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How To: Build a Year-Round Benefits Comms Strategy

June 23, 2024

Your company’s best-in-class benefits package, launched and promoted with such fanfare during open enrollment and received enthusiastically by employees, languishes with low engagement throughout the year.

The perks you and your HR team fought so hard for — a wellness program, childcare, financial counseling — see little usage.

Employees come to you time and time again with the same questions: “How does my HDHP work?” “Do I have a PPO or an HMO?” Didn’t you explain all of this in great detail during open enrollment?

If it seems as if your company’s employees suffer from short-term memory loss, at least when it comes to their benefits, you may not be too far off the mark. The human brain is a marvel, able to retain minute details from decades-old experiences. But it’s not so adept at dredging up that information when inundated with distractions — and a year in the life of a typical employee is nothing if not constant distractions.

When open enrollment is the only time employees hear about benefits, all the information they acquire can quickly get buried by the non-stop crush of work duties and personal obligations. The excitement over a mindfulness program or the motivation to use mental health benefits can fade quickly.

The remedy to this post-OE memory lapse is to keep benefits top of mind for employees with a year-round benefits communication strategy.

Year-round benefits communication boosts engagement with and appreciation for your benefits package. It also ensures employees are prepared to make well-informed decisions the next time open enrollment rolls around, sparing them countless hours of benefits research (which they hate) and relieving your HR team from repetitive questions.

4 Principles for Year-Round Benefits Communication

So, that’s the why of building a year-round benefits communications strategy. Now, how do you actually go about doing it?

Here are some basic guidelines to follow:

  • Set goals. Determine what you need to achieve from your year-round comms strategy. This will inform the content and methods of your campaign.
  • Plan ahead. Create a 12-month benefits-messaging calendar so you’re never at a loss about what to say or when to say it.
  • Use multiple channels. Cast a wide net to reach as many employees as possible. Don’t rely entirely on email or newsletters, which are easily tuned out.
  • Monitor, measure, and adjust. As you go along, observe what messaging and methods resonate — and what falls flat — and optimize accordingly.

Let’s dive deeper into each step.

1. Set Goals for Your Year-Round Benefits Comms Strategy

To design an effective year-round benefits communication strategy, you must first define what effective means to you. The purpose of any communications campaign isn’t the messaging itself but how it impacts the behavior of those who receive it and, consequently, how that behavioral change helps your organization achieve its goals.

When it comes to benefits, an effective communications strategy will help achieve objectives related to benefits or open enrollment, such as:

Once you’ve set your goals, you can tailor your communications strategy to achieve them. These goals can also act as benchmarks against which to measure the success of your benefits communication campaign (see step five below).

2. Outline a Year-Round Benefits Communication Calendar

With your goals in mind, the next step is to create a 12-month communications calendar. The purpose of creating a year-round communications calendar is twofold:

  1. A lack of ideas can grind any communications effort to a halt. By outlining your entire year-round campaign ahead of time, you’ll ensure that you’ll never run into a wall. You’ll always know what topics to address and when to address them.
  2. Many benefits-related concerns are cyclical. Your calendar will help you maximize your messaging’s impact by surfacing relevant topics when they matter most to employees.

Your calendar should identify a communications theme for each month or quarter. Think about which benefits topics align naturally with different periods of the year. For example:

  • In January, people are making New Year’s resolutions and looking to get fit or quit an unhealthy habit. This would be an excellent time to promote your employee-wellness program.
  • In April, people are filing taxes and thinking about savings or paying off debt. This is a good time to remind employees of their financial wellness or tax-free HSA benefits.
  • May is Mental Health Awareness Month, making it the perfect month to review your company’s mental health benefits and provide resources such as mindfulness videos and apps.
  • The windup toward open enrollment generally begins in the fall. You can start laying the groundwork with messaging designed to demystify confusing terminology (HDHP, HSA, HMO, PPO, and OOP costs, to name a few) and encourage employees to take stock of their current plans.

(No need to start from scratch. Base your year-round communications plan on our free 2023 Benefits Communications Calendar, which includes a monthly communications theme and two or three topics around that theme every month.)

3. Plan a Multichannel Benefits Comms Strategy

Digital, print, audio, video, mobile — never before have there been so many different ways to communicate with your employees. While choosing the right channel for the right message and audience can get a bit tricky, the effort is well worth it.

The reality of communications in the 2020s is that no single channel will resonate with all your employees. We all have our preferences.

For example, some people are visual learners and respond best to video content. Other people prefer to skim text at their own pace, picking out key points. Younger employees may be hooked on SMS, while older generations may prefer the physicality of an old-fashioned brochure.

Effective communications campaigns use as many channels as possible to connect with as many audience members as possible. You’ve probably already experimented with email and printed guidebooks. Here are a few additional possibilities for integrating into your benefits communication strategy:

  • Microsites and portals act as one-stop benefits resource centers, helping employees stay organized and giving them a destination to find answers to their questions throughout the year.
  • Mass text messaging provides an immediate line to your employees wherever they may be. (Over 90% of people read their text messages within minutes of receiving them, and mass texting open rates are nearly 100%.) Texting works well for short, timely reminders.

Read more about these four outreach tools — and seven more equally effective methods — in our rundown of 11 communications channels for educating employees about their benefits.

4. Optimize Your Benefits Communications Strategy Based on Feedback and Results

Finally, your benefits communications strategy shouldn’t be a set-it-and-forget-it type of thing. Your employee population is unique, their habits evolve, their priorities shift, and technology advances. The outreach methods and messaging that spur engagement today may be met with crickets tomorrow.

To monitor the success of your benefits comms strategy, go back to the goals you set in step one. Have you observed any improvement in the metrics that matter? If not, it could be that either employees are not receptive to what you have to say or aren’t responding to how you say it.

Why not ask employees how they would prefer to be communicated with? Employee surveys can be valuable tools for measuring any communications campaign’s impact and identifying improvement areas.

Just keep in mind: Getting employees to answer surveys can be almost as difficult as getting them to complete open enrollment before the deadline. Here are a few tips for generating quality survey results:

  • Don’t ask open-ended questions. Provide multiple options employees can choose quickly. (Although you may also include an “additional comments” section for the few employees who want to offer more detailed feedback.)
  • Don’t use complicated benefits jargon — when in doubt, define your terms (even things you think are obvious, like “premium” or “deductible”).
  • Distribute your surveys via multiple channels and ensure mobile readability. Text messaging works great for one-minute surveys.
  • Target as wide a range of backgrounds, experience levels, and ages as possible. Make sure your survey results represent your entire employee population.

Unlocking the Power of Year-Round Benefits Communication

You and your team carefully designed your organization’s benefits package to achieve crucial business objectives — objectives that matter even more in today’s employment landscape, including better recruitment and retention, increased employee satisfaction, and reduced healthcare costs. Your benefits communication strategy, then, isn’t merely advertising. It’s a key to unleashing the full potential of your company’s benefits package.

By following the four principles of year-round benefits communication outlined in this article — setting goals, planning ahead, using multiple channels, and optimizing based on feedback — your organization can ensure that employees are well informed and, perhaps, even excited, about their benefits from January through December.

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