How a benefits communications plan fixed Omni Hotel's enrollment 'chaos'

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NASHVILLE — Darrell Hart, director of benefits at Omni Hotels, doesn’t sugarcoat the former state of the hotel chain’s benefits communications plan. In a word: “Chaos.”

“It was a mess,” he said Friday at Employee Benefit Adviser’s Workplace Benefits Renaissance. “We had issues, and there was no consistent message.”

In large part due to the hotel chain’s spread-out locations, consistent messaging was difficult. Worst of all, though, were the company’s medical plan options: there were nine medical plan offerings and 80 different medical contributions for Omni’s 20,000 benefits-eligible employees. Some of the hotels changed medical plans and contributions, Hart explained.

“We had way too many medical plans,” he said. “There was uniqueness that we didn’t even know about. Properties can request to be unique or tweak contributions. We didn’t know about [the programming of the union plans’ enrollment nuances] in corporate.”

Omni knew it needed a change.

“With all these different locations, timeframes, places where people enrolled … we needed a good process and a good partner to get us through this,” Hart said.

So in 2017, Omni partnered with benefit technology and engagement firm Hodges-Mace to revamp its communications and enrollment strategy. Its goal: To simplify and minimize coverage plans while bringing consistent messaging to employees to help them better understand and appreciate their benefits.

“It was critical to understand from Omni what their benefits were and what they had,” said John Chase, senior vice president.

Hodges-Mace worked with Omni to look at the different medical plans and medical contributions, dropping the total number to 31 from 80. Another big change was adding full counselor-assisted annual enrollment in 2017.

“That was key,” Hart said. But it wasn’t necessarily an immediate hit, he added. “There was some pushback from hotels,” he said. “Logistically, we have to put each employee in a room for 30 minutes during their shift [to meet with a counselor]. Initially, we had to convince them of the buy-in. Once we did it, the general managers appreciated it, the employees liked it. The HR people liked it too; they weren’t getting overworked.”

For Omni’s 2017 annual enrollment, more than 10,000 employees scheduled appointments with 69 on-site counselors in nearly 50 locations.

An important piece of Omni’s strategy was to survey employees to see what they thought about the benefits enrollment changes. “This was a critical piece for me, from the perspective of, ’did they get it?’” Hart said.

Turns out, they did: 90% of the more than 5,000 Omni employees who responded said they had a greater appreciation and understanding of their benefits, and 97% said they learned something new about the medical offerings and how a plan would best work for them. Finally, 98% said the benefits counselor was a good teacher and helped the employee make better benefits decisions.

Most important to Omni, Hart said, is having a benefits partner that its employees can turn to for reference and for advice.

“Communications is one of the biggest things,” Hart said. “We have a diverse population — multilingual, different locations. Now we have one resource, Hodges-Mace, who will tell everyone the same thing, the same message.”

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