In a perfect world, big decisions would be allowed a lot of time to be made and come with all the pertinent information. Or, even better, decision time and support would be proportional to the impact. However, in today’s uncertain and rapidly changing business environment, such luxuries are rare.

Decisions of all shapes and sizes are often given little time for due consideration, and the decision-maker isn’t necessarily armed with the need-to-know facts and figures. That’s why simply maintaining the status quo is often a tempting alternative.

Such is the complicated relationship between benefit managers and open enrollment. Every year, OE arrives at the same time, generally follows the same procedure, and employees are given the same set of resources to support their decision-making. Considering employee benefits are so important to employees’ health and wellness, and a company’s second or third largest business expense, it’s surprising that most employers fail to give employee communications surrounding OE the time and attention it deserves.

And employees are usually given a scant two weeks to consume the OE information. That’s two weeks to learn about new programs, involve family decision-makers, make important financial decisions, and enroll for benefits or default to last year’s elections. When OE planning focuses primarily on the benefits programs and election process itself, companies miss the opportunity to maximize employees’ understanding of – and appreciation for – their benefits package, and both engagement and enrollment goals suffer.

As quick and easy as keeping the status quo may be, doing so also carries some implications for both employers and employees alike – namely in the form of chaos, anxiety and overall frustration. Overhwelmed benefits staff put in a great deal of time and effort to achieve a successful outcome during OE. In-person conversations, enrollment fairs, and stacks of paperwork waiting to be mailed are planned in advance and carried out with military precision.

And yet, companies are perpetually surprised that, in the end, 90% of employees elect to receive the exact same coverage as the previous year. On the flip side, many employees are constantly annoyed that health care changes and updates aren’t fully or clearly explained to them, while a full 75% of them don’t even understand the basics of their policy coverage. And they share a common bewilderment that management continually repeats the same inefficient and fruitless process year after year.

Also see: Workplace culture must go beyond mission statement, core values

A potentially harmful side effect of repeating the status quo is the erosion of employee satisfaction and engagement. Today’s employees want to work for companies that are adaptable, innovative, progressive and tech savvy, so outmoded methods of internal communications don’t help boost their view of their employer’s brand.

In an age where there is an app for everything, and the traditional way of doing things is constantly being scrutinized, dissected and re-engineered, communicating benefits changes is neither exempt nor immune. In fact, given the impact that benefits have on all sides, a fresh look at the programs and how they’re being communicated just makes good business sense.

Employees are exposed to, and consume, vast amounts of information on a daily basis through multiple channels, so how a company chooses to connect with them can make or break an important message. For example, a heavy text-laden email or printed package to explain complex benefits changes and enrollment procedures might miss the mark. While the necessary information may be there, the delivery does little to interest the recipient or aid in their comprehension of the material.

Also see: 10 tips for better communication during open enrollment

In communicating with employees today, smart companies are taking their cues from how individuals consume information in their private lives: they’re using new media to catch up on news and entertainment and to learn how to prepare a meal or change a tire. While the venerable printed word is far from extinct, it has been largely usurped by its online counterparts.

Reading on tablets and smartphones is now commonplace, new breeds of social software are improving on traditional methods of paper-based employee collaboration, and multimedia is rapidly eliminating the dusty binders full of outdated policies and procedures. Even complex topics like open enrollment come alive with multimedia, and become easier to explain and understand – leading to higher participation rates, and cost effective decisions that meet employee needs.

In today’s digitally fueled communications environment, HR departments and benefit managers have the capability to measure, analyze, and iterate their efforts to increase participation and engagement during key activities such as OE – which can extend their reach, improve efficiencies, and satisfy employees at the same time.

And in an age where employee benefits are more highly valued than ever before, delivering impactful communications that resonate with employees and spur them into action ensures a significant ROI, year after year.

Keith Kitani is CEO of GuideSpark, an employee communication and engagement company.


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