With budgets stretched and attendance down, more and more employers seem to be doing away with face-to-face employee benefits open enrollment meetings. That's a shame, especially since healthcare coverage options are more complicated than ever before.
This drop in attendance and lack of interest in holding benefit information sessions is all the more surprising considering that healthcare literacy is still at alarming low rates. One would think that this knowledge gap would trigger anxieties which would motivate more of the workforce to attend these annual benefit presentations.
So what can employers do to help bridge this education divide? After all, if employees aren't educated on things such as HDHPs with HSAs, Limited Purpose FSAs, or even telemedicine, then how will they ever embrace these benefit options - all of which are becoming more and more popular with employers and employees alike.
Here are some employee engagement ideas you might want to try in an attempt to reengage and educate your workforce during open enrollment season;
1. Go Digital.
For better or worse, mobile devices are in our hands throughout the day. Take advantage of this and reach out to your employees through one (or several) streams.
- Send a text message telling employees that open enrollment is coming and reminding them to read their product literature and talk to their spouses so they’ll be ready to enroll.
- Ask them questions via email beforehand, as well as during the meeting. Try a Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, or Google Forms format to engage employees and encourage participation. These tools allow employees to answer questions anonymously while you tally responses. This is a great way to find out, in real time, which topics merit more attention, especially if employees demonstrate a lack of understanding about a particular benefit.
- Use social media to engage staff. Tweet employee meeting information with a call to action in 140 characters or less. Share videos or articles explaining complex topics such as HSAs and HDHPs on Facebook or LinkedIn. Use Facebook Live to present and discuss information, then interact with remote employees who are watching online.
- Use your company blog to explain different aspects of your benefits portfolio and how many of them are designed to work together. Be sure to allow questions and comments on the blog and make sure to be attentive and responsive to employee concerns. Have different people on your leadership team write blog posts from different points of view. A CFO will have different information to share than an HR Director or even a CEO.
2. Go Live.
Many employees still appreciate live, in-person interactions from traditional benefits open enrollment meetings, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Consider changing things up to offer something more unique and exciting.
- Invite guest speakers to present on various topics. These days, a great choice is an HSA Administrator like HealthEquity who can describe the benefits of health savings accounts (which are rapidly growing in popularity and have all sorts of unique savings benefits)
- Host "Lunch & Learn" sessions where staff members come in for an educational session on pre-scheduled topics or an open Q&A. Stream these live on Facebook and make them available for viewing at a later time. Allow spouses and other dependents to attend.
- Host a Health Fair and invite family members to join in the fun. Have tables set up for brokers or carriers and presenters that will provide valuable information for the whole family. You could provide healthy snacks and educational materials to teach families about the role nutrition plays in their overall health. Be sure to have drawings for door prizes, fun kids activities (like crayons and pages they can color) and plenty of swag to take home.
- Present webinars at different times and on various topics, but be sure to have these available on-demand as well. Employees may wish to watch live to and ask questions, or possibly review information later on with another household decision maker.
- Offer demos, live support, and instruction on how to log onto your online health portal (or health insurance carrier’s website), compare options, and make selections or changes for those employees who need a little more guidance.
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3. Go Home.
If your employee benefits open enrollment is available to spouses, dependents, or domestic partners, you’ll want to provide information your workforce can take home.
- Make sure any webinars are available outside of the office intranet. It does employees and their partners little good if they can only view them at work.
- Record meetings or daytime learning opportunities and make them available online. This is an easy thing to do that can be extremely beneficial for second shift or evening workers. It will also help employees who may have been ill that day or taking a planned vacation. If you’re looking for a cheap way to do this without making the information public, you can upload the videos to YouTube, but leave them “unlisted,” which means that only people with the link can view the video.
- Provide printed handouts and comprehensive benefit guides at health fairs and meetings. This should include any cost comparisons you showcased during the events.
- Make HR representatives available to spouses at home, who may be confused by printed handouts. Health insurance is complicated enough without contending with communication issues between employees and their spouses. Designate an HR professional to field questions from home and include that person’s business card on all communication that goes home with employees.
- Include links to formularies and doctor lists in the documentation (both printed and emailed). If employees are considering switching plans or your company is switching carriers, these will be two of the major documents most useful to family members who will be asking: Can I keep my doctor? Is my medication covered? Answers to these questions can help your employees make more informed decisions during benefits open enrollment.
4. Just Go!
Provide ongoing and consistent marketing and promotion for benefits open enrollment. Get the information out there and in front of your staff at every opportunity.
- Mention benefits open enrollment and any related events on every method of internal communication, even if it’s multiple outlets, like email, newsletters, posters in the break room, Yammer, Slack, and even your email signature line.
- Provide several options to consume information and ask questions — by video, webinar, text, or good old-fashioned paper.
- Make it easy to find instructions on how and where to sign up. End each electronic communication with a call-to-action and a clickable link. Make sure the web URL is easy to remember and spell.
- Offer incentives, prizes, and meaningful learning. Testimonials from fellow staff members with real-world examples and cost comparisons of expenses with and without insurance can speak volumes to employees who may be considering foregoing insurance due to cost concerns.
- Show side-by-side comparisons of different plan options, and offer "try it and see" examples. Comparing line items of each insurance option, balanced against total cost, can prove invaluable in the decision-making process. Likewise, the millennial who just started working may not see the benefit of putting three percent of their paycheck into a 401(k) until you show them how much money they will have saved at the end of 10 years, especially if you provide a matching program.
Employee Benefits Open Enrollment Tips
So many people (both in and out of HR) groan when it comes time for benefits open enrollment, but it just doesn’t have to be that way. With a little bit of planning, you can make the enrollment process far easier and a lot more fun. Not all of the ideas on this list are particularly involved, nor time consuming — although some of them will take a bit more time and expertise. Mostly, it’s about attention to detail and anticipating what your employees and their families might want or need to make the necessary decisions that will affect the next year of their lives.
At the JP Griffin Group, we’re committed to helping you create a benefits program that supports and engages your staff. Annual benefits open enrollment is just one part of the package we can provide. Contact us for more customized tips on how to spice up your annual enrollment process!
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2016 and was updated in October 2017 and again in October 2019.