Shannon Langrand, Founder & CEO, LangrandShannon Langrand, Founder & CEO,Langrand
Starbucks spends more on employee benefits than it does on coffee beans. This kind of investment is the rule, not the exception. Research consistently shows that beyond pay, a company’s benefits package is the biggest factor in successful employee acquisition and retention.

Challenges like workforce shortages, employee engagement and the “Great Resignation” are top-of-mind for executives and middle management alike right now. That’s why it’s more critical than ever to rethink how we approach open enrollment and capitalize on that investment by ensuring employees understand, highly value and make the most of their open enrollment selections.

The communications push during annual enrollment is important to help employees better understand their benefits options and make the choices that best align with their healthcare needs. But when it comes to driving employee engagement and appreciation and moving the needle on employee health, it’s just the beginning. It’s important to look beyond enrollment and begin to define the strategies and tactics that will yield a year-round return on investment. Here are three key best practices I’ve defined through our 18 years of benefits communications experience.

Make the shift from choosing benefits to using benefits seamless for employees

During annual enrollment, it’s crucial employees have the right information when weighing their options and considering the factors that matter most to them and their family. It’s short-sighted, though, for it to be the only communications focus. To ensure employees find continued value—and continue to engage—they must also have personalized information and guidance throughout the plan year as they face myriad health decisions and navigate their health and new plan. For instance, maintaining clear, regular communication with enrolled employees as they transition from a robust network to a narrower one will help remind them to seek out in-network providers and facilities. Sending a simple reminder email to enrollees who have not yet had a free flu shot or their annual physical is another way to help employees use the care available to them and keep them healthy. And, perhaps most importantly these days, proactively sharing the resources employees have available to them for behavioral and mental health is another way to support employee health, as mental health so often underpins overall health outcomes.

The start of the calendar year is a natural time to set intentions for the year ahead, and many of those intentions are about being healthier. Take advantage of this time and the momentum from annual enrollment to set your employees up for success for the rest of the calendar year. One way we do this is with a streamlined and interactive quick-start benefits guide to employees across plans. Beyond the new year, there are many other ways to support your employees’ physical and financial health. For instance, we helped one client increase EAP utilization by more than 30 percent through a targeted spring campaign.

Think like a marketer by using data to drive decisions, segment communications and tailor messaging by audience, interest and persona

One-size-fits-all fits no one well. You likely have a diverse employee population with diverse health needs and budgets and sending them all the same blanket message will almost always miss the mark. Personalizing communications and emails with employee names and selected plans is an effective way to grab attention, but at Langrand, we like to take it one step further. We’ve worked with companies to micro-segment their eligible employee populations, analyzing spend and trends and using versioning and segmentation to deliver the greatest impact. In fact, for one school district client looking to lower their overall healthcare spend, we uncovered that a segment of their employees were visiting the emergency room for non-emergent care. Knowing that, we executed a spring campaign rooted in demographics, claims and psychographic data that resulted in a 10 percent reduction in non-emergent emergency room visits despite a 9 percent increase in overall plan enrollment.

Another important fact to consider is that women make most healthcare decisions for their families. If you work in an industry like construction or freight that typically has a larger male population, it’s important to ensure your communications target both the employee and the decision maker. Consider increasing direct mail communications sent to home addresses, like postcards and enrollment checklists, and ensure your benefits materials are downloadable via public microsites—not just your intranet. An added bonus? Having your benefits guide on a publicly accessible site is another way to engage and recruit prospective employees—giving them a sneak peek of the great benefits they can expect if they join your team.

Go beyond the traditional to stand out in a sea of sameness

Most organizations circulate the benefits collateral that looks virtually the same year after year. Consumers receive more than 5,000 messages each day, asking them to pay attention or nudging them to action.

At Langrand, we work with companies to create custom, engaging benefits communications that rise up above the noise thanks to engaging, interactive pieces that reflect employee populations through rich, relevant photography and present an organization’s brand in a new, creative way. We’ve developed benefits videos and microsite campaigns with unique URLs, and there are many ways to bring your brand to life across benefits communications pieces while bringing personality to your internal brand and simplifying sometimes confusing benefits language for your employees.

Taking that extra step to help your organization make the most of your investment in employee health and wellness can make all the difference by reducing spend and driving engagement. Ensuring employees feel supported year-round and have the right information and resources they need at their fingertips is critical for running a streamlined and leading employee benefits operation. Use these best practices to think beyond annual enrollment.