Fall May Be Too Late to Rethink Open Enrollment Communication

Summer may seem early, but don’t wait until fall to think about your Open Enrollment communication. Before your focus is even more fragmented, now is the time to devote energy and brainwork to your planning. Whether you anticipate big benefit changes or not, clear communications can help your employees understand their options. Get ahead of the game with some tips, insight, and examples.

Best place to start — flip through last year’s materials. Pull together everything you sent out last year and look at those communications with an unbiased, critical eye. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did you reach all employees, even those who don’t sit at a desk during the day?
  • Was there an overarching message or theme woven through each piece?
  • Did each piece have a clear call to action…a “to do” for the employee?
  • Is there one place promoted as the “source of truth,” where employees can get more information?
  • If you handed the benefits guide to your neighbor, would they understand it?

Let’s break down each of these questions and see how you might improve your communications this year.

How Can You Better Reach All Employees?

Every employee probably has a company email address, and you may even have personal emails on file. But employees on the warehouse floor, in the store, or driving a truck may not pay attention to emails. They do, however, grab their home mail every day. Or maybe another decision maker in the home has mail duty.

And, while it may seem intrusive, all employees use the restroom. Posters in stalls and clings on mirrors are likely to be seen. Add QR codes, because we know everyone has a smartphone.

The point is…think outside your HR box and figure out how to best reach each segment of your population.

What’s This About Messaging and Theme?

Your message or theme could be simple as “you get one chance each year” or “make sure you have the benefits best for you.” Or, if you’re rolling out big changes, perhaps it’s more like “learn about your new benefit options” or “you have important decisions to make.” Whatever your message, incorporate it into each communication piece for consistency.

If your HR or benefits team doesn’t have some sort of branding, now’s the time to put that in motion. You’ll need to stay in line with corporate guidelines, of course, but you can use colors, shapes, lines, icons, and more to help identify your communications. You can even create a specific graphic. When an employee receives an email or postcard from HR, they should immediately know where it’s coming from.

What’s the Call to Action?

At some point in your communications, the call to action will be “enroll now” with a link to the enrollment site. Until then, what are you asking employees to do with the information you’re sending?

Get Their Attention with These Phased Messages

Read about the timing, messaging, and channels that can help you engage employees during Open Enrollment

  • First, it’s the “start thinking about benefits” message. Tell them to examine health care costs in the current year and use estimating tools for next year. Show them where to find the materials for this year (benefits and enrollment guides, etc.).
  • Then, on the day enrollment opens, use multiple channels to get the word out. Tell them where to find more information and how to enroll. The message is, “We’re open! Explore and enroll.”
  • Lastly, give them the “last chance” message, preferably sent only to those who haven’t yet enrolled. Because they may be procrastinating due to confusion, point them to all the helpful resources you can offer. Now the message is clear: “You only have X days to choose your benefits.”

Where’s the Source of Truth for Employees?

When an employee wants to learn more about a benefit, see costs, or ask a question, it’s ideal to have one single place to find that information. That might be an intranet where they can see your benefits guide, find vendor contact information, send an email to (or find the phone number for) the benefits center, etc. It might also simply be the kind, patient people staffing your benefits center.

No matter what the source is, show it on each communication you send.

Are Your Communications and Materials Easy to Understand?

A recent report shows 84% of employees are confused about their benefits, with Gen Z’ers in the highest percentile. It’s important to remember the average employee reads at a sixth- to eighth-grade level. And, if you have lengthy paragraphs of text on many of the pages in your benefits guide, it’s probably not simple enough.

Before-and-After Examples

Check out these Open Enrollment comms makeovers: part 1 and part 2.

Learn more about simplifying your communications and see examples of how simpler makes sense.  Try to create “chunks” of information with headlines, subheads, bullets, callouts, and design elements that direct the reader’s eye.

Once the enrollment season hits, it can hit hard. If you start thinking about your Open Enrollment communication in the summer, that’s a box already checked come fall.