Communicating Benefits During the Era of COVID-19

Communicating Benefits During the Era of COVID-19

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We’re always looking for ways to make open enrollment fresh and interesting. This year, we have an extraordinary opportunity and a new challenge thanks to the pandemic. Let’s take this chance to ease employee stress and confusion by offering a few best practices for communicating benefits open enrollment to your staff.

Recognize that employees are stressed about COVID-19
And open enrollment could add to their stress. You can help by being empathetic and making enrollment as simple as possible this year. Take this opportunity to show empathy and understanding for the struggles that employees are experiencing. That means explicitly acknowledging the difficulties caused by the pandemic and emphasizing how you can support employees during this time.

If you have significant changes to a benefit plan or cost, be open and honest with your employees. These changes only add to stress and confusion for them, and you can be there to guide them. Your transparency and thoughtfulness will result in higher employee trust.

You have resources to help
If there was ever a time to talk up the EAP, this is it. Mental health concerns are multiplying, and it’s in everyone’s best interest for your employees to get those concerns addressed.

Preventive care and chronic condition follow-ups are lagging as employees try to stay home and stay safe. That’s not good for them – or your future claims experience. This is your opportunity to talk about telehealth and 100% coverage for preventive care. Encourage your employees to connect with their health care team about screenings and vaccinations.

Voluntary benefits can play an important financial role, too, giving employees a little extra sense of security. This may be a good time to re-invigorate your promotion of products like critical illness and accident insurance to supplement your medical plan coverage.

Frame your messages differently
Concerns about money are paramount, as employees and their family members face layoffs and other threats to financial security. Appeal to these concerns by framing benefits decisions as opportunities to make good financial decisions and by reminding employees about how to save money by using their plans wisely. Educate them on:

  • Choosing the best care setting
  • Requesting generic medications
  • Using cost-transparency tools
  • Using online FSA/HSA stores
  • Using telemedicine services

Communicate clearly, often and virtually
The communication principles for this situation aren’t much different than the ones we always encourage. If anything, the chaotic-ness of 2020 has reinforced how vital the principles are:

  • Clarity: The pandemic has become one exceedingly long crisis communication opportunity. And we know during a crisis that it’s critical to have clear, consistent messages from all sources. HR, the executive suite and mangers need to be singing from the same songbook. Take extra care not to duplicate efforts or contradict yourselves.
  • Frequency: Without the amplifying effect of onsite reinforcement like employee discussions in the breakroom, you may want to step up your communications – starting earlier and sending more frequent messages.
  • Multiple media: Try sending messages in several ways – email, mailings to the home, text messages, print and online. How about some brief videos employees can access when and if they need to? Tip: Ask employees to update their addresses before your enrollment campaign!
  • Virtual options: So many of us were considering virtual communication options before the pandemic. Now’s the time to take the leap. You can easily host meetings virtually, record webcasts, hold virtual Q&A sessions – even offer breakout rooms for specific topics. This might also be the time to move your enrollment materials from print to the web.

The pandemic adds a level of difficulty to nearly everything you’re doing right now. But you have the opportunity to step into the challenge and make this year’s benefits communication more meaningful than ever.

 

Amanda Fischer-Penner, Marketing Manager, The Miller Group

See also:

COVID-19 and Medical Claims

COVID-19 Situation May Create Qualified Status Changes

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