Open Enrollment is Different this Year

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Three factors to consider in crafting benefits communication to ensure success.

Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, suggests that employers need to be aware of and respond to factors shaping this year's open enrollment to ensure they hit their 2009 enrollment targets. Benz Communications is a HR communications strategy boutique.

"Open enrollment is just around the corner and employers are already feeling like this year is going to be a bit different. And it will be. There's a lot happening - the economy, the national debate on health care, the increased influence of social media. And, all of this is changing the way employees think about their benefits," stated Jen. "To successfully meet their 2009 enrollment targets, employers need to consider the following factors in crafting their benefits communication."

1.    Employees care about their benefits more than ever before--and benefits are a larger part of their total compensation this year, given businesses' response to the economy. Multiple surveys attest to how much employees value their benefits - health care and financial. With salaries frozen, or decreasing, and the value of health care benefits always on the rise, benefits make up a larger part of total compensation -- and, as a result, a larger part of your employment brand and value proposition.

2.    At the same time, benefits are on the national stage -- and you're going to get more hard-to-answer questions. National health care reform has put health care benefits front-and-center in the national news. Employees and families will want to know how legislation may change their benefits and their health care. As such, this is a prime opportunity for you to demonstrate and reinforce the value of your benefits offerings.

3.    Social media is changing expectations for how, when, and why employees receive information. In an age of iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, and real-time access to any piece of information, the traditional methods of communicating benefits information are just not good enough. Employees want easier access to information and they want it to be easy to take action on the information they receive.

With these factors in mind, Jen provides the following guidelines for benefits communication during this year's open enrollment:

Connect benefits to the business. If you've never educated your employees about your benefits philosophy and how it is connected to your business, now is the perfect opportunity. Arm managers with information about total compensation and use them to help tell the whole story. Simple talking points or checklists will allow them to push your benefits message further.

Keep it simple. Employees' top concerns during enrollment are: What's new? What will it cost? Spell out these answers (and why) in simple, easy-to-understand terms along with simple step-by-step instructions on how to enroll. If you haven't already done so, create a one-page enrollment "Tip Sheet" that lists what's changing in as simple a form as possible (perhaps just a bulleted list), gives brief enrollment instructions, and tells employees and families where to go for all the details.

Focus on employee's personal needs. Resist the temptation to include figures about your total benefits spend or tell employees how many billion dollars per year bad health care decisions are costing the U.S. Your employees need to know how it impacts them, their lives and their families. If you talk about your overall health care costs, break it down into what the company spends per employee. When you talk about changes that could decrease costs, tell your employees what that will mean to their pocketbook.

Promote missed or under-utilized benefits. Put together a list of the five to 10 benefit plans employees aren't using enough -- health savings account, fitness benefits, voluntary insurance, hidden features of the EAP, preventive care benefits, commuter benefits, etc. -- as a one-page flyer. Title it "The Top 10 Employee Benefits You're Missing" or "10 Ways You're Not Getting The Most From Your Benefit Plans". Ask employees for their ideas.

Start using social media--especially if enrollment meetings have been cut. In-person meetings are valuable but travel costs can be expensive. Substitute those live meetings with virtual ones and post the recording online for employees who can't make it. Start a benefits blog to focus on reminders and tips, and give employees a way to join the conversation. Use Twitter to post frequent updates and provide low-cost customer service. Social media is a perfect -- and cost-effective -- way to get employees engaged and to be responsive to their needs this year.

About Benz Communications:

Benz Communications is a benefits communications strategy boutique creating integrated employee benefits campaigns for employers committed to nurturing high-performing and satisfied employees. Benz Communications' clients include Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, and small- to mid-size companies. Additional information about Benz Communications may be found at http://www.benzcommunications.com.

Contact:

Jennifer Benz
Benz Communications
415 295 4592
http://www.benzcommunications.com

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