Be heard: 6 effective communication tips for open enrollment

Got your megaphone? Open enrollment season is here.

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It’s not enough for HR to be loud and clear with open enrollment communications; equally important is bolstering your multi-channel delivery methods for the information, especially given 58% of U.S. employers still operate under a fully flexible or hybrid work environment post-pandemic—where posted flyers and in-office benefits fairs may not be as effective, HR leaders say.

Effective communication around open enrollment is critical for a number of reasons, ranging from helping employees understand the available services and solutions to achieve good health to using it as a recruiting and retention tool, says Angel Suri, a principal consultant at HR consulting giant Mercer.

It also turns out that employees want choice in how they learn about open enrollment information, according to a Willis Towers Watson report, which found 84% of employers surveyed plan to expand the tools they offer this year to help employees navigate their enrollment decisions, up from 70% last year.

6 effective ways to communicate open enrollment benefits

HR consulting experts from Willis Towers Watson, Mercer and Buck and also the director of Amazon’s global benefits recently shared insights with HRE on delivering open enrollment information so that it’s truly heard.

Put open enrollment information where employees are

Last year, Amazon embedded open enrollment information in its A to Z app. Employees use the app for everything from managing their work schedules to updating their personal profiles at the online retailing giant, Lian Neeman, director of global benefits at Amazon, told HRE.

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The A to Z app, along with direct email and information posted to Amazon’s internal site, are the three top-performing channels for distributing open enrollment benefits information, according to the company.

QR codes pack a punch

When sending out open enrollment mailers to employees’ homes, Amazon includes a QR code packed with benefits information. 

“We have multiple channels for collecting data and assessing what’s working and what’s not,” Neeman says. “With the mailer and QR codes, we can see if people are engaging with them—and they are.”

Although QR codes have been used for open enrollment for years, especially at benefits fairs, their use skyrocketed since the pandemic and still continues to be strong, Casey Hauch, a managing director at people, risk and capital firm Willis Towers Watson, tells HRE

“I think many organizations that offered these during the pandemic realized they’re quite effective,” Hauch says. “It’s on-demand 24/7 so we don’t necessarily need to pull people away from their desk or off their shift to attend a benefits meeting. Employees can also sit down with their spouses at home and access this information in real time.”

Peer-to-peer employee networking

Amazon is finding a lot of value in employee peer-to-peer networking to generate conversation around open enrollment benefits and have employees ensure their co-workers hear the latest benefits news, says Neeman, who notes this is a growing opportunity.

Face-to-face, 1-on-1 interaction with a benefits expert

Direct, in-person, individual interaction with a benefits expert or adviser is a preferred method of receiving open enrollment benefits information, especially with younger employees, says Leah Reynolds, a principal and growth leader at HR consulting firm Buck. Employees prefer this personalized advice from an adviser or expert, she notes; without it, they may turn to friends and relatives for guidance. 

Pull from the past, while touting the future

When discussing the benefits being offered for the 2024 plan year, it’s also important to note previous benefits offered, Hauch says. 

“People care about what you offer today and where you are going with benefits, but also remind people of the journey you’ve been on to help them connect the dots of why you’re doing what you’re doing now,” she says. 

Roll out the rationale for benefit changes

If deferred care or high claim costs mean there must be a benefit cut or cost shifting, HR leaders need to explain the rationale behind the decision. They should also offer advice on how employees can save money and make the most of their benefits to meet their unique needs, says Ruth Hunt, a principal in engagement at Buck.

Year-round approach to communicating benefits

Effective benefits communication shouldn’t just be a priority during open enrollment; it needs to happen throughout the year, Neeman says. 

Last month, for example, Amazon unveiled 14 new benefits as part of its expanded FamilyFlex voluntary benefits program rather than wait for the open enrollment period to make the announcement.

“It’s not like there is one time during the year in which we make changes to our benefits and you better pay attention. We do it throughout the year, like our FamilyFlex 2.0, which continues to build on our offerings,” Neeman says.

And stay consistent. Although some employees may not care about voluntary benefits such as caregiving resources, family building programs or long-term care, it’s important to continue to deliver effective messaging that breaks through the noise, says Martin Hoffmann, a principal in engagement at Buck.

“Communication must be sustained—not just annual enrollment bursts—to meet evolving needs and capture attention and action at times of readiness,” he says.

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.