Change, my friends, is inevitable, and employee benefits are no exception. With the constant ebb and flow of regulations, carrier growth and consolidation, and price fluctuations, changes to employee benefits offerings every few years – or even every year – are common.
Figuring out how to effectively and tactfully convey benefits changes to employees can be a challenge, especially when big changes are necessary. Don’t simply accept the changes and then hide in a closet and cry until OE rolls around – we’re here to help.
In this article, we’ll cover seven quick and easy tips to help you painlessly and empathetically communicate big benefits changes within your organization.
- Why benefits change and why communication gaps exist
- How to bridge the gap between your company’s execs and the rest of your workforce
- 7 tips for communicating big benefits changes
Picture this: a glorious, carefree world in which your HR team has unlimited time and money, sufficient resources to give employees the most amazing benefits imaginable, and the ability to communicate and educate about benefits around the clock.
Now come back down to Earth… Unfortunately, this is simply not the reality.
HR teams are trying to do more with less and employees don’t necessarily appreciate this – or care.
Why does it have to be this way?
Well, benefits are expensive. Premiums rose 8%-9% in 2019, which is the highest increases since 2011. Prescriptions drug costs are also expected to rise 10+% in the coming years. Because of this, more companies are shifting towards offering a high-deductible plan option with a health savings account and are also embracing telehealth and other non-traditional options.
The problem? Employees don’t know about or fully understand their options!
Great communication is your best friend and secret weapon.
7 Benefits Communication Tips
1.) Know Your Company’s Goals – And Be Transparent
No, we don’t mean your goal of being the best in your industry and taking over the world. Rather, be open about communicating why you’ve made the changes that you’ve made. What are you trying to accomplish? Maintaining compliance? Saving money? Even if you think the reason will not resonate with employees, having a clear explanation is better than leaving your staff in the dark.
How to be transparent
State the change → Explain why you are making the change → Connect the change to an overall company goal or core value
2.) Avoid Surprises
This isn’t Christmas and work-related surprises are rarely fun. In fact, negative surprises can actually kill your company culture. No employee should make it to open enrollment without knowing about the changes to your health care plan. Over-communicate your changes well in advance and maintain an open-door policy for questions or concerns.
3.) Make A Communication Plan
It’s hard to communicate pretty much anything without a solid communication plan! And, a solid communication plan consists of much more than a few dinky posters in the break room and a single company-wide email (that doesn’t get opened).
To begin, identify your key employee segments. This will vary based on your unique structure, but ideas include segments based on tenure (new hires versus employees approaching retirement), location (geographic office locations, in-field workers, remote workers, etc.), roles (entry-level versus executive), etc.
From there, be sure that you are communicating with your key employee segments via the channels that resonate the best with them. Incorporate emails, print materials, social media, digital mediums (a benefits website), in-person presentations, carrier pigeons – whatever it takes! No single communication method will be relevant to your entire employee base, so combine multiple methods for the best results.
Finally, plan out your communications timeline. Here’s your script:
- 120 days before OE – share expected plan design changes and ask for employee input
- 90 days before OE – use more direct language to describe cost and plan changes, and provide direction to those who will be affected the most
- 60 days before OE – begin explaining why these changes need to happen
- 30 days before OE – adopt a more administrative tone and explain how employees can sign up and get the most out of their new benefits
- During OE – you’re prepared!
4.) Give It To Them Straight
We’ve all been a victim of it, and nobody likes it – the bad news sandwich. You know the drill…
Instead of cleverly (or not-so-cleverly) disguising bad news in a cloud of other, probably irrelevant announcements, be upfront with the changes. Your employees are (hopefully) adults and should be treated as such. Anticipate the WIIFMs (what’s in it for me?) and be proactive about answering this in your announcements.
5.) Make a Real Recommendation
So you’ve communicated a change to your employee benefits program… now what? Now is not the time to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. Don’t leave your employees in the dark to figure out the best course of action. Invest in tools that offer on-demand education and decision support to empower your employees to make the best benefits decisions.
6.) Respond to Questions
Questions are to be anticipated, so get ahead of the game by preparing in advance. FAQ pages are your best friend, preferably a digital version that can be updated on the fly as new questions arise. Furthermore, in your one-on-one conversations, take the time to truly understand your employees’ concerns. Don’t simply regurgitate your employee benefits guide or policies; rather, take the time to fully engage in a conversation and provide a real solution to best address your employees’ needs.
7.) Be a Leader
Nobody ever said working in HR was all glamour all the time (just mostly glamour most of the time). Sometimes, you have to take the bull by the horns and work through the tough stuff. Be a benefits leader and set the precedent for open, honest communication.
Jellyvision is an award-winning technology company whose interactive software talks people through important, complex, and potentially snooze-inducing life decisions – like choosing a healthcare insurance plan, saving for retirement, or navigating a leave of absence – in simple, fun, and engaging ways. Our recipe: behavioral science, purposeful humor, mighty tech, and oregano.
Our SaaS employee communication platform ALEX is used by more than 1,000 companies with more than 17 million employees in total – including 106 of the Fortune 500 and one-third of the country’s 25 largest companies. ALEX helps employees at these companies, whose health insurance premiums total more than $110 billion, make better decisions about their insurance plan options, 401(k) allocations, and financial wellness.