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Bridge-Your-Engagement-Gap-–-Go-MobileThe impact of mobile technology in every industry is profound and those of you in HR will see a significant impact to your field as well. Mobile technology is quickly being embraced by organizations to engage their workforce – after all, engaged employees drive our business. They are productive, loyal and increase the bottom line. So how do we engage employees and get their undivided attention? Well for starters, we had better be pushing something out to their smartphone because that is where they hang out and take in information. It is how they are living their everyday lives and if you want their attention, you’d better be there too.

And it isn’t just the millennials who are connected – it’s your other employees as well. 80% of all internet users own a smartphone and 79% of mobile users use their smartphone for reading email (that’s a higher percentage than those who actually use it to make calls). Mobile email opens have grown by at least 180% in the last three years and 83% of users find a seamless experience is very important across all of their devices.

Consumers are getting their information through smartphone apps; whether it’s shopping, paying for coffee, checking train schedules, hailing a taxi – you name it. Those of you responsible for internal communication need to embrace the fact that employees want to get their benefits info like they get everything else – through an app – and you have to compete with all of the other apps and emails your employees are getting through their phone.

Company intranets have been serving a great purpose and will continue to be a core communications channel for many organizations, but as companies continue to have fewer employees tied to their desk how can those folks get to an intranet that is behind a firewall? As the workforce becomes more mobile, so should our methods of communication.

Success comes down to engagement in the HR world and mobile users are generally more engaged. So if your organization has yet to bring their intranet mobile fear not – there are still ways to go mobile without getting too complicated.

Take advantage of your enrollment self-service portal. These portals typically have a mobile app that can provide employees with one-stop-shop for access to current benefits information, plan information, contact information, decision support and other tools/resources. Text campaigns, videos and mobile-friendly emails are other ways to engage your employees. Be sure to modify your content too. Shorter articles, headlines rich in information and use of lists are easier to absorb on a mobile device.

Mobile will continue to grow in the HR and benefits space and there are many ways to use mobile technology in your benefits communications. So get out in front of it – repurpose content across multiple platforms and get your long-term strategy together.

Online-Enrollment—More-Than-Just-Simplifying-Administration-Enrollment and reporting are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the features and functions of online enrollment platforms. Technology is playing a huge role in communicating benefits information to employees outside of the open enrollment period and enrollment platforms can really maximize your communications efforts, pushing out education to employees and helping to deliver a consistent message.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, employers are shifting to high deductible plans as a part of cost-saving strategies. These plans cover 25% of employees and still, most of them don’t truly understand how their plan works. The high deductible that goes along with these plans can seem daunting, but online enrollment platforms – with tools like defined contribution and interactive avatars – can lessen the blow that comes with introducing these plans and make it easier for employees to make smart decisions about their benefits.

Employee awareness and education is more necessary now than ever in the changing world of healthcare because employees must become better healthcare consumers. And employers need to give them the means to do so. It’s not just about an educational email blast a few times a year – an open line of communication is key. An employer needs to know who their employees are and how to reach them. All of them. Your benefits program is for your employees so let them drive your offerings and communication strategy.

Fortunately, you can use your online enrollment tool to accomplish these goals. A single sign on from other vendor websites provides a seamless experience so that all roads point toward your benefits portal. Awareness of, and access to, educational and wellness programs are supported by consistent email messaging and online content. You can even integrate social media into your platform and receive real-time feedback.

On the benefits administration side, employers are tapping into the other features of their enrollment platforms to streamline year-round tasks like adding new hires, handling qualified event changes, and automation that extends to all areas of routine HR tasks.

The tools and technology are there for you to use. With OE over, now is the time to focus on making that online enrollment tool work for you through the rest of the year. Your employees will thank you.

Putting-Consumer-Driven-Health-Plan-Adoption-on-the-Fast-TrackWith rising costs in the group-based market, trends in health plan design stay pointed at plans with member responsibility. So now, more than ever, employers should be concerned over the effectiveness of their employee benefit communications.

Think your company is doing a great job? The 2017 Alegeus Broker and Employer Research Report finds employers are overconfident about the quality and effectiveness of their program. Employers’ perceptions fell short of consumers’ point of view on clarity of content, depth of information, communication channels, personalization and frequency of communications.

Only reaching out at annual enrollment or relying heavily on plan documents isn’t enough and without support your employees could be set up for failure. Ideally, they should be able to estimate out-of-pocket costs and understand how Consumer-Driven Health Plans (CDHPs) work alongside funding vehicles like the popular Health Savings Account (HSA) or a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA).

Employers can follow these basic guidelines to maximize CDHP participation:

Follow a detailed communications strategy. Using simple messages multiple times a year will resonate. Don’t forget to make the material visually appealing – branding benefits communications and graphically portraying these difficult plans is equally important.

