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EASE THE ANNUAL BENEFIT ENROLLMENT UNCERTAINTY THIS YEAR

EASE THE ANNUAL BENEFIT ENROLLMENT UNCERTAINTY THIS YEAR

EASE THE ANNUAL BENEFIT ENROLLMENT UNCERTAINTY THIS YEAR
June 30
10:51 2017

THE INNOVATIVE WORKPLACE

Work with your clients early to design the best products and communications program

Annual benefits enrollment—admittedly, from my perspective as a human resources practitioner—comes with a mixture of dread and anticipation every year. Dread for the expected price increases, and anticipation for newer, less expensive and better plans that may be easier to administer and more valued by employees. I suspect that these feelings could well be true for you, as well.

This year, you can add a new, complicating layer—uncertainty—to annual benefits enrollment discussions with your clients. Amid this uncertainty, one thing is certain: This year’s client conversations will be different from the ones you had last year or the few years before that.

With the Trump administration and Congress proposing significant changes in healthcare and tax reform, and new twists being reported in the news every day, employers and employees have questions about what these proposals might mean for their insurance plans. New appointees to the federal regulatory agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to name a few, also have the potential to impact your clients’ safety and employment law risks.

Your clients’ human resources, finance, and benefits managers are looking to you for answers. There’s little doubt that a top concern among these folks is “not knowing where the ACA is going.” And because the political discussions regarding benefits, the federal budget, and tax reform are continuing, you don’t have those answers. The expectation is that you can gaze into your crystal ball and not only predict the future, but also design the perfect insurance portfolio to manage your clients’ risks, while providing an attractive benefits package for their employees.

Get ahead of the game and start the discussions with your clients earlier this year, so that you can clear out the misconceptions and set expectations regarding plan renewals.

Get ahead of the game and start the discussions with your clients earlier this year, so that you can clear out the misconceptions and set expectations regarding plan renewals. Even if you don’t sell health insurance, it is still top of mind for your clients. That means you will most likely need to be prepared to address various scenarios with your clients regarding how their insurance programs may be impacted by changes in benefits and tax laws or regulations.

Be prepared to overcommunicate this year

As you head into this year’s annual open enrollment season, it is more important than ever to strategically advise your clients about their employee communications strategies. Be sure that your clients are prepared to separate the facts from the speculation regarding the likelihood of healthcare reform and other regulatory changes that impact their benefits packages, so that they will be more confident when talking with their employees about this year’s benefits offering.

Properly designed, positioned, and communicated, the employee benefits package is one of the best tools in your clients’ arsenals to attract the right talent, enhance employee engagement, and retain their most valuable employees. Today’s employees expect more. In fact, according to a recent survey sponsored by Anthem Life Insurance Company, more than one in three Millennial job applicants has turned down job offers with poor health insurance that didn’t meet their needs. Although Millennials are now the largest group in the workforce today, they are not alone in their expectations. The same survey found that 27% of those from other age brackets responded that they also declined job offers due to an employer’s lackluster benefits.

Other surveys are finding the same results, relating not only to attracting new employees, but also in retaining them. Employees today expect their employers to be creative, consider employee needs, make the benefits easy to use, and offer them choices to help manage their lifestyles. Besides health insurance, benefits protecting their incomes, such as disability insurance, financial planning, and retirement benefits are important. In addition, consider that employees are tech savvy and expect to have online tools and calculators, along with complete communications, to help them make decisions regarding their insurance options.

As your clients’ trusted advisor, the more support tools you can provide to help them communicate with their employees, the better.

Steps for success

To prepare for this year’s enrollments, work with your clients early to design the best insurance and communications program. Advise them throughout these steps for success to make the most of marketing their benefits programs to their employees by:

Reviewing workforce demographics and benefits usage to get a better understanding of employees’ stages in the life cycle. Knowing your audience and targeting benefits communications to meet those life cycle needs makes the benefits more personal and relevant. Employees with young families, older workers preparing for retirement, empty nesters, and young singles all have distinctly different benefits needs and interests.

