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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.

Edu Carvalho

The Forgotten (Yet Costly) Employee Crisis: Elder Care

Figuratively speaking, the number of articles dedicated to discussing the COVID-caused childcare crisis could fill a school library. But little has been written regarding the other side of the generational spectrum: Elder care.

When it became evident the remote learning arrangements imposed at the tail end of the 2019-20 school year would continue well into the current one, the full weight of what this would mean for working parents was expressed in headlines across the country. The Associated Press reported on the distressingly common instance of mothers being forced from the workforce, for example. Meanwhile The Atlantic analyzed the rock-and-a-hard place scenario that parents deemed essential workers have regarding childcare – including the fact that 15 states lack free childcare options.

So, it is entirely logical that the most pressing caregiving topic would surround the struggles faced by employed parents. Whether those parents were working from home or not – attention would be paid to those balancing careers with child caregiving. However, this understandable emphasis on our children has diverted attention from a problem that was looming long before iPads became de facto classrooms: the challenges employees face providing care for elderly loved ones.

Comprehending the Employee Elder Care Crisis

Not surprisingly, the impact on elder caregivers has been profound. According to the Genworth Caring in COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Survey, 1 in 3 respondents unexpectedly became caregivers overnight. The average time investment was an onerous nine hours per week, a typical work shift, to provide care for an older and/or vulnerable loved one.

Many, of course, may have already been providing unpaid caregiving to a loved one, meaning the pandemic simply exacerbated an already time- and energy-consuming situation. Caregiving during COVID-19 can also be very emotionally taxing: 49% of those polled in the same survey felt more anxiety and 53% felt more stress due to the added emotional toll of COVID-19.

Fortunately, the COVID crisis may make some employers more aware of—and sympathetic to—their employees’ caregiving responsibilities. This awakening can’t come quickly enough: Research conducted before the COVID-19 crisis shows that many employers were unaware of their employees’ caregiving responsibilities. Seventy percent of employees reported having missed work due to caregiving duties. And, 32% of caregiving employees had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities. Further, companies face increased health care costs incurred by employers for employees with caregiving responsibilities exceeds $13 billion a year.

Despite all this, employer-sponsored caregiving resources are typically limited in scope. They often, for example, take the form of an employee assistance program (EAP) that may provide a limited range of services, such as referrals and access to potential providers via phone and/or online portal.

Bolstering Caregiver Work-Life Balance

The harsh reality is: COVID-19 has made the Employee Caregiving Crisis more urgent than ever. For their own sake, it is time for employers to forge pathways to relief. With 54% of caregivers juggling their caregiving responsibilities and a full- or part-time job, employers need to understand and meet the needs of their caregiving employees.

To help their caregiving employees – and their company – here are five tips for employers that can help elder caregivers thrive during these challenging times:

Communicate and Create a Culture of Collaboration

Seek a better understanding of everyone’s individual situations. It is impossible to understand the breadth or depth of employees’ caregiving responsibilities without an open, honest discussion about their challenges. It is also important for employers to initiate this dialogue. After all, employees may be hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons.

Enable Flexible Schedules to Strike a Better Balance

With new or added workloads, many employees may be juggling caregiving duties and work responsibilities. To help them find a balance their competing roles, offer flexible scheduling options. For example: Flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, etc.

Expect the Unexpected

Build in extra time for important projects, and set clear expectations around deadlines, team communication and client support. COVID-19 has given many employers crash courses in disruption adaptation. We can lean upon these lessons to improve business flexibility—without sacrificing overall job performances

Offer a Strong Support System

To ease their responsibilities, many elder caregivers are now looking for more support from their employers. An easy way to help is by providing guidance and personal support to those struggling. For example, share trusted links to information on support groups and related webinars. And post articles that provide solutions to caregiving problems. Self-care tools like wellness videos or meditation apps can be valuable. Also considered valuable: Financial planning classes offered by employers or third-party specialists.

Assess Your Policy Options

To adequately adapt to the workforce’s evolving caregiving needs, employers may want to reexamine company policies and benefits. With COVID-19 creating a new normal, and so they can focus on their work, employees may need benefits that can help them find care for their aging loved ones. Offering attractive benefits that meet employee caregiving needs can help set a company apart—a tool to help attract and retain top talent, lower absenteeism, increase productivity, and reduce turnover.

Easing the Burden Placed on Elder Care Providers

Just as important for many, such specialist-driven caregiving employee benefits allow employees to stop playing professional caregiving coordinator. For example, identifying and assessing provider options is a caregiving issue in which experience and specialization are highly advantageous. This specialty helps determine provider availability but while negotiating rates based on knowledge of typical care costs.

With specialist-driven caregiving benefits, employees no longer need mastermind a highly complex, multi-factor caregiving regimen.

