Effective communication is essential to ensure employees are well-prepared prior to selecting their benefits. But before determining how best to disseminate that information, employers and their benefit advisers must engage the workforce. Once the population is fully engaged, “everything else is so much easier to communicate,” says Chicago-based NFP Managing Director Mike Schneider. 

Once engagement is improved, advisers and employers can begin targeting specific messages to specific employees. For example, the entire workforce isn’t interested in information on diabetes, but those with diabetes or at-risk employees would be. “We need to get communication out that’s tailored to who we’re sending it to,” Schneider says. “They need to know that the information coming to them is relevant. Blanket communication goes in one ear and out the other.”

Advisers who communicate most effectively are the ones who speak directly to employees, says Richard Silberstein, president of Lutherville, Md.-based Silberstein Insurance Group. “They’re asking the employees what would help,” he says. “They’re not asking HR.”

Working with the latter is important to for year-round education, Silberstein says. Advisers shouldn’t just show up once a year during open enrollment then leave HR to handle everything for the rest of the year, he says. “If you’re really an extension of HR, you need to partner with them,” Silberstein says. “Part of a smooth enrollment is continual education.”

Distributing the right amount of communication is also key. “You can absolutely have information overload,” says Deborah Sternberg, president of Starmount Life Insurance Company and AlwaysCare Benefits, based in Baton Rouge, La. Sending out periodic reminders or alerts when there has been a change helps employees when open enrollment comes, she says. “It also helps HR, so everyone isn’t asking questions in the same two to four weeks.”

Variety is important, as employees all have different learning styles and preferences of how they receive information. An adviser’s communication technique should include printed materials, electronic information, group presentations and one-on-one meetings, Sternberg says. “Multiple means of distributing information is critical,” she says.

That includes smartphones. Several ben admin platforms as well as carriers have mobile technology, and nearly all employees — from an assembly line worker to a C-suite executive ­— have cellphones, Schneider says. Employers don’t have to offer a mobile app, he says, but they should at least give employees a way to access basic benefits information via their cellphone.

Include spouses, voluntary 

The employee might not be making the benefits decisions alone, and brokers need to keep that in mind, Silberstein says. That’s why mailing information to households is still relevant. But the information needs to stand out from the rest of the mail. Sending a postcard with an eye-catching graphic and enticing message helps ensure the information is read, he says.

So much time is spent on medical insurance, advisers need to remember to sprinkle in discussions on voluntary coverage, too, Sternberg says. Avoiding industry jargon and keeping the message simple helps prevent employees from getting burned out on benefits information, she says.

Effective communication is linked to participation, Sternberg says. Employees who understand their benefits are the ones who sign up for coverage.   

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