easy task, but it’s well worth the effort. Employees who better understand their benefits are ones who better appreciate the benefits they have. 

Let’s look at 4 steps to help supercharge your Open Enrollment communications strategy.

Step 1: Know Your Audience

For HR, this means not just thinking about employees. Think like employees. Heck, you are an employee.

When Open Enrollment season hits, chances are you’ll be making some decisions about your benefits. Just like all the other employees. What (and who) are you thinking about when you’re comparing options? Your family? Your health? The costs? The coverage? Yep…just like all the other employees.

If you can hold on to that “employee to employee” connection when you’re communicating to them about benefits, you’re more likely to create understandable, compelling communications. Make your messages relatable and relevant, with a hint of emotion.

Relatable – We’re all people. We can empathize with each other. Remember this when you communicate to employees. Make an emotional connection. That’s how you get employees to engage.

What does that mean? For example, many employees have families they love, and so do you. And you all want the best benefits you can get for them. Relay that feeling.

Relevant – Present information from the employees’ points of view, not the company’s. Avoid touting your company’s awesomeness (“We’ve added a great new dental plan”). Talk more about why it matters to them (“You have more dentists to choose from in the new plan”). Instead of saying, “We have a new enrollment system,” say, “You can enroll faster and easier with our new enrollment system.”

Keep the message conversational, too. If you were talking to a colleague, how would you get your message across? Probably not in a verbose, run-on sentence with oodles of detail. 

Step 2: Plan Bite-Size Information

If you’re sending a firehose flow of information two weeks prior to Open Enrollment, employees will not absorb everything you’re telling them. Try starting communications about six to eight weeks prior to your OE start date, especially if you’re making major changes

Strive for a slow drip campaign that feeds bite-size bits of information. A sample campaign for a late October enrollment may look like this…

Late August

  • Teaser/kick-off announcements
  • Watch for what’s to come messaging
  • Training webinar for leaders and HR partners

September

  • Weekly or bi-weekly communications with chunks of information
  • Home mailer with highlights and a few important details
  • Portal/website or interactive guide with a deeper dive into info, tools, and resources

Mid-October

  • Meetings, webinars, and benefits sessions
  • Displays for enrollment to-do’s and timing
  • Weekly reminders to enroll (first day, one week left, last day)

To get the word out, a wide variety of channels is best. But when it comes to education, a Colonial Life Employee Enrollment Survey (via Unum) shows how employees rank their three top choices: benefits portal or website, in-person counseling session, or printed materials.

Step 3: Stay on Point!

When you start crafting your Open Enrollment communications this year, remember that employees:

  • Check their phones 150 times a day
  • Check email 30 times an hour
  • And are still trying to do their jobs

Competition for their attention is fierce. How do you break through the distractions, buzzing and beeping all around them? 

Diligently.

You must spend time considering the message you’re putting out there. Is it going to drive the results you’re hoping for? The key is to build messaging super-focused on achieving that objective. Avoid filling headspace or airwaves with any other content — stick to information employees need to know to make the decision at hand.

Also, our brains don’t want to work hard at processing information. Keep content easy-to-read and scannable. 

  • Short sentences (14 words or less)
  • Short paragraphs (3 sentences or less) 
  • Eighth-grade reading level
  • “Chunked-out” content with subheads (bite-size)
  • Lots of “you” and “your” and less “we”
  • Human language — no acronyms and other benefit geek speak

Don’t be afraid to use phrases and incomplete sentences. No, really. (See what we did there?) It goes against everything you learned in grammar class but write like you talk. Employees will trust it more, as they read it like a conversation.

One last trick — after you’ve created your first draft, cut the amount of text in half. Get rid of any sentences that are repetitive or words that don’t help employees understand your message.

It may be interesting, amusing, or truly relevant, but if it’s not essential, it’s just brain clutter.

Step 4: Don’t Bury the Bad News

They may not like bad news — but they’ll like it even less when they find it hidden among other news. Employees are adults. They can adapt to change if you’re upfront, honest, and help them through it.

Rip off the band-aid. Give them the “why” of the situation through consistent and continuous communications.

  • Tell the same story, the same way, and tell it often
  • Provide a specific date when they’ll know more
  • Be honest and open (or transparent if you speak HR)

Are rates increasing? Probably because the company’s costs keep increasing. Explain that to employees. “U.S. health care costs are expected to rise 10-15 percent this year, but we’re keeping your increase lower, at only 6 percent.”

It’s Time to Change Things Up

HR professionals tend to be criticized for overexplaining and using confusing terms that make benefits hard to understand. We know why that happens, and we get it. 

Put in the work now so you can achieve effective, results-generating communications. Communications that have higher employee engagement. But put yourself in employee shoes when you communicate. Wait…you’re wearing employee shoes.

The Human Aspect of HR Communications Strategies

If you’re in HR, no matter your role, you have complex messages to communicate to employees. You also likely have a hard time getting them to pay attention. This frustration is always in the top three for HR — you’ve told them multiple times, but they’re not doing what they need to.

But why? Partly, it’s because of who’s telling them…HR. 

Employees tend to see HR as a corporate function, with company goals in mind. A recent Gartner Human Resources survey shows that only 41% of employees think senior leadership has their best interest in mind.

The good news? The fix is (metaphorically) staring you in the face.

HR Communications Channels – People Vs Marketing

Your best channels are staring you in the face. When you think about multi-channel communications, it’s probably a mix of email, monitor screens, home mailers, posters, etc. What you may be forgetting is a more personal way to reach employees. 

