Importance of Accessible, Year-Round Benefits Communication
by Nancy Wier, Director Client Communications, The Benefit Services Group, Inc. | Hausmann-Johnson Insurance
Whew, open enrollment for those with January 1 renewals is over and what an enrollment season it was! Due to the pandemic, in-person meetings were nixed and Zoom meetings, webinars, or videos replaced for many what were the typical employee meetings of the past. This wasn’t a bad thing as far as communications go ─ it nudged many HR and benefits professionals to move to new, and perhaps even more effective, ways of communicating benefit topics to employees and their spouses.
It is easy to maintain status quo year after year and do things the same ways you always have ─ but is that working optimally for you, your employees, and the decision makers in your employees’ households? Some HR/benefits folks prefer to place all benefits information in a detailed benefits guide for open enrollment. It is believed that this provides employees with one “go-to” resource they can refer to when a benefits question arises during the subsequent benefits year. Hey, if this saves phone calls to HR – it’s helpful – but does it really save all those calls and questions?
As a benefits communication consultant, for many years I’ve been telling my clients that at open enrollment, “less is more,” as few employees will read a guide containing 40 pages of detailed benefits information or an inch-thick benefits packet full of vendor flyers. This is simply a testament to our busy lives – most people won’t care unless or until there is a time of need. At open enrollment, the two things most employees want to know are: 1) What are my options? 2) What will those options cost me?
It is a known statistic that, on average, employees will spend only 18 minutes reviewing their enrollment materials and making their benefits decisions. It is unlikely that the lovely packet chock full of everything you want your employees to know about their benefits will ever be read and is more likely to land in a recycle bin during a pre-holiday purge. All that time, effort, printing and postage – gone to a recycling center. And when an emergency medical procedure or surgery crops up later in the year, the phone call will ring through to your HR or benefits team. What if you could really minimize those calls and get time back for yourself and your team members?
Employers can tackle this issue by providing employees and their spouses with 24/7/365 online access to benefits information. Benefits communication isn’t just an October or November task – it is a year-round necessity. Having a benefits portal or website that’s also accessible to spouses is what’s needed as the one, “go-to” resource. It gives the mom of a two-year old who is sick and spiking a fever in the middle of a Saturday night the ability to quickly bring up FAQs on her cell phone or tablet relative to an ER vs. urgent care visit.
A well-designed and well-organized benefits portal or site can contain everything from vendor flyers and forms to FAQs and videos. This is where you can include benefits specifics for each line of coverage and benefit type you offer. It can also be home to health and wellness-related information and articles on topics from A to Z. One of my clients for the past couple of years has kept track of the questions that come into HR and develops FAQs each year to answer those specific questions. With all benefits information housed in one place, it is also quick and easy to update content as needed throughout the year.
New technology is constantly emerging to aid with your year-round communication. With online subscriptions to programs such as PowToon to create your own animated videos; KnowledgeVision’s online video platform, Knovio, which allows you to appear onscreen presenting a PowerPoint on the benefits topic(s) of your choice; or the Airbo communications platform that can segment your communications and virtual events online – a quick Google search will bring a plethora of virtual resources to your fingertips for improving your benefits and HR communications in 2021. Year-round communication will engage and immerse your employees with benefits information in smaller, more manageable bites. With your messages spread across all 12 months, you ensure that your employees are well educated about all the benefits your organization offers and how to take best advantage of them, well in advance of open enrollment for 2022.
Don’t let your employees become victims of “open enrollment overwhelm” – it’s January – start your benefits information/education process this month and keep it going. Then come October, you can skinny down that benefits guide and enrollment packet knowing you’ve done a great communications job all year long!