Open Enrollment Decisions Improve with Strong Communication
Open enrollment decisions should not be made in a vacuum. Improving communications during open enrollment not only increases employees’ ability to make informed decisions about which benefits to choose but also increases the likelihood that they’ll make a decision that’s right for their unique situation. And according to a recent Employee Benefit News article, employers seem to get better at communicating effectively about benefits during open enrollment.
A survey from Prudential found that around 65% of employees chose new benefits during open enrollment. These employees credited their employer for using a variety of communication methods throughout open enrollment to keep them in the loop. Moreover, around 35% of workers chose the same benefits during open enrollment but still made an informed decision, according to Prudential.
In order to increase employee engagement during open enrollment, it can be helpful for employers to think of it all-year, rather than view it as a once-a-year event. Open enrollment communications need to be more personalized, targeted, and ongoing, throughout the year. In marketing, a consumer must see a message at least seven times before they take action and, ideally, make a purchase. Theoretically, the same is true for open enrollment communications. In other words, repetition is key to more effective outcomes.
Given the need for personalization and additional touchpoints throughout the year, employers are re-thinking their open enrollment communication strategies. For example, Nebraska Medicine, a complex of medical clinics, hospitals and healthcare colleges in Omaha, is high-touch when it comes to its open enrollment communications, according to Employee Benefit News (EBN). In fact, EBN noted the company has benefits communications specialists meet personally with each of its 900 employees each year during open enrollment to make sure they’re selecting the right benefits for their situation. The company also has a strategic open enrollment communications calendar that spans the entire year.
Open enrollment communications are challenging for employers to get right. In fact, a survey from insurer MetLife found that employees dread enrolling in their benefits during open enrollment almost as much as renewing a driver’s license or passport. In addition, around 45% of workers report apprehensiveness about the open enrollment process — the same number that says they fear to ask for a raise, according to the MetLife survey.
A good place for employers to take employees’ pulse regarding their feelings about open enrollment is by checking out social media, where workers often voice their concerns, according to benefits communications firm Segal Benz. According to Jennifer Benz, a communications leader at the firm, employees’ frustrations often have to do with poor employer communication during and about open enrollment. Her firm monitors Twitter activity every fall during open enrollment, for example, and finds that employees are often frustrated and overwhelmed at having to choose their benefits.
Employees’ open enrollment frustration does not have to persist. Employers can improve open enrollment communications’ effectiveness in a number of ways. Personalizing open enrollment communications to be targeted at individual employees or specific groups of employees can help. For instance, tailoring communications to employees at different life stages, also known as “cohort communication,” can be impactful when it comes to helping them understand why they need to choose certain benefits. Cohort communication during open enrollment has been found to encourage appropriate usage of benefits at appropriate coverage levels, according to EBN.
Technology can also help improve the effectiveness of open enrollment communications. Online tools that guide employees through benefits selection during open enrollment, and recommend the appropriate coverages, could help better inform benefits selection decisions. The strategy has worked for Nebraska Health, for example, EBN noted. Nine times out of 10, employees who used an online decision-making tool during open enrollment ended up selecting the best plan for their needs.
Employers should consider personalizing benefit communications, thinking of open enrollment as a year-round activity rather than a one-time event, and offering technology-fueled tools to help employees make appropriate benefits selections for their specific situations. Implementing these tactics will help make for a more effective — and happier — open enrollment for all.