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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.

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.

Custom CommunicationsAlthough enrollment in Health Savings Accounts continues to surge, many consumers are still unsure about the benefits and features of these plans. As an employer, you can have a positive impact on your bottom line (and that of your employees) by raising awareness about your company’s HSA plan this open enrollment season.

The Growth of HSAs

In the past six years, enrollment in HSAs has more than tripled, with a 29 percent increase in both the number of accounts and the total amount of HSA assets in the last year alone. The primary reasons for this growth is two-fold: First, the pairing of a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) with an HSA can create a significant cost savings for employers in the face of rising health care costs. This savings will also benefit employees, who frequently have a lower premium contribution under a HDHP.

Secondly, HSAs provide a significant tax advantage, as all contributions made to an HSA are tax exempt. As of 2013, employees were allowed to make contributions into their HSA in amounts up to $3,250 per year for an individual policy or $6,450 per year for a family policy. With no expiration date on when these funds can be used, this provides consumers with the ability to plan, save and pay for future medical costs – whether they’re incurred in two months or 20 years. Other factors contributing to the growth of HDHP/HSA plans include:

• An Improving Economy. While HSA contributions started to slump during the recent recession, employers have started increasing their HSA contributions over the last few years. This increase in contributions has encouraged employees to sign up for these plans and contribute themselves.

• The Affordable Care Act. With increased pressure on employers to provide affordable coverage to their employees, interest in HDHP/HSA healthcare plans is growing among employers who are trying to meet ACA mandates while watching their company’s bottom line.

Communicating the Benefits of an HSA

A recent survey found that 65 percent of consumers didn’t understand how HSAs work, with much of the confusion stemming from the differences between HSA and Flexible Spending Accounts. In fact, the vast majority of respondents incorrectly believed that HSA and FSA plans were the same, or that the “use it or lose it” provision of FSA plans applied to HSAs as well.

Make sure your employees understand the benefit of participating in your company’s HSA plan by providing them with clear, concise, easy to understand information that outlines the features and benefits of a Health Savings Account. Information to highlight includes the tax savings on all employer and employee contributions, the long-term, tax-free growth and the increased control over health care spending.

And while open enrollment season is a great time to get the conversation started, it shouldn’t end there. Regular communications about your company’s HSA is an important step in keeping employees engaged and educated about their health care options all year long.

Custom CommunicationsAs an employer, you understand the importance of providing a comprehensive benefits package to your employees. But if your HR communications aren’t driving home the value of these benefits in a way your employees understand, you’re missing the mark.

Right now, job satisfaction is at near record lows, with a recent Gallup Poll finding that 70 percent of Americans are dissatisfied at work. Moreover, a recent industry survey found that the perception of financial security is dropping, with 11 percent fewer people viewing themselves as financially secure as did two years ago.

Now consider this: the overall job satisfaction and feelings of financial security felt by your employees is directly related to their benefits education. In fact, that same industry survey found that for employees who considered their benefits education to be very good or excellent, 82 percent were highly satisfied at work. For those who were unsatisfied with their benefits education, that figure dropped to 26 percent.

The takeaway here, is that by overcoming common HR communications challenges and improving the way you present benefits information to your employees, you can help improve satisfaction, loyalty and productivity in the workplace.

Overcoming Common Challenges

One of the key mistakes employers make in providing benefits education to their employees is assuming that employees are receiving and understanding the value of their voluntary benefits plans. When polled, 40 percent of employees who were offered disability insurance reported that they felt uncomfortable making an informed decision about their enrollment options because they didn’t receive adequate educational materials describing the coverage. Yet, these benefits are very important to employees, with 82 percent of survey respondents putting a higher premium on voluntary benefits since the recession.

To get the biggest ROI for your employee benefits, consider the following tips:

1. Appeal to your employees’ individual learning styles by providing educational materials in a variety of formats. Employees appreciate having access to materials in various formats and many will use a combination of the resources you provide. Between printed brochures, informational videos, worksheets and interactive tools, you’ll make it easy for employees to choose the resources that help them best understand the value of their benefits options.

2. Create personalized communications materials that speak directly to your employees – no matter what stage of life they’re in. Targeted messages will resonate much more deeply with your employees, particularly among those in the 18-34 age range, who may have a difficult time understanding the value of enrolling in a benefits plan.

