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Optimizing Your Open Enrollment Communication Process (Part 1)

By Michael DesRochers, Last Modified
Nov 05, 2018
> Business Basics

Helping employees select and activate the benefits that fit into their work-life balance is a critical, annual responsibility for internal communications teams. Getting employees' attention, providing appropriate education, and inspiring action – before open enrollment deadlines – can be a heavy task for internal communicators and HR professionals.

The subject matter and process for open enrollment are often complicated and difficult to understand, especially when teams rely on dense, jargon-filled collateral produced by insurance and benefits providers. To help you and your employees get the most from your open enrollment campaign, this two-part series focuses on two key aspects: preplanning and then execution of your campaign.

How can your program break through overloaded inboxes, improve employee understanding and participation? When should you start your campaign and what should your messages say? As an organization that provides communications analytics, at PoliteMail, we wanted to do a better job ourselves. Before you send any open enrollment messages, take time to do these five helpful things.

1. Select your audience segments. A one-size-fits-all open enrollment campaign is easier to create and run but not the most effective. Different employee groups have different needs and educational requirements. Common segments include age, tenure, location, engagement and participants versus nonparticipants. Before open enrollment begins, your communications and HR teams can collaborate to create segmented distribution lists.

My company looked at a breakdown of participants by age group and benefit participation. We noticed the majority of young, single employees opted for the cheapest available healthcare plan, even if it wasn't the most appropriate option for them. Without fully understanding total cost, they simply opted into the lowest premium. Based on this data, we decided it was important to provide more educational materials to clarify total out-of-pocket (OOP) cost versus monthly premium. 

2. Identify your key touch points. Early in the open enrollment process, most employees need minimal information. If an introductory email contains too much information, employees may feel overwhelmed and tune out. Start with basic must-knows (e.g., an infographic with key steps, deadlines and links to helpful resources). It is important to segment by new participants, experienced participants and nonparticipants. Each group should receive different information at different cadences. By making an outline of touch points for each segment, you will know exactly how many communications you need to create and what information you want to cover during each phase.

In our case, based on employee feedback from the prior year's campaign, we knew employees were confused by the dense PDFs provided by our insurance company. Our employees wanted information that was easier to digest and summarized. In response, we made a color-coded, bulleted list of the highlights for each plan. Then we went one step further.

We found that certain cohorts of employees – young singles, people starting a family, people whose dependents had chronic conditions – chose a specific plan for a distinct reason. We found employees in each category who were willing to create a short video explaining why they selected their plan and why it worked for them. These communications garnered the highest levels of engagement. 

3. Engage family decision-makers. Frequently, benefits elections are not just employee decisions but family decisions. To expedite the process, we make benefits information directly available to spouses (if elected). Early in the program, we offered employees the ability to ask their spouse to opt into the open enrollment email campaign. Rather than bundle this question in with the initial open enrollment announcement, this was most effective as a separate message.

4. Consider your communication channels. While email is the go-to channel for most open enrollment campaigns, it pays to deploy a multi-channel approach. To account for generational differences, learning styles and accessibility, deploy a multi-channel approach. Individuals want and need to receive information in different ways.

Beyond email and provider documents available on your intranet, consider live webinars or open discussion groups with Q&A. In addition, use digital signage, bathroom posters and table-top stands to remind people of decision points and campaign deadlines. Since many employees learn best from in-person orientations and face-to-face meetings, arm your direct managers and employee ambassadors with well-organized talking points and access to reference materials.

5. Plan your measurements. What are your program goals? Do you want to increase participation in certain benefits, have more satisfied employees or have people feel more informed? By establishing goals upfront, you can collect the appropriate data at the best time, whether it's coming from the HR system, your email system or from surveys and polls. You may also find this data useful mid-campaign. If you notice a high click-through to your open enrollment form, but a low completion percentage, you may be able to take corrective action before it's too late.

Keep in mind that new participants in your company's benefits plan will need more communication touch points, clearly explaining what is expected of them (and when), as well as additional reminders. Meanwhile, more experienced participants need to know what is new or different this year and the deadlines. And nonparticipants will need different messaging based on age and tenure. They also may need the ability to opt out of the campaign.

Up next: Part 2: The Open Enrollment Campaign


Michael DesRochers
Michael DesRochers
See Michael DesRochers's Profile
I'm the founder and managing partner of PoliteMail, a provider of email measurement and analytics software for Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. We help internal communications teams measure the effectiveness of their emails to employees. Before founding PoliteMail, I was the founder and CEO of MicroArts, which was acquired in 2001 by Cordiant Communications Group of London for $85 million.
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