Don’t Go Into a Communications Hibernation When Open Enrollment Ends

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Oct 16, 2012

Right now many companies are deep in the throes of annual enrollment. They’ve spent countless hours with benefits consultants determining the changes to their benefits plans, followed by countless additional hours figuring out how to communicate these changes to employees and their families.

Most companies have tough messages to share. Big premium increases. The introduction of a high-deductible health plan, or the offering of only high-deductible plans. A switch to incentives tied to changes in blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And more.

Once the dust settles and the confirmations are sent, these same employers — who have spent their financial and energy wad during annual enrollment — go into hibernation until next year’s process kicks in.

Helping employees live with their choices

That choice is understandable. Annual enrollment is a regular, required event in employees’ and employers’ health cycles. It provides an organic opportunity to communicate about a company’s health and wellness strategy and bring attention back to choices that improve or derail health.

But because today’s health care environment requires communicating tough messages, some employers walk away from annual enrollment with scratches and bruises from business heads, local HR, and employees frustrated and frightened by the changes. Corporate benefits wants to crawl into a cave, lick their wounds and talk about how employees don’t get the realities driving these increases.

Who can blame them?

But tucking away until next year’s annual enrollment means employers are turning away from the prize: building employees’ capability to make smart, healthy choices about their health and health care. That can only be accomplished by committing to ongoing health communications.

Mapping a year-round communications strategy

We all know that employees spend a scant 20 minutes choosing their benefits. The rest of the year they need to live with those choices.

It’s when a health care crisis or need comes banging at their door that employees realize they may not fully understand how their benefits work or what benefits they actually have. Communicating throughout the year means countless opportunities to spotlight specific misunderstood or undervalued benefits, incentive plan deadlines, and key events.

Capitalizing on those opportunities can be the difference between employees putting off preventive screenings because they don’t understand the company covers those costs fully, and employees getting them. Or, between employees suffering from emotional stress because they’re unaware the company offers a professional and confidential counseling service, and feeling confident about getting help. these small day-to-day decisions, versus the once-per-year enrollment decision, are the ones that snowball from uninformed choice or unhealthy habit to preventable disease.

Fight the seasonal urge to hole up until spring when next year’s annual enrollment planning process returns. Start mapping your way to year-round communications once you’ve launched your annual enrollment communications.

OK, you can take a brief nap first.

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s free-range communication blog.