COVID-19 has pushed employers toward a number of new norms. One of those should be taking better care of employee elder caregivers. And we can do that through increased employer awareness, systemic support, and customized benefit offerings.

Companies are currently repositioning themselves for optimal success now, and into the future. That makes this the perfect time to re-assess exactly what employees need to thrive within their very personal new normal, including employee benefits that cover the cost of elder care.

 

Open Enrollment: A Flexible Guide to Healthcare Benefits for Freelancers

The global health crisis sparked by the pandemic has shown people, no matter their job status, need effective and reliable healthcare benefits. Employees often have an HR team to help them with healthcare education and to sort through their options. Freelancers, though, know the responsibility to remain informed – and then secure comprehensive coverage – lies entirely with them.

Indeed, during open enrollment freelancers are in a unique situation. True: When it comes to health benefits providers freelancers enjoy a greater amount of choice. However, there is less access to full coverage with comprehensive care and decision support tools. Throw in the changes in healthcare brought about by the pandemic, and it has never been more difficult to make strategic healthcare decisions.

When sick or hurt, we’re often advised not to give in to our worst impulses by Googling our symptoms and searching for medical advice. But when researching insurance coverage, that is where we tend to start. However, we need to modernize our thinking. Because, just as a Google isn’t the best way to obtain medical advice, not all of the best answers about healthcare come from internet searches.

Open Enrollment 101: Benefits Plan Customization for Freelancers

To help us begin to look at insurance coverage options differently, let’s use the choosing of a cable television plan as an example. In the recent past, we would purchase a basic cable subscription, then pay for additional add-ons and special channels. But today, the right combination of streaming subscriptions offers similar content and more on-demand convenience than basic cable service. Those streaming services also provide solid recommendations based upon our preferences and behaviors. For many subscribers, this customization ultimately means more options, better value and better service.

Freelancers can apply a similar line of thinking when securing healthcare benefits. Traditional plans, like a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or high-deductible health plans (HDHP), may not be the best option for freelancers. Instead, look for ways to tailor coverage through products and resources like a HealthSherpa and Transamerica. These highly regarded providers can help you create a benefits plan that best fits your needs – at the best price and at the highest possible level of service.

Building Your Benefits Plan

When building your benefits plan, start with the core components: medical, dental, and vision. Next, perform a self-assessment of specific health care needs. For example, consider any chronic conditions that might be considered pre-existing or medication prescriptions that require a comprehensive pharmacy benefit option. Your goal: Determine the factors driving your plan and where more coverage or voluntary benefits are needed.

Next, determine your budget (and appetite for financial risk) by asking yourself three questions:

  1. How much coverage is my plan going to provide?
  2. Within the plan as designed, how much must I pay in out-of-pocket expenses when receiving care?
  3. What is the amount of your total monthly payments or premiums?

With the answers to these questions, you’ll know how much you’ll be paying – and for what combination of services.

Should You Add Voluntary or Supplementary Benefits?

What voluntary benefits should you take advantage of when personalizing benefits?

Typically, those are the supplemental insurance plans that provide a financial safety net. This is especially true in the event of a critical illness, accident, or hospital stay. Also, freelancers – just like everyone else – should look into enrolling in other lifestyle benefits such as personal protection plans. After all, as we continue to live online, it is important to protect yourself from the growing threat of fraud and identity theft.

On the positive side of supplemental benefits, consider joining those who have leveraged virtual wellness options. Also, with more and more people working from home, we’re likely to see an increase in off-the-shelf voluntary benefits that meet the unique needs of freelancers. Those plans include coverage of ongoing education, childcare options, and set-up of in-home office ergonomics.

Community and Freelancing: Find Your Emotional Support System

While most everyone is experiencing feelings of isolation and disconnection, freelancers – without an organization to call home base – might be feeling it just that much more.

To combat these feelings, consider getting involved in industry-focused communities. Today, there are thousands of options available online to connect. Social media groups and online communities often organize virtual coffee breaks and happy hours. During these events, they cover various topics and based on shared interests and hobbies. So, find like-minded solidarity that serves an important source of support throughout your career. Those groups also foster a a greater sense of wellbeing through emotional engagement.

Freelancers: Take Control of Your Open Enrollment

At a time when all aspects of our health, wealth, and wellbeing need protection, there are more resources and support available than you may have previously realized. And you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.

The realities of our new world of work will continue to impact our lives. But freelancers can meet those challenges head on by being strategic and thoughtful about their benefits plan designs. Ultimately, the key to success during this open enrollment period means careful evaluation and proactive planning for future life events – both expected and unexpected.

We will eventually move forward to a post-pandemic world.

Between now and then, set yourself – and your freelance business – up for success.