Every year, open enrollment season presents an opportunity for employers to improve their organization’s approach to employee benefits and drive increased adoption of benefits.

Open enrollment can be a confusing and stressful process for employees without proper instruction. Studies show that now, more than ever before, employees are ready to take advantage of their benefits options. In 2015, 89% of employees expressed interest in having more support and decision-making tools available to them during open enrollment, according to Aflac. This statistic is especially compelling given that employee benefits strongly influence employee happiness and productivity at work. Aflac also found that more than 54% of those who are extremely satisfied with their benefits are also extremely satisfied with their current job.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

To convert this increased interest in open enrollment support into actual benefits adoption, employers should approach open enrollment as a marketing campaign, in which your employees are “customers” and “prospects” (those already enrolled and those who have yet to enroll, respectively) and your benefits are the “offers” that keep employees happy, healthy and productive. Your marketing campaign should include specific goals that carefully consider employee demographic factors and messaging that is accessible year-round. The following four steps will be key to successfully marketing your benefits offerings to your employees this open enrollment season.

Set measurable goals

Start your open enrollment marketing campaign by outlining goals. Whether you want to introduce a new benefit program, increase enrollment or simply educate employees about their benefits options, creating goals will provide structure to your campaign by giving you something to work toward. Identifying concrete benchmarks — such as gaining a 10% enrollment increase in flexible spending accounts or convincing 75% of employees to view a wellness program video — will provide you with metrics to measure your success. In setting these measurable goals, you will gain insights into your benefits package and communications plan that will be invaluable for planning an even better open enrollment season next year.

Consider your audience

Considering that your employees are the target audience in this campaign, it is in your best interest to have a solid grasp on who they are, their understanding of benefits and their preferred modes of communication. Consider generational differences in your open enrollment strategy — traditionalists and baby boomers often still prefer face-to-face interactions or phone calls, whereas millennials are more likely to engage with emails, videos or text messages. A multi-targeted approach that addresses these varying preferences might consist of sending your employees an email reminder about their benefits options and sign-up deadline, with a link that allows them to schedule a phone or in-person consultation. Providing options for any communications style will ensure that you engage with all of your employees, no matter their age or preferred contact medium.

All businesses looking to stay relevant in today’s competitive landscape should anticipate the growing millennial workforce. Not only are they considered the largest generation of the U.S. labor force, they also are more likely than other generations to respond that they do not know about their benefits. Once again, pay attention to communication preferences to help you close this knowledge gap — be it raising awareness via popular social media platforms like Twitter or Snapchat, sending out text message reminders for open enrollment deadlines or even publishing a YouTube tutorial spelling out the details of a high-deductible health plan. Meeting millennials on the mobile and social platforms they know best will inherently make your open enrollment campaign more accessible, relatable and effective.

Develop key messaging

Once you understand how to best reach your employees, it’s time to determine what you want to say. Take into consideration that open enrollment can be a confusing and stressful time for employees because of the numerous options available to them and the pressure to make decisions that could significantly affect their personal finances. A startling 90% of the time, employees avoid decision-making altogether by re-enrolling in the same benefit options year after year, causing 42% to waste up to $750 annually by making mistakes with insurance benefits.

In order to prevent this laissez-faire attitude toward open enrollment, use direct and simple messaging that engages employees to think more deeply about their benefits options. The more specific you can be about a benefit’s relevance, convenience, and potential savings, the better off you and your employees are. Ultimately, an employee will conceive the advantages of an FSA much faster if they understand that it saves them $750 per year, on a contribution of $2,250 for the year at an estimated tax rate of 30%. Once you have developed your key messaging, deliver this information using one of the methods described above to ensure your messaging gets through to your employees in the most engaging way possible.

Continue engaging year-round

Open enrollment is once a year, but a strong marketing campaign engages continuously. Half of the companies surveyed in the Aflac Workforces Report communicate about their benefits options two times per year or less, a strategy which overwhelms employees by forcing them to absorb all the information at once, while risking disengagement throughout the remainder of the year. If you engage employees year-round with a steady flow of collateral such as email reminders, newsletters, webinars or even flyers, employees will be able to familiarize themselves with benefits options at their own pace, relieving some of the pressure perceived during the actual open enrollment crunch time. Additionally, some employee benefits, such as commuter benefits, are available for sign up outside of the open enrollment season, so keeping the conversation going will sustain higher enrollment numbers and happiness in the workplace.

A successful campaign

Using these four marketing guidelines to develop a comprehensive campaign will position your open enrollment season for success. Meeting concrete benchmarks will certainly be a determinant of your success, but know that you’ve already taken a significant step in the right direction by putting in the effort to provide employees with an engaging dialogue about their employee benefits.

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Britta Meyer

Britta Meyer

Britta Meyer serves as Chief Marketing Officer at WageWorks.