Opening Employees’ Minds to Open Enrollment

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Oct. 13 — Employers need to educate their employees so they take advantage of open enrollment periods, financial consultants say.

“To catch an employee’s attention during open enrollment, you have to think of HR as marketers and employees as consumers,” Bryan O’Malley, vice president and general manager of payments at Care.com and “workplace expert” at its Care@Work employee family care platform, told Bloomberg BNA in an Oct. 7 e-mail.

“You want to hit them with a variety of messages, through a variety of mediums, and appeal to their interests,” O'Malley said. Employees often ignore e-mail, so O’Malley suggests “on-demand webinars and video, text and push notifications and social media” as alternatives.

O’Malley said non-technological means of communication can also work, such as “lunch and learns,” casual conversation, mail to employees’ homes, and dropping off literature and candy on employees’ desks outside regular working hours.

HR’s website, other areas of the employer’s intranet and text messages offer additional channels for employers to communicate with employees about open enrollment, Craig Johnson, a Philadelphia-based partner in Mercer’s talent business, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 13. Postcard reminders can be helpful because employees’ “spouses or significant others” are often the ones who decide about what benefits the employee will enroll in, he said.

And when using e-mail, Johnson said, keep it short and don’t include large attachments. Texts and push notifications to mobile devices should be even shorter reminders, perhaps with clickable links, he said.

Keep It Relevant

Don’t bore your employees. PowerPoint presentations on benefits should avoid crowding each slide with text, and lean on bullet points, graphics and charts instead, Johnson said. Employers should avoid putting material required for legal compliance at the start of open enrollment information.

Whatever method of communication is chosen, O’Malley said, “it’s important to offer benefits that are relevant to employees and their lives. When considering the benefit offering, think about your audience. Are they new parents? Are they managing care for aging loved ones and children?” Are there employees with pets?

“Offering benefits that speak to their needs at home will not only help HR in catching an employee’s attention, but also in helping companies retain talent,” O’Malley said.

Make sure employees have the information they need to decide. “The questions on our financial help line range from health care, to how much to put into a 401(k), to estate planning,” Cynthia Meyer, resident financial planner with El Segundo, Calif.-based workplace financial wellness firm Financial Finesse, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 13. Employees may not realize, for instance, that high-deductible employer-provided health insurance plans can help them save for retirement “if they use it properly,” by rolling forward any unused balance and investing it tax free, she said.

As the open enrollment period draws to a close, about 30 percent of employees won’t have made their selections, and notifications should be personally targeted at them, Johnson said. Sometimes personalized messaging can also be included on the enrollment site, he said, along with tools such as cost calculators to help employees decide.

All this should be part of a broader strategy of sending out notifications a couple of weeks before open enrollment starts and just before the beginning of the period, holding meetings during open enrollment, and sending out a final notification when the period is about to end, Johnson said.

O’Malley also suggests making open enrollment as gamelike as possible “to take advantage of employees’ competitive nature and use the open enrollment period to really promote new benefit offerings beyond the standard health, dental and 401(k).”

He said employers could “consider offering prizes to the first employees to make their elections or sign up for new benefits. The prizes should be related to the benefit, but appealing enough to inspire action. A free gym membership for the first 10 new employees to sign up for a new wellness benefit or a free night on the town for the first 15 who enroll for the new child care assistance benefit, for example.”

Employers should “tap into any affinity or employee resource groups you have about promoting new benefits you’re unveiling,” O’Malley said. “If you’re introducing new or expanded family-care benefits, for example, leverage your working parents group to champion and promote the new offering. The combination of a new program and evangelists should help spread the word and inspire action.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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