With open enrollment for 2016 over for many employers, it might be tempting for benefit managers to sit back, relax and forget about it for another year. But benefits communications experts say now is the ideal time to conduct an open enrollment post-mortem before memories of what worked and what didn’t have faded.
“Think like a marketer and view your staff as clients. Engage with your employees and get their feedback,” says Jay Krishnan, director of product marketing at workforce communications company GuideSpark.
Also see: “7 ways to keep your sanity during open enrollment.”
David Daskal, director of business development at the communications company Jellyvision, says, “As anyone who has ever created a plan knows, things never go exactly as you thought they would. But you have to resist the temptation to forget the plan ever existed and wipe the slate clean for next year.”
In a recent webinar, Daskal offered the following roadmap for conducting a productive post-open enrollment review.
1. Reflect on your 2015 goals. Recalling hard and soft goals for open enrollment this year will provide the baseline for measuring how successful your campaign was. Were you focused on encouraging participation in a new plan, like a high-deductible health plan? Was your objective to get more people to contribute to their 401(k) plan?
2. Make a list. Take inventory of strategies that worked well and those that were less effective. For example, on the plus side, you may determine that benefits questions to HR went down by 20% and employees’ 401(k) contributions increased by 30%. But you may also learn you did not meet HDHP enrollment targets and voluntary benefits enrollment was stagnant.
Also see: “The 2016 ABCs of employee benefits.”
3. Critique your 2015 benefits communications. Ask your benefits team to review communications materials with a fresh eye. Consider how you could have made your messaging more eye-catching and engaging. Could your posters have used a better visual? To get an outside perspective, consider inviting some of the other “creatives” from your company to attend – people who think about crafting messages all day long.
4. Survey your employees. This doesn’t have to be a complex or time-consuming process. SurveyMonkey is one free tool that will allow you to ask up to 10 questions and automatically tabulate responses and receive a report. Don’t forget to ask at least one open-ended question that requires employees to send a narrative response. These comments can give you the most useful feedback.
5. Choose two guiding words for next year. Simple examples may be “timing” and “refresh.” If you had trouble getting emails out on time, you may want to focus on timing. If with the benefit of hindsight, your posters look tired and boring, you may want to refresh or revise your themes and graphics next year.
“Once you have completed this process, you can create a helpful 2016 first quarter benefit communication plan that will anticipate your employees’ greatest early-year concerns and give them the help they require when they need it most,” Daskal says.
Also see: “Ease open enrollment stress with advance planning.”
He suggests some first quarter 2016 benefits messaging themes could be:
New planning reminder messaging. It may be difficult for employees to recall what they learned during open enrollment by the time they have to use their benefits. This could apply to new employees or where a new plan like an HDHP has been introduced. Remind people that when they use their HDHP, point-of-service payments are going to be much higher. However, also tell them all payments they make will go towards their deductible, and premiums are now lower. Furthermore, amounts in their health spending accounts can be used to defray higher co-payments.
“Fresh start” wellness messaging. Use the first month of the year to remind employees of wellness, smoking cessation, fitness and financial wellness programs. Send an email with three quick suggestions with a subject line stating how the contents of the message can help them.
Form 1095 Q+A. The Form 1095 is a new form required by the IRS that each taxpayer will have to complete specifying whether or not they are getting employer-sponsored health benefits. Employees already have many questions about Form 1095 and benefit managers can anticipate and respond to these queries in December by preparing a jargon-free Q+A that answers questions such as the following:
- What is this new form?
- Why am I getting it?
- What do I do with it?
- Do I owe more taxes because of this?
- How many of these will I get?
- Do I send this somewhere or what?
- How will I know if I did everything right?
“Don’t stop communication just because the open enrollment deadline has passed,” says Krishnan. “If you provide ongoing learning opportunities that support your employees’ financial and physical wellness all year, they will be more engaged and able to make more educated decisions when it’s time to re-enroll again in 2016.”
Sheryl Smolkin is a lawyer and freelance writer based in Toronto.
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