Choosing benefits is one of the most important decisions your employees make all year. So take the time to create communication that meets employees’ needs. Instead of hunkering down a month before open enrollment to revisit last year’s plan, give yourself more lead time.
This extra time will help you develop engaging communication that employees will read. Here are five strategies you can try:
1. Use storytelling to make benefits personal
Instead of providing the same complex, 80-page enrollment guide, create emotional experiences with storytelling. Storytelling is effective because it "radically alters the way information is processed," say psychologists Melanie Green and Tim Brock.
Here are three ways to use storytelling to engage employees in benefits:
Create fictional characters
Develop characters that your employees can relate to. This will help bring the plan to life.
Spencer is a married field sales employee with three kids and two dogs. His wife and children are dependents, so he chooses the high deductible plan with a health savings account. He also springs for pet insurance to keep all his kiddos safe.
Hannah is a headquarters employee. She’s single and rarely goes to the doctor. To save money for all of her hobbies (like shopping and SoulCycle) she chooses the low-budget health plan.
Ask employees to share stories. For example, if you’re trying to increase participation in a wellness program, solicit employee quotes.
“After my screening, I discovered I was at high risk for heart disease. I joined the walking program and lowered my blood pressure. Now I don't need medication!”—Holden from Finance
Create descriptions of situations employees will likely encounter.
Juan chose the high deductible plan for his health benefits. He broke his leg during a pickup soccer match with friends and ends up paying a visit to the emergency room. Since Juan visits the doctor regularly, he’s maxed out his deductible. That means he only has to pay 10% if he visits an in-network facility and 40% if it’s out of network.
2. Enlist benefits champions to explain changes
Employees have many questions about benefits, especially when things change. That’s why putting together a team of benefits champions helps employees understand their options.
Benefits communication champions are usually members of your HR team, but they can also be leaders in charge of a function or location.
To make this team successful, provide them with:
- A high-level one pager. Include essential information champions need to know. Distill the details into a single page that briefs them, so they feel knowledgeable.
- A core PowerPoint presentation. They may not give a detailed presentation on what’s changed, but they‘ll use a short (five to eight slides) PPT to share highlights at staff meetings and during one-on-one discussions.
- A frequently asked questions (FAQs) document. FAQs help champions feel prepared when employees approach them with questions. The best FAQs include difficult questions and candid answers; and avoid corporate speak.
- Learning sessions. When there’s a significant change, you need to provide champions a chance to have dialogue so they’re well prepared.
3. Emphasize action to highlight what employees need to do
It’s no secret that employees are inundated with messages. Cut through the clutter by telling them exactly what they need to do.
Here are a few ways to make employee benefits communication action-oriented:
- Use key phrases like:
- Act now
- What you need to do
- How to
- Don’t miss out
- Make it visual. Use callout boxes to highlight any steps that need to be taken. Use color to offset key information. Icons are also helpful, like a calendar icon for key dates or check marks for a to-do list.
- Give them helpful tips and advice to make the best choices.
- Start with the action. If you send employees a 1,000-word email with the next steps at the bottom, they’ll never read it. Key information should always be at the top.
4. Create interactive experiences to help employees make benefits decisions
Help employees take a more active role in their health by creating interactive experiences. Here are two ways to help employees make important benefits decisions:
Host workshops: schedule web or in-person workshops to walk employees through their options. Successful workshops:
- Highlight key changes and what it means for employees.
- Provide real scenarios so employees can understand how each plan works for them.
- Leave time for a Q&A so employees can get the answers they need.
Develop a learning module: this tool helps guide employees through decision making and provides education of complex topics in an entertaining way. Modules should include:
- A short video with voice-over to explain the topic.
- A quiz or activity at the end of each section to allow employees to test their knowledge. You could have questions with multiple choice answers. When selected, suggested benefits can be provided. For example, ask, “Do you have a pet?” If the response is yes, offer information about pet insurance. If the response is no, move on to the next question.
- Simple navigation to different sections. This will allow employees to choose what they want to learn more about without having to go through the whole module.
- Pop-up boxes for employees to click and learn more. It will keep content on the page short, while still providing all the key details.
- A character or theme to add a bit of fun.
5. Show employees the value of their benefits
To bring benefits to life, create employee profiles that show how benefits break down for different types of people.
Here’s one example: Stefanie is 45 years old with a spouse and two children. She’s a supervisor and has a salary of $93,300.
Break down of benefits
|Health Plan (Family)
||$147 monthly contribution
||$1,373 monthly contribution
|Health Saving Account (HSA)
||$17 monthly contribution
||$85 monthly contribution
|Basic life (1.5x base pay)
||$27 monthly contribution
|401(k) (100% of the first 3%; 50% of the next 2%)
||$195 monthly contribution
||$219 monthly contribution
Value of pay and benefits
Communicating employee benefits is a year-round job and sometimes you hit your biggest communication challenges during open enrollment. By incorporating these five strategies, employees will be well-informed about the benefits packages that exist and be able to make better choices.