3. Don’t wait until open enrollment to educate employees about their benefits options. Make benefits education a year-round discussion by providing educational resources to your employees at least twice a year. This will help emphasize the value and importance of these plans, while giving employees plenty of time to consider the options that work best for their needs.

4. Give them time to review and understand the materials you provide. The industry survey found that employees who had at least three weeks to review and digest their benefits materials were much more satisfied with their benefits education as a whole. By providing employees with a minimum of three weeks to review benefits information, you give them time to ask questions, discuss enrollment options with family, conduct independent research or attend an informational meeting.

5. Provide a clear explanation of benefit so employees understand the value of the plan, the benefits they’ll receive and when to sign up.

As health care reform takes effect, it’s becoming even more important for employers to improve their benefits communications strategy. Employees will have questions about aspects of the Affordable Care Act and how it affects them and their benefits plans. Make sure you have the information they need by planning now.

Custom CommunicationsIn July, the federal government postponed until 2015 the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) mandate requiring that employers with 50 or more full-time employees offer a minimum level of health care coverage to their workers – or pay penalties. But this postponement did not relieve employers of their responsibility, under the ACA, to notify employees about the health care exchanges that are being established for individuals and small businesses to purchase health care coverage with an effective date of January 1, 2014. All businesses that must comply with the provisions of the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) – regardless of the size of their employee population – are required to provide this notice.

What is your responsibility under the ACA?

You must use first-class mail or email to provide a notice to each of your employees – regardless of their employment status (full- or part-time) or their plan enrollment status – by October 1, 2013. Your notice must be written in easy-to-understand language and provided free of charge. After October 1, 2013, you must provide new hires with this notice within 14 days of their employment start date.

What do you need to include in this notice?

The ACA requires you to include three important pieces of information in your employee notice:

You can easily provide this notice…

The Department of Labor has made it easy for employers to comply with this notification requirement by offering model notices for employers to use – so they don’t have to create their own communications. Simply choose the model notice that is right for you, based on whether or not you offer your employees health insurance:

These notices are available in Microsoft® Word format – in both English and Spanish. Simply choose the notice that’s right for your employees and make sure you distribute them so that your employees receive them by the October 1 deadline.

There are a lot of moving parts to health care reform, but complying with the upcoming October 1 employee notification requirement is easier than you may think!

Based on the generally low participation levels in high deductible health plans (HDHPs), you might think the plans were invisible to employees. And in some respects, they are.

Although employers describe the HDHP’s features, provide detailed examples of how the plans compare to traditional offerings, offer FAQs, hold meetings and just about hold their employees’ hands, many employees still turn a blind eye and deaf ear to this not-so-new plan design.

So what can an employer do to remove the cloak of invisibility?

Here are some ideas:

Don’t Over-complicate

It’s easy to get bogged down in details. Keep your message focused on a few key selling points. Make the details available, but don’t bury your main messages.

Describe the “Worst Case” Scenario

One of the key barriers to HDHP adoption is fear of unpredictable costs. Show employees what the maximum exposure would be in a year of high health care use. Of course, you also want to show how much they might save in a year of low or medium use of health care services.

Use Endorsements

Leadership endorsement of the HDHP and, even more important, personal participation in the plan has a positive impact on employees’ perceptions. Also consider testimonials of HDHP participants themselves. As peers, they carry a high level of credibility among employees and can address issues of concern by describing how they decided to join the HDHP and their personal experience using it.

Connect at Home

Reach out to spouses. Make sure information gets home and spouses are invited to meetings and webinars. Ideally, give spouses access to online decision tools and resources.

Provide Online Tools

Many employees find online plan comparison and cost estimating tools very useful. Not all tools, however, build in tax savings and account growth (if the HDHP is coupled with a Health Savings Account). If not, be sure to highlight these features in other communications.

As HR professionals, we are diligent about legal compliance, but what about abiding by the laws of effective HR communications?

A recent Regan HR Connection article highlights the 11 Laws of Internal Communications. Take a look and test your communications—past and future—to ensure you are applying effective communication strategies. Here’s a check list you can use to ensure you’ve applied the basics of effective communication.