Market and Communicate Employee Benefits
As in life, business, and more so still with employee or people matters: communications are key. In the world of employee benefits and healthcare there are many issues to be considered; perhaps one of the most significant considerations is how to make sure that employees know, value and understand how to properly enroll and leverage the employee benefit plans offered. According to a Harvard Study, only 14% of respondents understand important health insurance terms: deductible, copayment, coinsurance and maximum out-of-pocket. Communicating basic terms and other important benefits knowledge is vital during the various enrollment periods, whether new employee eligibility or the annual employee benefits open enrollment season. The most effective strategy for overcoming these challenges is organizing the related employee benefit resources and over communicating your key initiatives for employees and the company.
It is a simple concept after all, employees will not appreciate the employee health benefits if they don’t know your plan options exist and this inevitably leads to employers missing out on value they have invested in time, money and other resources. In order for employees to enroll in a particular benefit plan, that employee benefit must be well communicated so that the employee is properly educated and empowered with the knowledge to make an educated decision whether or not to enroll or participate in the benefit. When covered employees and dependents use the health and retirement benefits for which they have enrolled, they must properly use those benefits to enjoy all the provisions and levels of coverage available. Employees and dependents are healthcare consumers; unfortunately, many employees and employers can have adverse claims situations where they are paying costs far more expensive than necessary based on provider choice or network limitations. Clearly, the need exists to communicate employee benefits and rewards in an effective way to ensure proper enrollment and utilization of plans.
Benefit Plan and Insurance Carrier Selection
The obvious place to start is with employee benefit selection, what products, services, insurance carriers and vendors best serve your employees and satisfy company objectives. Below is a summary of the most popular employee benefits offered to employees:
- Health Benefits (medical, dental, vision, telemedicine)
- Supplemental Health Insurance (accident, critical illness, specified health, hospital indemnity, gap)
- Income Protection (short-term disability, long-term disability, workers compensation)
- Life Insurance (term life, permanent life, whole life, universal life)
- Other Benefits (HRA, HSA, FSA, discounts, wellness, disease management, care coordination, advocacy, EAP, legal, identity theft, pet, home, auto)
- Retirement Plans (401k, 403b, 457, ESOP, pensions)
Of course there are voluntary benefits available to employees that can be offered to your company at no cost, but employers should carefully consider which plans are made available to avoid confusion or conflicts with your core benefit plan design. Employee benefit communications,technology, enrollment and other valuable services can be funded by insurance carriers; which should be taken into consideration when reviewing plan designs and carriers for your benefits package.
Identification of Key Benefit Initiatives
Once you have decided on the perfect combination of health and financial benefits to make available to employees, the next step is to decide which benefit plans most require increased communications. This may be determined by which products have been underutilized by employees, which products are new, which products or services have the most value to the employee and which products are costing the employer the most due to high claims costs. In any case, there are products and services typically offered which require more care, attention and promotion for an employer to get the most value out of the benefits that are included in the offering to employees. Below are some popular examples of key initiatives or strategies for employers to adopt:
- Wellness engagement
- Decision support tools
- CDHP, HDHP enrollment
- Weight-loss incentives
- Prescription drug cost comparison tools
- Care coordination
- Direct primary care
- Transparency applications
- Telemedicine engagement
Promotion of these programs can positively impact employees morale, productivity, health and the organization’s bottom-line, if they are communicated properly. There are many mandated benefit communications that must be distributed as well. Below are some examples of the mandated communications:
- Summary Plan Document
- Summary of Benefits and Coverage
- Summary of Material Modifications
- Summary of Material Reductions
- Health Care Reform Notices
- Special Healthcare Notices
- HIPAA Notices
- COBRA Notices
- FMLA Notices and more!
Marketing Your Employee Benefits
Once you choose the employee benefits and related initiatives that you find the most necessary to offer your employees, the next step is to decide how to educate and inform your employees. Choosing the methodology for educating your employees can be very complicated, as there are many ways to make this happen. Insurance carriers, service providers, technology companies and other vendors all have various flyers, posters, brochures, videos and other forms of collateral for employers to share with employees. You chose every product, service and vendor to be included in your benefits package for a reason; but their theme or branding can be very confusing and sometimes conflicting with your main objectives to impact your people and the organization. Building one well thought out direction, marketing theme and message for your employee benefits open enrollment is vital, if you want to see change in the next plan year.
The important thing to keep in mind, is that there are specific methods that will work for any company to ensure that employees or benefit consumers understand the value of what is being offered to them. According to a Prudential Study, 79% of employees spend less than two hours making employee benefits decisions. Again in every case there is a custom benefits communication option that is right, whether the company be national and needs to reach thousands of employees or the company be a small business, where a few hours on a friday afternoon will increase employee engagement and understanding of benefit plans.
