HR.com: Tackling Open Enrollment Across a Remote Workforce
While it’s important to communicate year-round about employee benefits, it’s especially critical in the weeks before, during and after open enrollment season. For most employees, this is the one time per year that they pay attention – at least in theory – to their total benefits package, and the one time they can make changes to that package (unless they’ve had a change in status).
Getting employees to focus on their benefits options can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but it’s particularly difficult when dealing with employees who work remotely. These employees – who are constantly on the road (drivers, salespeople), at worksites (construction crews, pipeline workers), working from home or scattered across multiple locations – can be really hard to reach.
With all signs pointing to “non-office-based” employees becoming the norm rather than the exception – a 2017 Gallup study notes the percentage of employees who work remotely 100 percent of the time has risen from 15 percent to 20 percent since 2012 – it’s crucial that HR pros revamp their engagement strategies to accommodate remote staffers and ensure they have the information they need to make benefits choices that will give them and their families the care and coverage they need, while controlling costs.
So what can HR do to best engage employees outside the office on their benefits options?
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Today’s workforce is tremendously diverse and employees in each demographic have different priorities and communication preferences. Newer and younger employees will need more information about benefits and how to select a package than older, more seasoned workers who’ve been making these decisions for years. Millennials tend to prefer receiving information via text rather than email. Older employees may be more interested in protecting their financial security by adding voluntary benefits or health savings accounts, where younger employees might focus on maximizing their take home pay. Employers need to consider the most effective channels for engaging and targeting these different demographics of employees.
For employees with non-traditional hours or “offices,” employers should offer alternative ways to educate employees on their options. Paper enrollment guides aren’t as effective for employees who don’t have daily access to a mailbox, so it’s important to get creative. In addition to the tried and true methods (yes, some folks still like those paper enrollment guides) think about social media (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat), text message services, emails, webcasts and interactive online materials with links to videos, worksheets, modeling tools and other information. CDs and downloadable podcasts with segments on benefit options and how to choose them might work well for road warriors. Twitterchats are becoming increasingly popular as a forum for employees to ask questions, and for employers to share important information.
Offer One-on-One, Personalized Support
Keeping enrollment top of mind for an audience without access to the HR and benefits team and who aren’t faced with posters and tent cards and town hall meetings, can be a challenge. More and more employers are opting for an active approach to enrollment – where an employee MUST enroll or have no coverage for the coming year – and offering enrollment support with live educators. (While online decision tools are helpful, no pre-packaged solution can address every situation.) Employees (and their family members) can schedule one-on-one meetings – either in person or over the phone – to review benefit options and make elections. This approach can be particularly useful when employees are widely scattered geographically and/or work 24-hour or weekend shifts. The live support model enables delivery of consistent messaging while addressing each employee’s individual needs.
Communicate Strategically and Consistently
Strong communication is always critical, but it’s especially important for those not in the office. HR teams should communicate benefits information not just ahead of open enrollment, but throughout the entire year. HR pros should consider email blasts, text messages or even tweets to send small “chunks” of information to help employees stay informed and on track.
Of course, every employee – and employer – is different. HR teams should consider a post-enrollment employee survey to determine what communications methods were effective and which didn’t hit the mark. Tracking this will help employers analyze how to make the process even better for the years ahead.
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(Kim Buckey is vice president, client services at DirectPath.)