According to Dani McCauley, senior vice president of marketing at Univers, open enrollment 2013 presents a true test for benefits professionals — particularly in terms of employee communications. She spoke to EBN recently to offer her advice on how pros can help employees succeed, not stumble, through this fall’s enrollment season.

EBN: What are some best practices to avoid problems with open enrollment communication?

McCauley: One thing that we’re always looking at it is the demographics of employees. We want to make sure we have a multisensory approach because one demographic is going to learn and/or respond to information in a different way. The single biggest thing we recommend to our clients is to go with less information in more readable and easy-to-understand formats. This could include more post-card messages that are very specific topically, or electronic media. We’re doing a lot of video these days, but it’s not dry, “Let’s talk about benefits;” it’s much more animated and more specific.

[Never neglect] to give employees as specific information as they can get for their situation. So, I don’t want to talk to a 25-year-old male about preventive women’s health, but on the other hand, that 25-year-old male might be more inclined to have some kind of active lifestyle outcome based on an injury.

One of the things that we do is incorporate an overall theme in our communications. So, when an employee sees a communication that’s benefits related, it ties into a larger experience [so he doesn’t think], “Oh, here comes my dry information.” We produced a design concept for one of our clients that’s actually a game board. It’s the game of Life, but the game of Life is actually your benefits.

EBN: What open enrollment challenges are your clients seeing? What might people not be ready for?

McCauley: Well there are a couple of things that are particularly relevant this year. One of them is [who] qualifies as a full-time employee versus a part-time employee — employers are going to have to figure that out. Do you move an employee down below 30 hours so you don’t get a penalty [under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act]? Determining how many full time workers you have remains a struggle. Most employers are trying to continue benefits for their workforce, but it’s a difficult calculation.

When they do it, they might find they have a much large benefit eligible population. In many cases, you aren’t just suddenly dealing with a much higher cost-spend when that group grows, but with people who’ve never had benefits before and will require more attention and direction. The newly-insured might not know a copay, might not know a deductible.

We still have people asking, “What’s an exchange? I thought health care was going to be free in January.” So, we’re doing a lot of work right now to make sure our benefits communications strategies don’t overlook those simplest requirements and don’t overlook the simplest explanation.

Read more of McCauley’s advice on post-PPACA open enrollment communication in the May EBN.

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