Increase employee engagement by communicating beyond open enrollment

If you’re a human resources or benefit professional, you may have so many projects and tasks to accomplish that it’s a small miracle you’re able to communicate with your employees at all. So you may not want to hear that the best practice for engaging employees (and helping them understand how to choose and use their benefits), is to communicate year round not just during open enrollment.

Communicating consistently helps your employees understand their benefits, drives desired behaviors and engagement, and even improves retention — all of which have a positive impact on your organization’s financial performance.

According to our 2013-2014 Change and Communication Return on Investment Study, there’s a strong relationship between superior financial performance and effective communication — in any industry, region or economy. By communicating actively and regularly with your employees about their benefits, you are helping to create a successful, high-performing culture within your organization.

Those “quiet” months between enrollment periods present a tremendous opportunity to deepen your employees’ knowledge of and appreciation for their benefits.

And don’t forget that by enhancing your benefits education, you empower employees and dependents to take more control of their benefit decisions and how they use them. This may reduce the number of questions your team receives, so they can spend time on other projects.

We know it’s easy to get consumed with open enrollment communications because action is required and your employees need to know what they have to do — and when. However, a lot of information is sent out in a short period of time, which creates stress for everyone. It’s a read this, do that situation and there’s always that deadline. And when open enrollment ends, your employees may not hear much from you for another year.

Keep the Communication Going

Those “quiet” months present a tremendous opportunity to deepen your employees’ knowledge of and appreciation for their benefits. Start thinking of communication as a dialogue, not a one-time event. Keep the conversation going with regular, short communication that focuses on the specific actions and behaviors you want to encourage.

Year-round communications will remind your employees that you are there for them; that you’re the benefits expert and their source for reliable information. Think about adding to your communication plan little by little: maybe with a biweekly or monthly email, monthly ecard or posters or a quarterly newsletter. Perhaps you can also include some employee feedback channels to test how well the new tactics are working. The key is to create continuity — to engage your employees and to keep them engaged.

You may also want to tap into social media (like Yammer, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) to engage employees and dependents year round. Since social media fosters a two-way conversation, you can use it to answer general employee questions. Chances are good that you’ll quickly find out what your employees think about their benefits and what questions they have, feedback which is valuable as you develop your future strategy.

What to Communicate

As you plan your communications, consider the questions you receive from employees and their dependents at open enrollment or throughout the year. They can help you focus on your communication topics.

Here are just a few of the questions and comments we’ve heard from our clients’ employees:

  • Who is my medical plan vendor?
  • Where do I find benefits plan information?
  • Why are my medical premiums so expensive?
  • Is there anything I can do to keep my share of costs lower?
  • I didn’t know I was supposed to enroll.
  • I never heard about this benefit.
  • Can I change my benefit choices (post enrollment)?

No matter what your pain points are or which topics you choose to communicate, make sure you are sharing information that directly impacts your employees. If your health risk assessment data shows that your employees are stressed or have high cholesterol, acknowledge that and build a “we need to address this” campaign. If your plan utilization data shows that FSAs are being underused, the emergency room is being used inappropriately, or confusion exists around HSAs, say so. Whatever the challenge, you can provide guidance that helps change employee behavior.

In summary, we know that we need to communicate with employees on a regular basis to keep them informed and engaged. And we have identified some topics to address. The challenge is to find the time to make a plan and then to deploy your communications campaign.

For more information about the importance of year-round communications and how to develop a strategy, click here or here.

About Lisa Beyer

Lisa Beyer is a Senior Communication Consultant for Willis Towers Watson’s Human Capital and Benefits Communicati…
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