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Communication Strategies for Open Enrollment

Welcome to episode 14 of the Rethink HR podcast, brought to you by bettHR.

In this episode

Even if you’re one of those very few companies who have brought all of your OE communication materials into the digital age in prior years, right now, I guarantee you you’re still not quite prepared to rethink your HR communications plan for this year’s open enrollment is specially as things are changing rapidly. Today, I’m sharing three strategies that you can implement, for better results.

The first strategy is your message needs to be different, and it needs to be clear. Stop using “HR speak.” It is all the words that we in HR use, all the phrases, all the shortcuts, all the ways. We describe things that are common to us in HR because we live it and breathe it. And our employees don’t have a clue what we’re saying.

Your compliance or HR speak do not need to be front and center to help your employees learn about OE or HR things that are really important. They’re not going to pay attention. And so you’re wasting valuable messaging space to do that, to be more consistent, different, and clear follow the storytelling for HR framework that I shared on a previous episode, it’s especially important to be able to put your employee at the center of the journey.

The second strategy is evaluating the communication channels and accessibility needs of how you’ve delivered OE messages in the past. With the in-person or high-touch capabilities that you may have been relying upon in the post, seemingly lost for the foreseeable future, you have to look into a different way of how to message these things. The most powerful option is to add a microsite to your strategy, but also consider things like text messaging, chat forums, interactive dialogues, bite-size videos, company podcasts, and more.

The third strategy is to communicate for comprehension. This is how you turn your employees into better healthcare consumers (instead of just talking about how that’s a great idea).

Listen in, to learn more!

In This Episode

  • This is the second podcast in a series all about open enrollment—and how to communicate effectively and create a better employee experience, in today’s work environment.
  • How to use open enrollment as an opportunity to start changing the conversation and culture to be more inclusive.
  • The benefits of better communication and reinvesting your benefits dollars to see a bigger ROI.



Communication Strategies for Open Enrollment on this week's RethinkHR podcast episode! #humanresources #hr #employees #businessmanagement Click To Tweet

(00:00): This is your opportunity to start changing that. And, OE, he should be a shining star example of what can go, right? What can be changed and provide some hope and overall understanding communication and comprehension for an HR topic. I'm Melissa Anzman. HR practitioner turned CEO of a thriving employee experience company, but it wasn't all that long ago that I worked as an HR business partner, responsible for increasing employee engagement at companies nationwide. And I struggled to move the needle even after trying everything under the sun, fast forward, past many fail tactics and lessons learned. And you'll see how I've been able to crack the code and replicated at companies of all sizes for creating true engagement and doing HR work that matters work that changes the lives of leaders, HR professionals, and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, I created the rethink HR podcast to give you actionable step by step strategies to help you make an impact.

(01:06): If you're an HR leader or one on the rise, who's looking to stop spinning your wheels, doing the same tired activities that aren't driving results, or you want to have a career. You love your in the right place. Let's get started. Just like everything else in the age of COVID the way that you communicate to your employees, particularly as you think about your open enrollment or annual enrollment, whichever one you prefer, it needs to change. Times are different. How we have communicated, likely not so effectively in the past, even though you're going to fight me on that, it needs to change this year because this year in particular, it's different. Our communication capabilities and options are very different. Our eyes have been open about our own biases and neglect of other inclusivity factors. As we communicate not to mention the way our workforce looks and feels is different.

(02:08): And so even if you're one of those very few companies who have brought all of your OE communication materials into the digital age in prior years, right now, I guarantee you you're still not quite prepared to rethink your HR communications plan for this year's open enrollment is specially as things are changing rapidly. Now you may be thinking I'm not a benefits person. I don't actually care about OE it's something someone else's responsible for, and I get it. Or you may be someone in Canada who says, you know, we don't have to do much about this because it's pretty wrapped up for us are a lot tighter than how it happens in the U S all that aside, the same principles for rethinking your HR communications plan for E need to be applied to everything that you're doing within HR and as leaders right now, it's how we move forward to be effective communicators, effective HR people in an ever changing landscape.

(03:14): And yes, our landscape has always been ever changing. We just haven't been awake enough to realize it or acknowledge it, but now we don't have that option. So I want to talk about three ways in which you have to dig deep, make a change, or at least do some significant consideration for this year's open enrollment period. The first thing is your message needs to be different, and it needs to be clear. Now, if you've been around me or listened to me for any length of time, you know, I have this thing that I call HR speak, and I can't stand HR speak. It is all the words that we in HR use, all the phrases, all the shortcuts, all the ways. We describe things that are common to us in HR, because we live it and breathe it. And our employees don't have a clue what we're saying.

