6 Ways to Effectively Communicate Wellness Programs During Open Enrollment

Nov 8, 2011

You can’t just casually slip in a mention about biometric screenings during open enrollment. Those are sensitive topics. Oh, and they also just might change your entire approach to benefits.

More and more companies are aggressively pushing wellness programs and many link the results of biometric screenings — and not just participation — to big-dollar incentives, making the stakes even higher for everyone, especially employees and families.

Such an important piece of your benefits strategy deserves a prominent place during open enrollment. Communication is always key to driving employee engagement. This is even more important with wellness programs, because they are so personal.

Whether the company goal is to have employees get a biometric screening, complete a health risk assessment, or engage in healthy behaviors throughout the year, effective communication is essential. Here are six tips to help you get the most from your wellness programs during open enrollment:

1. Connect the dots

Clearly explain how the wellness program is connected to the company’s overall benefits strategy. Help employees understand that their participation in the company’s wellness program offerings can help keep them healthy, contribute to reducing their need for medical care, and lower the cost of their health care benefits now (when incentives are linked to employee health care premium reductions) and in the future.

2. Make it clear, keep it simple

The names alone of some of the elements of wellness programs – biometric screenings, health risk assessments — can seem daunting. Most of us don’t understand medical jargon, and when we see or hear it, it’s overwhelming and often scary.

Wellness programs need to be communicated in a way that makes sense to employees. That’s why you need to define terms and repeat concepts. Try different formats to say the same things. Don’t overwhelm with too much information.

Use visuals and bullet points, graphics, charts, and FAQs to ease understanding. This is especially important as benefit plans become more complex. Understanding dispels fear and any resulting resistance.

3. Focus on confidentiality and privacy

Health information is very personal and elicits strong emotional responses. Take care to continually reassure employees that their privacy will be protected and the results of any wellness program medical tests will be kept absolutely confidential. Clearly communicating the company’s commitment to maintain employee privacy and confidentiality will inspire confidence, earn respect, and win engagement.

4. Plan for questions and concerns

Remember that change — even change for the better — is unsettling. Change involving personal health, combined with all the associated privacy and confidentiality issues, can be that much more unsettling.

Employee reactions will vary. Some employees may be resentful of what they perceive to be a “Big Brother” intrusion into their lifestyle choices. Others may be afraid of knowing their own results.

Your communication should anticipate and address these reactions. Include user guides and tip sheets that explain how the wellness program works. Anticipate lots of questions. Be sure to respond.

5. Communicate, and make it a two-way conversation

We can’t say it enough: You must think beyond annual enrollment and talk to your employees and their families all year long.

A benefits website on the Internet is the single most important investment you can make that provides easy access to benefits information for employees and family members. Once your site is built, you can add social media tools, like Twitter and/or a blog; these are the easiest and most cost-effective ways to publish a fresh stream of news and relevant updates.

These channels also enable two-way dialog with employees and family members. Use the feedback or questions you receive to create new content and evaluate how your programs are working.

6. Keep it engaging

Results depend on employee engagement. According to Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht, the Five Rules of Engagement for wellness programs (and wellness program communications) are:

  • Be relevant. Successful programs speak to employees’ interests and concerns.
  • Be social. Successful programs take a we’re-all-in-this-together approach with relevant health-enhancing activities (challenges) within a social network.
  • Be positive. Positive approaches oriented around well-being improvement encourage rather than threaten — reward rather than punish. They help people feel good and give them the fortitude to tackle what isn’t working.
  • Be integrated. Wellness offerings from multiple vendors must be integrated to provide employees with a simple, easy-to-navigate user experience.
  • Be safe. Make sure you’ve covered all your bases regarding data integrity, safety, security, and regulatory compliance.

Come see Jennifer Benz speak on 3 Steps to Success: How Benefits Can Help Drive Your Strategic HR Transformation at the TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on attending this event.