Packaging benefits by target group and promoting messaging that speaks to that group’s needs, while consistently reinforcing the overall benefits strategy and employer branding in the messaging. Different communications delivery systems may also be important to different employee groups.

Starting the messaging with “why” the benefits are structured as they are and “what” the company’s overall benefits strategy is designed to accomplish for employees. Most employees are smart, so advise your clients not to sugarcoat any bad news about changes in the benefits program. The best employees will see through the slick messaging and resent those attempts to hide changes that may be perceived as negative. This is a good time to highlight the important value of their benefits programs, promote wellness, encourage retirement savings, and encourage cost-effective usage of benefits programs.

Being ready to address the questions triggered by the federal and state proposals to change tax and benefits rules. Clear the misconceptions and incomplete information, focus on how the benefits package has been designed to comply with the current laws in place, and project confidence that you are monitoring the changes in the Washington and state legislatures and will ensure that the company benefit plans remain in compliance with changing laws and rules.

Keeping the messaging straightforward. Provide clear information, checklists, and decision-support tools that are easy to follow. While the details behind a certain benefit may be fascinating to benefits specialists, they may cause some employees to set that carefully crafted document aside. By all means, have the details available, but keep the key messages and “what you need to do for enrollment” information central to the enrollment materials.

Bringing company managers and supervisors into the discussions prior to launch. Give them a heads up regarding the upcoming benefits changes, and enlist their help in the process.

Explaining benefits options in as many ways as the budget will allow. Multimedia messaging that provides different methods for employees and/or their families to watch videos or webinars, read detailed benefits materials, review infographics, use “hands-on” decision tools, view desktop dashboards or popup “did you know” benefits messages, read questions and answers, or consider examples helps employees recognize the value of the benefits and make better benefits decisions. Determine the campaign for repeating key messages and the frequency of those communications.

Tackling the “how” of the benefits communications program, including:

  • Communications delivery methods.Electronic communications? Mobile apps? Webinars? In-person company meetings? Text messages? Packages mailed to home addresses to involve the family? Use of social media? Intranet messaging? Frequent emails or instant messaging? Live hotline for questions and concerns? Combination of all of the methods?
  • Enrollment methods. Online? Manual? Mobile? Make it as administratively simple as possible, both for employees and the benefits administration staff. Use electronic tools if the budget allows.
  • Establish a timeline, working backwards from the date that the information must be completed with the carriers and other benefits
    providers. Then work forward to deliver the communications program.
  • Employees need time to consider their options and allow the information to soak in. Consider sending employee prompts and reminders so that the enrollment process is completed in a timely manner.

It’s important to remind your clients that their benefits programs will only realize their investment potential if the benefits are perceived as meeting the expectations and needs of their employees and beneficiaries. The annual open enrollment communications opportunity is precious; your clients can influence how employees see benefits or cost changes, alleviate any fears about federal and state benefits or tax law changes that are being considered by lawmakers and regulators, motivate employees to change their health or savings habits, and let employees know that management is listening, considering their feedback valuable, and responding to their needs.

This is your year to ease your clients’ uncertainties during the annual enrollment process. Seize the opportunity!

The author

Laura Kerekes is ThinkHR’s Chief Knowledge Officer and leads the ThinkHR content knowledge and human resources service delivery teams. In addition to her company responsibilities, she writes management, human resources and business articles and presents regularly to management groups regarding human resources best practices.

About ThinkHR: ThinkHR partners with over 650 leading insurance brokers and payroll bureaus with an HR knowledge platform that enables their clients to obtain quick answers to urgent risk and liability questions, protecting clients from loss and legal action; stay informed on the correct responses and decisions for HR management and compliance matters; create web training programs to educate and develop employees in the areas of safety, management and wellness; and save time and money versus expensive alternate legal and HR resources.

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