The Gartner study points out that employees are more likely to trust messages coming from people they know…and see — their peers and managers. It seems employers are starting to agree, at least in theory and expectations.

77% Say It’s Effective – Only 31% Actually Do It

According to Gallagher’s 2022 State of the Sector, 77% of those surveyed said employee advocates (peers) are an effective way to communicate with employees. Yet only 31% use employee advocates for HR communications. This is an untapped HR resource.

In that same Gallagher study, 81% of companies report having an increased expectation of managers when it comes to communications. And, for the first time in the study’s 14 years, a top-three priority for employers is enhancing manager communications skills. 

If peers are an effective way to get the word out, and managers are bearing the load of yet more expectations, there’s an opportunity here to build your human communication channel. 

First, Find Your People

Most managers are, by default, part of your human channel due to their job description. But employee advocates can be hand-picked. Whether it’s by department, division, or location, managers and local HR folks generally know the popular employees with positive attitudes. Ask them who would be a confident, trusted, and enthusiastic messenger. 

Make it a personal invitation, not a mere email. Build up the importance of this new role by explaining why you’ve chosen them. “We’ve heard good things about you, and we know others trust you. So, we’d like to entrust you as an HR representative.”

To Make It Effective, Make It Easy to Help

Employees are busy — whether they’re managers, programmers, drivers, or accountants. For most, helping HR get messages out isn’t at the top of their to-do list on any day. But, if you make it easy, it won’t fall to the bottom either. 

To make your human communication channel effective, you’ll need to do more than send an email with talking points and attached flyers. Like any assignment, it’s easier to accomplish when there’s an organized plan with easy-to-follow instructions. 

For Routine, Predictable HR Communications

Quarterly tool kits are easier than unexpected emails. Kick-off each quarter with a 30-minute manager/advocate call. Give them the gist of each month’s topic and make sure the two groups are working together, not duplicating effort. After each call, send (or post) the quarterly materials in three separate packets, one for each month — these could be printed or digital materials. 

In each packet include:

  • Talking points and an FAQ on the topic.
  • Flyer, poster, email text, monitor screen, etc. 
  • Detailed schedule showing when and how to use each piece (talking points in huddles, posters in break/bathrooms, etc.). 

For Ad Hoc “This Just Came up” HR Communications 

Be sure your managers and advocates are plugged into a “message cascade.” This is especially important when you need to communicate change. Cascading starts with messaging for senior executives that are then tailored as it flows down the chain to regional, local, and team managers, and eventually to advocates and employees. You can read more and download a template here.

If you’re depending on people to help you get the word out, they need to know you’ll help them when there are questions or concerns. Commit to having answers (or at least get in touch) within one or two business days.

A Rewarding Experience — Show Your Gratitude

There are many ways to thank managers and advocates for being the trusted voice of HR, from plaques and certificates of appreciation to gift cards or an extra vacation day. The simple act of a handwritten note is an easy, inexpensive, and authentic way to say thank you. 

Employees aren’t ignoring HR communications because they don’t care what you have to say. They’re expecting a complicated message that takes time, so they plan to review it later. Then it gets later…and later.  If you can put your message in the hands of someone they know, see, and trust, they’ll take the time.

How Digital Technology is Changing the Structure of HR

The Human Resources department is one of the essential departments in any company. It is responsible for a number of activities. Some of them include managing the staff, hiring and training new employees, and dealing with employment-related disputes.

This department has evolved over the years due to digital technology. The transformation of HR’s structure has been greatly felt during this pandemic when many companies were forced to embrace remote working. There are several different ways that digital technology is changing HR’s structure.

Online recruitment

Before the Internet era, companies would post job openings in the newspapers or used posters that were placed at the main entrance of a building. The downside of this is that a small number of people would notice the job advertisements and the employers would take a long period of time to select a suitable candidate for the job.

Due to the advancement in technology, this process has changed. Companies have been posting job openings online and job seekers apply for the openings by sending an email or filling an online application form. This process is effective because many job seekers notice the advertisements and apply for the job within a short period of time. Additionally, online recruitment systems have a filtration tool that allows the companies to shortlist the most competent candidates.

During the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing is encouraged, employers interview candidates on various platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. This system is here to stay since some companies have permanently adopted remote working.

Managing employees and employee performance

Managing employees, especially those who are working remotely, can be an uphill task. Supervising the activities that individuals carry out during working hours is not easy due to the lack of one-on-one interactions. As a result, some employees become lazy and fail to complete tasks on time. Obviously, this will have a negative impact on the company. So, what is the way out? What can the HR department do?

Well, digital technology has eased this process. Employers and supervisors can monitor employees’ performance wherever they are. There exists employee monitoring software that allows managers to monitor all work that is carried out by the employees every hour. Consequently, employees will continue working as efficiently as they did when working in the office. Another advantage of the employee monitoring software is that the HR department can monitor a large number of employees at the same time.

Due to digital technology, the HR department can also handle the benefits that employees enjoy using benefits administration software. If this is a new concept, there are online tutorials that will help supervisors to learn how to use it.

Communication systems

Proximity is no longer a concern when it comes to communication in the office. You can pass information from one individual to the other in a matter of seconds with digital technology. This can happen via phone calls, text messages, emails, and online forums like Skype and Slack. Meetings also take place on online platforms. This has encouraged the HR department to employ individuals from all over the world for remote work. As a result, the most skilled individuals can handle specific tasks.

Conclusion

The roles and responsibilities of the HR department have changed due to digital technology. The good thing is that many of these changes are positive. As such, it is easy to embrace them. We can thus conclude that digital technology has changed, is changing, and will continue to change HR’s structure in different ways.