Engaging Employees About Health Care

July 11, 2014 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Having effective communication with employees about health care is more important than ever, according to Jennifer Benz, CEO of Benz Communications.

In a webinar hosted by the San Francisco-based firm, “Beyond a Two-Week Window: Ten Ways to Make Annual Enrollment a Success in an Era of Health Reform,” Benz said, “Many people feel unequipped to make decisions about health care coverage. Health care is complex and technical in nature and is difficult enough for people to navigate. Health care reform makes things even more difficult.”

She said employers need to provide employees with information that allows them to make good choices when it comes to health care. She offered 10 steps by which this can be achieved.

Step 1: Start with a strategy. This is critical to effective benefits communication, said Benz. Employers should focus on specific and measurable behavior that employees can do. They should also set clear goals for plan participation.

Step 2: Think like a marketer. Employers should brand their materials with a consistent look, as well as promote the value of their benefits program and highlight unique features of the program. Benz also recommended that the content have a strong point of view.

Step 3: Tell a story. Play to peer-to-peer influence, use testimonials and scenarios to make the content relateable to employees. Also, use champions and leaders to tell the story. Make it clear to employees that health care involves a long-term strategy.

Step 4: Simplify. Make it easy for employees to find answers. Be transparent about tough topics. Avoid using jargon in communications and instead use short lists of things that employees need to know. Employers should also make sure they anticipate possible questions and have the answers readily available.

Step 5: Remember health care literacy or lack thereof. “Most people do not understand the basics of health care coverage, which can be a barrier to making good decisions,” said Benz. Employers need to define key health care terms and help employees make choices that lead to better health care outcomes.

Step 6: Get outside of the firewall. While it is still important to keep personal information private, general information about health care benefits should be publicly accessible online to employees and their families at all times. Employers can start out with a small-scale website, offering basic information about the company’s health care coverage and then expand it over time to include links to carriers and providers, as well as other useful resources.

Step 7: Move into year-round communications. Do not try to cram a large amount of information into a relatively short enrollment period. This will cause information overload with employees. Instead, use a variety of methods to deliver information in small pieces over an extended period of time.

Step 8: Do something unexpected. Employers can still use traditional channels of communication such as newsletters or meetings, as well as online channels such as websites, social media, videos and webinar, to convey information about benefits. But they should also consider other channels such as podcasts, text messaging, infographics and e-cards.

Step 9: Find your target. Make benefits communication relevant and focused. Target specific audiences and explain why the content is relevant to them. Benz cited examples such as a postcard that did a side-by-side comparison of a new health plan versus and old plan, as well as fact sheets that listed why health plan changes were relevant to that particular set of employees.

Step 10: Get help. Benz recommended leaning on consultants and vendors for their expertise, as well as getting internal support from human resource specialists, managers and leaders.

Benz concluded by saying, “Effective communication pays for itself, improving employees’ satisfaction with benefits even in times of change.”

The webinar was part of Benz Communications’ Master Class series. More information about these webinars can be found here.