Photo of a HR manager reviewing a calendar on a laptopPhoto of a HR manager reviewing a calendar on a laptop

The case for year-round healthcare benefits engagement

March 16, 2021
Heidi Pearson

Want to control your company’s healthcare costs, improve company-wide wellness, and increase employee job satisfaction? Keep healthcare benefits top of mind throughout the year.

If your healthcare benefits program is like most, your communication strategy probably centers around two annual events: open enrollment and the start of the new benefit year. While these are important outreach opportunities—and in some ways the easiest, since people are already thinking about their benefits during these times—reaching out to employees twice a year isn’t enough to sustain engagement year-round. 

The reality is, staying up to speed on benefits, especially healthcare benefits, simply isn’t a priority for most American workers. SHRM reports that 41% of employees can’t identify all of the elements that add up to the full cost of their healthcare; nearly half say benefits decisions are “very stressful;” and 20% admit to not keeping up with benefits correspondence (for example, they skip company benefits meetings, don't read summary plan descriptions, or file/throw away benefits materials unread). 

Whether your program serves 100 employees or 10,000, you have a meaningful opportunity to help employees navigate their healthcare offerings and get the most out of their benefits. When done effectively, these engagement efforts can help reduce costs for your healthcare plans, improve benefits utilization, and increase employee satisfaction and retention. The key is to develop an integrated communications strategy that includes well-executed touchpoints every month of the year—and it’s easier than you might think. 

Cut costs and boost employee satisfaction with year-round healthcare benefits communications.

For already busy HR teams, the thought of adding year-round health benefits communications to the list of priority initiatives may seem daunting. But investing the time and effort into a more holistic engagement strategy can have a big impact. Employee Benefits News reports that “when employees don’t use the full spectrum of benefits available to them . . . the risk of poorer health outcomes and higher employer and employee healthcare costs increases, with more than $210 billion a year spent on inappropriate and unnecessary treatment.” 

Retention is another reason to pursue year-round engagement. When employees are aware of the full range of benefits available to them, they’re typically happier with their jobs and are more likely to stay, according to SHRM. 

Year-round engagement can also produce a company-wide culture of health and wellness. Forbes reports that 61% of respondents to a 2019 survey on benefit trends agreed that they made healthier lifestyle choices because of their company’s wellness programs. 

Think like a marketer to develop a successful healthcare benefits engagement plan.

You already excel at building rapport with employees and developing communication strategies that work for your team. Building on this strong foundation with some additional marketing tactics, you’ll be able to keep healthcare benefits top-of-mind throughout the year. 

  • Create an engagement calendar. Mapping out your communications ahead of time can help you stay on track throughout the year. To increase relevance, consider tying your healthcare benefits outreach efforts to specific seasons or themes. For example, in July, you might send a Back-to-School Health Check email that shares relevant healthcare resources for parents who are gearing up to send their kids back to school. The holiday season might be ideal for a Coping with Stress newsletter that highlights your company’s mental health offerings. Sharing educational content, relevant benefits offerings, and key dates and deadlines will encourage employees to take notice. 
  • Maximize online benefit tools and healthcare benefits engagement offerings. If you already have a HRIS, benefits administration portal, or company intranet where employees access their healthcare benefits, point employees there in your communications. Some platforms even provide email or in-app messaging capabilities you can use to deliver targeted messages to your team. Additionally, many benefits providers have their own engagement strategy in place for members, which can reduce the burden for your team and help you focus your outreach on other services employees may not be hearing about regularly. 
  • Keep messages brief and actionable. You and your employees are busy, so your messages need to be digestible in seconds. If you need to include details, provide a link to a longer reference document or web page. Whether you’re creating a poster, an email, a Slack message, or a giveaway item, make sure your healthcare benefits communications are concise and include a clear call-to-action that states what you want employees to do.
  • Appoint a healthcare benefits communication leader. If your HR and benefits team has specialized roles, you may want to designate a person or group of people to manage your year-round benefits communication efforts. This person can oversee content development, testing and iteration (see below), and any vendors involved in deploying campaigns. In addition to keeping the team on task with key enrollment periods and your annual engagement calendar, this person can also serve as the point of contact for employee questions throughout the year, answering questions or pointing people to the right resources or contacts. 
  • Test and refine. Successful marketing campaigns evolve over time based on data. Test and measure your current campaign approach using quantifiable metrics and informal stakeholder feedback so you can make improvements to your tactics and content throughout the year.

Building a great healthcare benefits package is important, but the work doesn’t end there. To ensure employees get the most out of your company’s offerings, you need to remind them of all the ways your program can support their healthcare needs. Developing and implementing a year-round healthcare benefits engagement strategy is an investment, but it’s worth the effort. With the right mix of tactics and messages, your team can drive increased benefits utilization, reduce healthcare costs, and improve employee satisfaction and retention.

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