(04:11): And part of it is we're trying to follow this CYA game, the cover, your bleep game. You talk in HR speak, or you want to make sure legal speak or compliant. Speak comes through to get all the angles covered so you don't get sued. Well, here's the thing you're going to get sued by somebody at some point, that is just the nature of the beast that is going to happen. I'm not saying that you get rid of your compliance and legal documents. I just say that those don't need to be the things that are front and center to help your employees learn about OE or HR things that are really important. They're not going to pay attention. They're not going to listen to it. They're definitely not going to understand it. And so you're wasting valuable messaging space to do that, to be more consistent, different, and clear follow the storytelling for HR framework that I shared on a previous episode, it's especially important to be able to put your employee at the center of the journey.

(05:11): We're not talking at them, we're helping them see why open enrollment is important to them and provide them an information in a way that helps them guide through the process and answer the question what's in it for me now, along these lines, with your message, I hope that you are getting your partners, particularly in diversity and inclusion, engaged around how you create messages. You are probably already trying to be inclusive. And I want to give you a little bit of credit for that. If you have already been doing that. But I rarely see companies thinking very deeply around the message, how it resonates, the graphics, the images, the layouts, and so on that it's inclusive for all. And I don't mean that we slap on quote unquote, pictures of diverse people into our own guide and call it a day. That's a step. I don't know if it's a good step.

(06:16): It's a step. But employees want to see people like them. They want to see words, explain in a way that they understand, and they need to be explained in the way that's inclusive. And your intent may not be negative or malicious. In fact, I'm sure it's not, but your message can come across that way. And when it comes to open enrollment, when it comes to benefits, particularly medical benefits, it is a topic that is deeply important to each and every one of your employees. And right now in this very age of COVID, it's likely even more important. The fear factor of getting sick is high. The making sure you are covered for certain situations is critical and it's important. And being healthy is important as well. And so when you think about your messaging needs this year in particular, you want to stop being so high brow.

(07:17): And so corporate E and H R E, about what the options are and create different ways of messaging that are clear. And that doesn't mean we're dumbing down the message that doesn't mean we're losing the great content that you need to talk about, but it does mean we're repositioning what it is we need to talk about in a way that makes it easy for our audience, which are your employees to understand the available options and make great choices. So I'm going to come back to comprehension in just a second, but comprehension comes down to your messaging. So we want to be clear and your employees need to be front and center. Another thing to consider about from the message is what is your tagline? Now, we all know what a tagline is for like marketing for Nike. It's just do it. We're all very familiar with the tagline in that frame.

(08:18): But I also want you to think about what your own E or your total rewards tagline is going to be for this year. You don't even necessarily have to share it far and wide, but a tagline is going to help you as you create your communications to make sure that everything you talk about reinforces that tagline. It gives you a North star of sorts of how to humanize OE benefits really difficult and complicated information into a way that makes sense for your employees who are average, non HR, non benefits, focused detail, expert human beings. So we want our message to be clear, a good way to start. That is with a tagline. In addition to that, as part of your communications process, as part of your messaging process, I want you to get some feedback from your line workers, from your hourly workers, maybe your first line supervisors.

(09:18): I want you to get people on the ground. Those who are not senior leaders, those who are not directors, those who haven't necessarily enrolled in benefits. I get a zillion times at your company and float some communications their way. Does this make sense? What are your questions after reading this? Is it clear what your options are? Do you know how much per month that's going to be out of your paycheck, ask the questions from those who aren't in HR. And it may be a little gut wrenching when you hear their responses, because it may not be what you thought or what you hope to hear, but that feedback is really helpful to clarify your message and ensure that you're being inclusive and real and authentic and non HRE as possible. Now, the second thing that you have to take a look at is the channels and accessibility needs of how you've delivered.

(10:17): These communications in the past has to change. A lot of us are losing the capabilities of in-person large scale meetings, and that's going to be true. Come November, December, October, whatever timeframe as well. And so without the in person or one-on-one or high touch opportunities that you've previously relied upon to deliver benefits, communications, maybe it's benefit fairs in person, or what have you. You have to look into a different way of how to message these things. Also, here's a hot tip for ya. Those 60 page guides, aren't helping anybody. No, one's going to read a 60 page guide. Actually. That's not true. You're super geeky. People like me are going to read every word of it, but it's probably like 5% of your employee population instead, what all your other employees are thinking is, Oh my God, why do I have to go through the 60 page thing?

(11:20): What do I need to know? What am I going to miss? And why is this so painful? So stop doing 60 page guides in the last they're supplemental and there for compliance, hosted somewhere differently. Mailing things. Home may be a good idea, but it's very expensive to do that. There's some weird feelings about mail and you know, it's hard to track comprehension based on mailings as well. So you can maybe do that, but it doesn't need to be the number one thing you do. And don't feel like because you're missing the in person thing, you have to revert back five, 10 years to do mail packets at home. The other thing is emailing to your employees alone. Isn't helpful. It's just not, yes, you can use email and you should be using email with one call to action, per message, with updates and information with having something very specific to say, do and share.

