A 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.
As 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.
In 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:
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.
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.