Communication Methods Explained
The goal of employee benefit communication, is to increase understanding, engagement and appreciation for the employer sponsored employee benefits. Increased communication of a less rich plan, is proven to be more favorable to employees vs. a more rich plan that is poorly communicated. Below is a sample list of methods used and an explanation of each:
- Benefit Flyers- A small client specific handbill advertising features, key client objectives, benefit type and enrollment instructions. Flyers are delivered to client for distribution in various forms; they can be printed, posted, emailed, faxed or delivered in person. Examples of a flyer can be Illustrated as a benefit highlight sheet, where the employee is shown a summary of all health, financial and retirement benefits offered with a sample of rates. Many traditional benefit flyers are carrier, vendor, product or service focused to ensure a focus on that specific topic.
- Announcement Posters- A larger version of a flyer designed to be mounted to a wall for common viewing in the workplace. Posters are already used for things like workers compensation notices, and are often placed in break rooms or meeting spaces for employees. Again, these posters are designed to focus one theme or key initiative to increase employee awareness, engagement and workforce health.
- Plan Brochures- A small booklet or folder containing pictures and information about benefit plans being offered to employees. Many insurance carriers and wellness providers utilize brochures to help explain the benefit that they are offering as the amount of detail can be significant. Many employers consider a wrap SPD (or summary plan description) a brochure. The SPD is one of most important documents participants are entitled to receive automatically when becoming a participant of an ERISA-covered retirement or health benefit plan or a beneficiary receiving benefits under such a plan (for additional information visit: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/health-plans/planinformation).
- Broadcast Messages- Outbound phone calls and SMS texts to individual employees with the intent of informing employees of their available benefits, support, need or purpose, and instructions for enrolling employees in benefits. Many organizations use outbound calling to further engage employees that agreed to participate in specific programs, as a means to impact the employee’s health or wellbeing. Outbound texts can also be used in an automated fashion to notify employees of upcoming events like health fairs, wellness outings or important actions that must be completed by a specific date.
- Web Portals- A custom website or benefit portal allows the employer to consolidate all employee benefits, systems and resources within one beautiful, branded and customized tool for employees to access everything online. Building an employer specific web portal for employees, allows for the deployment of strategies that will engage employees, drive your key initiatives and have the optimal impact on your organization. Consolidated or wrapping all technologies to include payroll, HRIS (human resource information system), benefits enrollment, decision support tools, tracking, surveys, events and more; allows employers to communicate messages throughout the year.
- Executive Memos- An employee benefits memo sent to employees from C-Level executives alerts everyone to the importance of the message being delivered. Executive memos go far beyond benefit plan options and enrollment instructions; they are a powerful tool to engage employees in your key benefit or wellbeing initiatives. Thus, all top executives or stakeholders must be engaged in the plan design and implementation process to ensure support throughout the benefits open enrollment and behind the long-term strategy.
- Employee Benefit Video- Most insurance carriers and benefit service providers and vendors offer company and product specific videos. Videos can be used to effectively educate employees on benefits that are being offered, changed or require additional attention. Benefit videos can also be used as a tutorial to show how an employee is to enroll in their coverage or a participate in a specific program.
- Email Campaigns- Carefully crafted messages and emails to employees telling them that they are eligible for benefits and informing them of their options for ways to enroll whether it be during open enrollment or during a new hire enrollment period. Emails works well for employers that have a large percentage of employees using computers, whether desktop, laptop, tablet or other mobile devices.
- Enrollment kits- Even in this day and age of technology and advanced communication methods, many employees still appreciate receiving a hard copy or printed kit of employee benefit materials.
- Onsite Employee Education- Group meetings for employee benefit learning sessions is probably the most popular way to improve employee engagement and understanding of employee benefits. People are a company’s most valuable asset and getting in front of those employees on a regular basis can have significant impact on the relationship between workforce and executive leadership. Individual or one-on-one meetings with employees is expensive, but the most impactful approach by far to getting employee support, engagement or accomplishing behavior modification.
- Employee Surveys- Employee benefit surveys are utilized to obtain valuable employee feedback and actionable insights. Gain business intelligence by going to the heart of issues that you already know exist or understanding employee needs can help you direct resources and strategies in the next plan year.
The Closing Statement
There are countless solutions to elevate your employee benefit communications; whether you are taking action in response to survey data, cost containment efforts, compliance concerns or just impacting your workforce in a positive manner or combination of all the above. Your investment in the organization can impact people and their families, but increased communications can significantly improve credibility, brand image, and total compensation value in a competitive recruiting environment. Employee benefits are only as valuable to the employer as they are to the employee, which makes it imperative that each employee is well informed of the options available, thus making communications a vital part of any employee benefits plan.