(12:19): But if you're only emailing your employees, you're going to lose in the OE game because employees are going to read important emails, but at the same time, they don't only learn by email. And so we have to look further than just what we've done in the past and start adding into different new technology channels, communication methods, to your own OE plan, to help people who learn differently and provide them the same information in an easier or bite sizable piece of channel, a different way to do it. So doesn't have to cost more money to do so. In fact, many of the solutions that we add into our client's plans here at better decrease the overall spend, while also decreasing missed enrollments and decreasing the questions to the HR call centers. It's absolutely brilliant when instead of dipping the same amount of money, and so what you've already done or what you think you should do, or, you know, mailing things home, if you reinvest that money in different communication channels and methods that help hit different people in ways that they learn and comprehend, you will have more success.

(13:42): Now, this is completely different and new than what you're currently doing. And it may feel like you already are doing this. And I can tell you for certain, you are not. And I don't mean that in a terrible way. I just mean that the way that we have historically communicated from HR is we've just sort of pushed out HR communications. We've mailed things home, or we relied on our benefits administrator to take their off the shelf thing and do the work for us, do the heavy lifting, or maybe we tweak it a little, but we haven't really gotten that whole diverse, that whole target audience, the whole storytelling for HR thing incorporated into what we do. And this year we can't afford that. You probably had to cut some people at your company, both in outside of HR and maybe in HR, which means you can't support the number of questions that you've historically gotten through bad communication materials.

(14:43): But by reinvesting that money into channels that are more accessible and speak in a way that is clear, different and message properly, you're going to be able to lower those costs. Now, my number one way and suggestion of doing this is obviously through microsites. I did a whole episode on microsites and I may do another soon because I think that they are truly the one brilliant shining thing that you're not doing right now, that you should be for an ROI on your HR program, particularly for open enrollment and total rewards. But that's just one place. That's one way that you can actually incorporate and house and share all of the different communication channels and methods in one place. So that is the only way you can actually reach all employees, provide them all different ways of how they learn in one location and have it be accessible to their partners.

(15:42): And decision-maker buddies, whether it's a spouse friend, family member, et cetera, outside of your firewall. So microsites number one thing I recommend other opportunities for you are things like text messaging. Now you may be hesitant because text messaging, isn't your thing, or you don't have everyone on a company phone. So you don't think you can text message them, which is false. All it's really easy. Yes. Then the sign up and sign a waiver to receive messages on your behalf. And you can able, you can easily reach your employees where they hang out, which is their phone, and you don't have to have an email. You can provide updates and information. They need to be short. They need to be actionable. You can't overdo the text messaging, but it's a great channel. You should explore particularly this year to keep conversations going and stay in touch.

(16:37): Another thing to consider is an FAQ chat forum. Now these can be hosted on your website or what I prefer is hosting it on your microsite and you can have people have to sign in. So create a username and password, or you can have it anonymous. It is moderated. So not the crazies crazy questions that you may get. They don't have to be asked, right? We're always worried about what if an inappropriate question is asked or what, if something off topic is asked you manage it. So you have to approve the question and then you provide there the answer right there as well. And by doing so, you're creating a live chat and FAQ document. So to speak, it's live, people can ask questions when they have it. They don't have to wait for a town hall meeting and they get their specific question answered, or you get sent to, Hey, here's the resource for you to look at?

(17:34): So it's really helpful. Another thing to consider is an chat bot. Now there are some benefit administrators who are including chat bots and open enrollment. This year, I think is one of the first years, I'm seeing it a little bit wider than I have the past and chat bots can be really good if they go to the right thing and answer the right thing, but they can also be extremely frustrating for your end user. So just make sure that your chat bot is doing the right thing by sending, asking the right questions and sending them to the right and applicable resources. You can also consider something like a company podcast or some videos of your company members of just having information shared in a different manner. Having videos that are animated or less than five minutes. I prefer two to three, no more. You're going to fight me on that.

(18:27): So I'll give you a five. Anything after that? No one's watching videos are great, but you can also pull the video and do a company podcast about OE about total rewards, about leadership and have baked in where only your company can listen into it. It is a great way to have people be able to listen to you on the go or while they're commuting in, or while they're sitting at their desk working and they can have something in their ear. You can also do like an internal chat. And so at a previous company I worked with, they called it a yam jam and we used to make fun of that name, but honestly, I can't think of anything better because they did it on Yammer. That's the yam part. And they had a senior leader come on and answer employee questions as they came up.