Use multiple communication channels. Understand your audiences and how they want to receive information. Incorporate social media, text messages and external websites into your strategy. Employees prefer to get frequent messages on the devices and sites that they use.

Leverage decision support tools. Take advantage of enrollment self-service portals to provide integrated decision support on an individualized basis. This approach, coupled with a “benefits help desk,” provides a valuable, high-touch experience.

The employee knowledge gap surrounding CDHPs and savings accounts is clear. Don’t put off your communications game plan any longer – we are more than happy to help you get the ball rolling.

iphone-millennial-communications1As the baby boomers continue to move toward retirement, millennials are fast becoming the new majority in the workforce. As an employer, do you know how to speak their language? Millennials were born in the 1980s and 1990s, making them around 20 to 35 years old today – they are the first generation that doesn’t remember a world without computers.

While they are known for choosing job satisfaction over salary, that doesn’t mean benefits aren’t important to them. According to a recent survey, more than half said that benefits are an important factor in choosing a job and staying with a company.

When it comes to benefits information, the challenge for our clients has become how to provide the same tech-centric and customer-friendly user experience that millennials have come to expect as everyday consumers. Consider the company intranet – a rather simple manner of communicating with all employees – and how to bring it to the next level to reach millennials: send out an email or text message to mobile devices alerting employees when new information is added or updated. Effective communication like this involves creativity and revitalizing older strategies:

Make information available anytime, anywhere

Smartphones are the center of their universe. Don’t expect them to read a 40-page guide or visit 10 different vendors’ websites. Put everything they need to know on one mobile-friendly website with single sign on.

Speak to each individual, not the group

As consumers, millennials expect customized communication from the companies they do business with. Leverage employee data to deliver relevant, personalized messages.

Offer benefits they value

Health is a priority, so gym membership discounts are popular. Money is also a big concern since many of them have large student loans. To support them in managing their money, offer workshops on debt, budgeting, insurance and saving.

Don’t just talk…listen

Millennials want to be heard, so provide opportunities for two-way conversations such as surveys, feedback forums and private Facebook pages.

Encourage interaction

Incorporate social media, especially in wellness programs. Encourage friendly competition through contests that allow them to interact, motivate one another and share success stories.

enhancing-employer-communicationAccording to a recent Gallup Poll, only about 30 percent of the employee workforce is engaged at work. This leaves a widening gap of employees who simply aren’t hearing you, a problem that not only leads to an uninformed workforce but also one with lower levels of morale and productivity.

The competition for employees’ attention is fierce – they are constantly inundated with information. So here is the important question: What steps can organizations take to get the attention of their employees? And what communication channels will be most effective?

With 72 percent of all Internet users active on social media, engagement has become less about consuming information and more about having an open dialogue. Can you really communicate with your employees just a few times a year and expect them to stay engaged? I don’t think so; communication needs to be continuous. Asking for feedback, creating an up-to-date newsfeed on the intranet, and encouraging employees to engage with you regularly on social media are great starting points. By adopting the same communication channels employees use outside the office, you will become more aligned with how they choose to consume information and ultimately more likely to capture their attention in the process.

In addition to social media, employees are watching a lot of videos – and they’re watching them on their phones. In 2014, for the first time ever, U.S. adults spent more time watching videos on their mobile devices than watching television. They’re relying on video more and more as a method of consuming information.

While these trends are important to understand, perhaps the most important consideration in deciding which communication channels to utilize is your actual workforce. Do you work in a multigenerational office? Do the majority of your employees seem resistant to social media trends?

Take a hard look at your employees and understand their communication preferences. In doing so, you can provide them with the information they need, without overextending the resources of your internal communications team which is a real challenge in this digital age.

Social media, video, and mobile-friendly communications aren’t just more appealing to employees because they are preferred platforms, but because they give employees 24/7 access to the information they need. It also makes it easier for remote employees to stay engaged when they’re out of the office – an important consideration as more and more companies provide telecommuting. Changes are inevitable…but just how quickly all companies embrace new communication strategies is yet to be determined.

Getting-Employers-to-Like-Their-High-Deductible-Plans1As we approach another open enrollment, we struggle to find ways for employees to thoughtfully choose the right health plan. And with high-deductible plans being offered to more employees every year, it complicates the process even more.

While plenty of new tools and resources are available in today’s marketplace, employees still struggle with the basics. A flashy tool or even a 1-2 week timeframe to make a decision is not the right answer. Whether a HDHP is being offered for the first time, or it has been in place for several years, most employees don’t understand how it works, and so their frustration continues to mount.

About 1/4 of employees are currently enrolled in a high-deductible plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2015 Employee Health Benefits Survey. And while enrollment is growing, many employees are enrolled in a plan primarily based on the lower premiums. They are not taking advantage of the free preventive care or the tax savings through health savings accounts.

