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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.

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.

Just because the employer mandate has been delayed, it doesn’t mean you can delay talking to your employees about ACA.

Your employees are now hearing a lot about ACA on the news, from their friends, and online. If you haven’t already begun to communicate the latest on ACA to your employees, the clock is ticking!

 What should you tell them?

While each company has to decide how to best tell the ACA story, when it comes to communicating the 1/1/14 ACA changes to your employees, you need to tell them a lot about exchanges, what you offer in the way of medical coverage (and how it complies with the ACA) and give them guidance about what they should do if they do not qualify for your company-provided medical plans.

 So… how it will affect your benefits offering?

Much of what your employees are hearing in the media focuses on how individuals who currently are without medical insurance will be able to purchase coverage with a January 1, 2014 effective date. But if you offer a medical plan, what most of your employees will need to know is what kind of changes they will be seeing in your upcoming Open Enrollment materials—including how much their benefits will cost next year. If some of your employees will need to purchase coverage through the exchanges (due to your plan’s eligibility requirements), you’ll need to let them know that, too—by October 1, 2013.

 Honesty is the best policy

In your employee communications, be sure to indicate why certain changes are being made (i.e., to control health care costs) and how it will affect their bottom line. Also, if you’re making major plan changes, rolling out new wellness programs, introducing HSAs or other new plan features, be sure to explain the strategy behind those changes. Many employers adopt a “we’re in this together” approach to let their employees know that both the company and employees benefit when health care costs are contained, and employees do their part to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Don’t just say your benefit changes are “due to health care reform” if they’re not. And don’t be afraid to let your employees know that change is the new normal—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the right messaging, you can position new plan features as benefit enhancements, even when costs are rising.

Explain the buzz words!

Finally, when it comes to health care reform, be sure that your employees understand essential terms and what they mean in the new ACA world, like “exchanges,”  “minimum essential coverage,” “subsidies,” “gold, silver, and bronze plans.” Do what you can to help take the mystery out of health care reform.