(19:13): It's kind of like a Twitter chat, but on your internal program. And this could be really great. You can have a benefits manager, come on. You can have, you know, maybe do something like that, like a benefit specialist or the head of total rewards. Come on, answer employee questions and have it really be two way conversation and really active. Another thing to consider from a communication channel is a virtual benefit fair. Now, friends, I am never going to tell you to spend six figures on something that does this. There is a program and a platform out there that does a virtual benefit fairs. It is frankly tacky and cheesy in my opinion, which is why I'm not going to name the name of the company. And it also costs upwards of a hundred thousand dollars to do it. Those are useless, useless people useless.

(20:08): Instead, you can create an interactive benefit fair on your microsite, where you have all the resources collapse like clumped together based on what they are. And so it's very easy to, you know, get in touch with the different benefit providers, ask questions, read this form about that and so on and so forth. But you do not need to invest in a online benefit fair, or an online explainer video for six figures in order to make it work. You really want to use low investment biggest ROI. That's my approach to everything. And to do that, you have go to number three, which is your comprehension on your communications needs to be more complete. Your employees need to much better understand the benefit options that they have available to them, where to get information and how to take action. And what this means is that we are not speaking about benefits.

(21:09): We are talking instead creating conversations with our employees about options, about opportunities, about learning moments, so that they can understand what is available to them. And then take advantage of it. Then participate in the programs, medical, dental, 401k, all the things under your total rewards umbrella, they're able to take advantage of them if they comprehend them. And so to do that, not only do we have to have a clear message and talk in different ways, so different channels, different accessibility needs that are inclusive and very different than what we've been doing, but we always have to make sure that we have ways of teaching comprehension about our benefits. Most employees do not invest a lot of time in truly understanding benefit, options, benefit terms, what it all means and so on and so forth. And conversely, if we take an off the shelf thing to do that, it's not going to be as in fact, as effective and is likely going to be 20 minutes long and no one has time for a 20 minute video.

(22:24): So instead, what I'd like you to think about is get your learning team involved. If you need to and have them help you consider some sort of easy breezy curriculum, bite sized pieces to help create better healthcare consumers. Now I know that term just made you cringe because it's been talked about a lot and no one's made progress with it. And it's such a buzzword right now, but truly with COVID in the air, medical benefits have been a hot button topic. And so you have an opportunity to teach your employees more about their benefits because medical benefits are top of mind. So let's teach our employees how to be better. Healthcare consumers let's create resources that teach him for O E but also resources. These are the ones that you miss a lot that are just in time resources, that they can access through a microsite at any moment as to, Oh no.

(23:29): Do I go to a urgent care? Do I go to a hospital? Or, Hey, can I, how do I access telehealth? Things like that, things that are very, I don't know what to do, or is this covered? Is this not have place where you can teach comprehension longterm? So what is adaptable, how to evaluate your benefits is this plan, right? For me all the things, all the terms, but then also have some comprehension around just in time resources so that your employee can even further understand how to actually implement and use the benefits that you're offering for O E now as a whole, the way that you need to communicate O E and everything involved with it needs to be different this year. It just does what you've been doing. Hasn't been working that well, anyway, I promise I've seen very, very few companies who do this overwhelmingly, right?

(24:30): Most companies do a thing or two, right? And everything else is a rinse and repeat. And what I mean by that is we're just going to do what we did last year, or we're just going to take the off the shelf communications that our benefit provider has given us, or our benefit administrator is giving us those aren't going to be effective. And frankly, they are not going to have a clear message. And they sure as heck are not going to be diverse and inclusive. So this is your opportunity. This is your chance right now, to not only start reshaping the culture you want to create and build for your company so that all people feel comfortable at work. Particularly your black employees who have felt very uncomfortable through microaggressions and other things that we're learning about just now late to the game. This is your opportunity to start changing that.

(25:28): And, OE, he should be a shining example of what can go, right? What can be changed and provide some hope and overall understanding communication and comprehension for an HR topic. This podcast is brought to you by better microsites with your HR budgets being cut, and you being on the hunt for ways to do more with less. Why not consider a total rewards or benefits microsite that doesn't only increase your employee experience, but also delivers increased value at half the cost of what you're already paying. That microsites are a hundred percent designed based on what your employees need to know your branding and your specific information, improving the speed in which your employees can find important benefit information while seamlessly connecting with your enrollment vendor and communicating in an effective manner. Learn more about better microsites at better.com/microsites. That's bettHR.com/microsites. Thank you so much for tuning in for this episode of the rethink HR podcast. For more information, including the show notes and resources, please go to RethinkHRpodcast.com/14.

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