As we continue to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear: for many companies, the virtual or hybrid work model is here to stay for at least another winter, if not permanently. The good news is we’ve learned a lot about communicating to employee groups in the last year and a half. With end-of-year benefit enrollment periods rapidly approaching, here are a few takeaways that can help you reach your employees with critical information about benefit changes and timelines:
- Know your audiences. Two years ago, you may have looked at your employee groups through a narrower lens—union versus nonunion, hourly versus salaried, etc. The pandemic has created additional complexities to consider. You may have employees onsite, at home, or working in a hybrid model with various levels of tech savviness. Take another look at your employee groups and make some notes about how they are currently receiving critical company information and whether those communication vehicles are really working in their current environment. “Working from home” can sometimes translate to “working with distractions” or “digital information overload.” Essential workers onsite may be struggling with their current workload and have diminished capacity to look at or focus on traditional communications like newsletters or enrollment guides. To cover your bases, develop a variety of paper and digital communications to reach employees where and when they are available.
- Provide opportunities to ask questions. Benefit changes always result in employee questions and sometimes anxiety about what actions to take. In reviewing your anticipated changes for next year, which employee groups are most affected and what questions are they likely to have? Build digital or safe in-person Q&A sessions into your communications schedule and plan to cover the most complicated changes several times and in multiple communication formats throughout the course of your enrollment period. In newsletters and enrollment guides, “Did You Know?” sidebars can be visually appealing and help you cover critical content in short text bursts. It also helps to offer a way for employees to ask questions outside of business hours—for example, an email address or online question form that promises a response within one business day.
- Be mindful of video fatigue. At the beginning of the pandemic, many companies made a heavy shift to video and other digital communications out of necessity. But now, video may be wearing some of your employees down. Being onscreen is tiring and being able to see yourself onscreen comes with mental complexities of its own. If you’ll be using programs like Zoom or Microsoft Teams for Q&A sessions or other enrollment communications, consider giving employees advance encouragement to go audio-only, especially if they don’t have a speaking or hosting role in the meeting.
- Leverage your resources. Even though it may seem like it some days, you’re not in this alone. If your company uses third-party administrators to manage benefit programs, reach out to them for help. They’ve spent the last year and a half learning and adapting as well, and they likely have new enrollment resources to share with you. They can help lighten your load and provide good inspiration when it comes to creating relevant paper and digital enrollment communications.
- Emphasize wellness and virtual benefits. Some benefits, such as employee assistance programs, may have been underutilized prior to the pandemic. However, they are especially relevant now as many employees struggle to find a work-life balance or experience family or financial hardships brought on by working from home, loss of childcare, or income reduction. Take a close look at your company benefits and consider how they might be useful for employees experiencing pandemic-related difficulties. Most employee assistance programs offer webinars on a variety of timely topics as well as counseling sessions for legal, financial, and relationship troubles, and your medical or telehealth benefit may offer virtual sessions or mobile clinics to help ease the burden on families who struggle to make and travel to appointments. Reminding employees of how to sign up and access these benefits and making the contact information easy to locate after enrollment can help them get a leg up on issues that are weighing them down.
The evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present obstacles in managing the once-routine annual enrollment process. However, the lessons we’ve learned over the past year and a half can guide your enrollment season planning. Understanding your audiences, providing ample Q&A opportunities in a variety of formats, leveraging your resources, and emphasizing virtual and wellness opportunities—all while being mindful of the fatigue that can accompany virtual participation—can help you effectively reach employees with critical benefits information.