As we move toward a consumer-driven focus, the role of employers continues to change. So we need to teach consumers how to shop for healthcare throughout the year and talk to doctors about costs. It’s not enough to tell them about a tool they can use once a year. A whole new world exists, and many employees feel stuck with a plan they know little about.

Employers who commit to a thoughtful year round communications strategy will start to make strides with employees understanding their plans. The key is to focus on the core elements of HDHPs and how they work with HSAs – including preventive care, how voluntary benefits play into the mix, negotiating with providers, shopping for prescription drugs, and more.

Getting employees to like their high-deductible plan is an uphill battle. However, soliciting feedback from employees through focus groups and surveys will provide some insight as to where the struggles lie. We have the communication and survey tools to help engage our clients’ employees. Just ask us.

summer2Benefits such as workplace flexibility, wellness programs and Employee Assistance Programs can have a major impact on employee morale and productivity – if they know these programs exist.  The problem, however, is that the majority of employers only invest in their HR communications strategy during open enrollment and new hire orientations, at which time employees are bombarded with materials that they’ll likely scan, but not fully comprehend.

A better strategy, is for employers to take a year-round approach to employee communications – and what better time to start then in the months of summer, when warm breezes and barbecues put work/life balance at the forefront of everyone’s minds?  By reminding employees now of the benefits, resources and tools they have available to them, they’ll be more apt to stay productive when vacation yearnings are at their peak.

With this shift in priorities, summertime communications are best used to highlight programs such as:

Making HR communications a year-round commitment has another important benefit as well:  it gives employees an opportunity to better digest and remember the details of their benefits programs – something that is better achieved in bite-size pieces. Not only does this make it more likely that employees will fully utilize their benefits, it will make open enrollment a breeze by eliminating “catch-up” sessions where every benefit program is explained in great detail.  With employees already knowledgeable about their core benefits, it leaves room for more relevant discussions on new programs and benefits changes during this important time.

How You Can Help

Studies have confirmed that employees’ overall job satisfaction is directly related to the quality of their benefits education.  As a broker, it’s important that you communicate this value to your clients, as well as provide them with an effective communications strategy that will boost morale, enhance productivity and improve retention rates.

At Custom Communications, we can help by crafting an HR communications strategy for your clients that will create a year-round impact. From brochures, to email campaigns, to social media to videos, we create a variety of cost-effective tools that will ensure the message gets heard – loud and clear.

Custom CommunicationsA recent MetLife survey found that only 42 percent of employers are very satisfied with the levels of engagement during their annual open enrollment events. And it’s no wonder, with survey results also showing that up to one-third of employees missed the enrollment deadline, failed to participate in the event or simply defaulted to their previous year’s enrollment options.

With benefits satisfaction so closely linked to job satisfaction, it’s critically important that you as an employer take the time to both offer an attractive benefits package and engage employees through the enrollment process. By doing so, you’ll not only improve benefits participation, but you’ll help build and maintain the quality workforce that your company needs to grow and compete.

Here are some important ways you can improve the open enrollment experience at your company.

1. Simplify the Process
If you want employees to take advantage of your benefits package, you need to streamline the enrollment process and provide materials that are straightforward and easy to understand. Another key to engaging employees, is providing enrollment materials that are personalized to address generational differences. According to the MetLife survey, 74 percent of survey respondents said they appreciated personalized materials that spoke to their unique needs and concerns.

2. Get Online
Online enrollment has become a popular request – particularly among those who have grown to appreciate the ease and convenience of online shopping. According to the MetLife survey, almost 50 percent of respondents preferred online enrollment, with employees more likely to engage in the enrollment process if online enrollment was both available and on par with the online shopping experiences they’ve grown used to. Also important are online decision-making tools to help them determine which benefits most clearly reflect their needs.

3. Communicate Cleary, Communicate Often
To keep employees engaged, enrollment materials must be clear, easy to understand and free of insurance jargon. You’ll also want to clearly outline any major policy changes – particularly if they come at an additional cost to your employees. Then, once open enrollment ends, keep the conversation going throughout the year, as there is a direct link between frequency of benefits communications and employee engagement. These materials can take the form of a newsletter, blog or email newsletter campaign and should present information on upcoming issues, such as health care reform.

4. Get Feedback
According to survey results, 42 percent of employees who reported being engaged in their annual open enrollment event were asked to give feedback on both their employer’s benefits plans and the overall enrollment experience. Of those who weren’t asked to give feedback, only 17 percent were engaged in the enrollment process. By talking to employees and asking them for their opinions, you’ll be able to better design an experience that reflects their overall needs and preferences.

With key pieces of the Affordable Care Act taking effect in 2014, it’s becoming increasingly important to provide employees with clear, easy to digest benefits materials. When done correctly, these materials will answer your employees’ questions, dispel any misconceptions and keep them engaged—both during open enrollment season and all year long.