What’s the biggest mistake benefits managers make? If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re worried you’re making it. The good news is that this mistake is easily avoided.
The biggest mistake benefits managers make is to cram the bulk of their benefits education and communications into open enrollment season.
Benefits Communications Should Continue Year-Round
Sometime in the fall, a few weeks before open enrollment, the typical human resources department sends employees multiple emails and handouts describing their benefit options for the coming year, the decisions they must make, and how and when to make them.
Employees hear far less frequently from HR throughout the rest of the year.
There’s no denying the importance of educating employees about benefits during open enrollment and the preceding weeks. (In fact, here are three open enrollment email templates to help you do just that.) But open enrollment should not be the only time your employees hear from you about their benefits.
The fact of the matter is, while you and your team dedicate months to building the right benefits package, assembling plan documentation, and preparing for open enrollment, many of your employees spend only a few minutes every year thinking about their benefits.
Year-round communication can help keep benefits from falling to the back of your employees’ minds, reminding them to use their benefits and helping them make better-informed decisions when open enrollment next rolls around.
Here are three reasons to plan a year-round benefits-communication strategy:
1. Education Increases Benefits Utilization
Sometimes being a benefits manager can feel like being a parent who goes to great lengths to find the perfect Christmas present for their child, only to see the gift forgotten beneath a pile of others by Dec. 26.
Innovative benefits such as wellness programs (including financial wellness), employee assistance programs (EAPs), and childcare have been shown to improve employee well-being, reduce burnout and absenteeism, and raise productivity. But, in many organizations, these benefits go severely underutilized.
It’s not that your employees don’t want or appreciate these benefits. Often they simply forget they exist or are unclear on how to take advantage of them. You might, too, if you only heard about these programs once a year.
Clear, timely, and consistent benefits communication throughout the year can help your employees remember that your company has invested in programs to support them through their challenges.
For example, you could:
- Educate employees about fitness perks and exercise options in March, just as they’re thinking about getting in shape for the warmer weather.
- Remind your employees about mental health benefits during Mental Health Awareness Month in May.
- Review childcare programs in June when school lets out.
- Introduce health plan changes in September, well in advance of open enrollment.
And, when your employees utilize their benefits, they’re far more likely to be happier, healthier, present, and productive.
2. Year-Round Communication Empowers Employees to Make Smarter Benefit Choices
In our recent playbook exploring and solving the Six Most Common Challenges With Open Enrollment, we reported that 67% of employees said reading about their benefits is complicated, intimidating, or stressful.
From an employee perspective, open enrollment is a season of anxiety and confusion. Meanwhile, HR professionals become frustrated by missed deadlines, repeatedly answering the same questions, and employees failing to understand key concepts.
When employees make uninformed decisions, they’re not the only ones who pay the price.
For example, for many employees, high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) are the best option for their needs. HDHPs keep costs low for employers, as well.
But the technicalities of how HDHPs work — especially when combined with health savings accounts (HSAs) — can be difficult for employees to grasp. (Not to mention, the term “high deductible” sounds scary.) So, many employees opt for more familiar plans instead.
Now, imagine if your employees had more than a couple of weeks to learn everything there is to know about HDHPs. What if, after they enrolled, they received further information throughout the year on getting the most out of their plans? More employees may choose this affordable and flexible option.
(Early in April, as the tax deadline approaches, is a great time to remind employees about their tax-free HSA benefits.)
3. Year-Round Communication Makes Your Job Less Stressful
If you’re reading this in January, you’re probably just beginning to recover from the open enrollment crunch that caps every year. Why put yourself through that again?
Yes, open enrollment season will always be the most intense work period of the year for benefits managers. But it doesn’t have to be quite so intense — not if you lay the groundwork for open enrollment throughout the year.
Year-round communication is a critical strategy for nurturing a body of employees that understands and values their benefits. For you and your fellow HR team members, that means:
- Less having to repeat yourself during open enrollment.
- Fewer missed enrollment deadlines.
- Greater appreciation for the job you do.
Your 2022 New Year’s Resolution: Formulate Your Year-Round Benefits Communication Game Plan
The biggest mistake benefits managers make is to reserve all their employee communication for open enrollment season. The result is a frustrating, confusing, and stressful few weeks for employees and benefits managers that encourages hasty, uninformed decisions.
Don’t make the same mistake this year. Resolve to communicate often with your employees and start planning your communications strategy now.
Get a head start with your free 2022 Benefits Communications Calendar for HR Teams. This valuable resource offers a communications theme for each month along with two or three topic ideas to share with your employees. Download your free calendar, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop as we develop easy email templates for each topic area.
2022 Benefits Comms Calendar: Get a headstart on your year-round communications
Improve your year-round benefits communication and education with this easy-to-use calendar of topics. Each month you’ll get a communications theme, along with three specific topic ideas. Plus, a reminder of the notable holidays throughout the year.