With the start of the current week and for the next two months or so, millions of employees nationwide will once again face the often routine, but always complex process of picking a health benefit plan during open enrollment.
Amanda Lannert is CEO at Jellyvision, a firm that offers ALEX, an animated tool used by 10% of the Fortune 500 to help make the benefit selection process more fun. Lannert explains that the open enrollment experience is among the most irritating benefits-related process employees face because it's often way too confusing.
Lannert offers three key communications tips to help make it much more effective:
Tip #1: Write the way you talk
Employers may think they are speaking English, but the way many employers write their benefits and open enrollment material, they sound like they are speaking in "Compliance" or "Legal" or "Technical" — they may even be speaking in "Large Comparison Charts" — and have no idea they are doing it, Lannert explained.
"Believe it or not, employers and benefits professionals are already expert communicators," Lannert says. "The way you talk to people face-to-face is naturally uncomplicated and understandable. To get the most out of writing, make sure it sounds like the way you talk." In fact, read it out loud to check, she adds.
Also, Lannert says to remember that there's just one person at the end of every communication (yes, even on email blasts), and that individual is far more likely to engage with what HR has to say when being spoken to directly.
Tip #2: Just ask
Asking always gets better results than assuming, Lannert explains, adding that that by simply asking, you'll find out what actually matters to the person you're talking to. That, in turn, allows you to share the kind of information and advice that will keep them engaged.
For open enrollment season — particularly if planning a live group meeting — ask employees to submit their benefits questions via email to get an idea of what's on their minds. Make sure the request taps into what they believe they need. Start with their goals.
"Once the responses roll in, keep an eye out for any patterns," she says. "If lots of people are asking about the difference between the health savings account and flexible spending account, for instance, you know that's something you should spend some time explaining."
Also, she adds, don't discount very specific questions such as "Is colonoscopy considered out-patient surgery?" or "Is there coverage for intravenous antibiotics at home if needed?"
Later, when preparing content for open enrollment — group presentations, webinars, email blasts, whatever — HR and benefits pros will be able to talk about the most pressing concerns.
Tip #3: Boring is a bummer
"People like interesting things," Lannert says. "If you want to get and keep a person's attention, and get them to remember what you're saying so they can take an action later, then you can't go doing anything that will put them to sleep."
If giving a presentation or webinar during open enrollment, Lannert says, you owe it to your audience to be as dynamic and engaging of a speaker as possible. Whatever it takes, even it means finding someone who has stage presence to do the talking. The person doesn't have to work in benefits (as the subject matter expert, though, you'll need to be present and available to answer questions), but he or she does need the gift of gab in front of a group.
And regardless of the material, it's critical to make time to write an air-tight deck. "Using more than 25 words per slide will cause the gods of communication to rain hellfire down upon you," Lannert says. Rehearse in front of a sample audience — not benefits experts.
"Don't go into open enrollment believing that employees want insurance education. They don't," Lannert says. "They may need to learn about insurance, but what they want is something different. The distinction is important."
Finally, to be as helpful as possible, it is vital to understand that employees want to make good decisions with as little effort and time spent as possible, she says. That means every minor detail of this year's changes are not necessary.
"For example, it means avoiding comparison charts whenever possible," she says. "It means making your communications short and helpful."