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August 18, 2020 | Benefits Management | Posted by Ascentis

Why Your Open Enrollment Communications Plans Have a Generational Vulnerability in a Post-COVID Era

by Josh Trent, Executive VP / Regional Employee Health & Benefits Practice Leader at Marsh & McLennan Agency 

Companies have historically communicated to their employees as one homogenous group. Today, our world is drastically different – and evolving fast.  In a matter of a few short months, 2020 has caused employers to drastically (and urgently!) pivot their communication and engagement tactics with their employees.

Whether it is because of social-distancing limitations of group meetings, increased work-from-home flexibility, staggered work schedules or furloughed groups of employees, the challenge of a timely and effective communication strategy is very real in a post-COVID world.

A second, complicating dimension has also emerged on how to best communicate with the diverse demographic segments of your employee populations as new technology mediums emerge.

In reality, employers are juggling five dedicated employee groups that need to be considered and accommodated.  Additionally, the differences in work behaviors, environments, urgency and preferences have never been greater as we navigate a post-COVID workplace.

How do you best communicate benefit options and instructions?

A survey of Fortune 500 executives said 80 percent find communication across multiple employee generations to be one of the most challenging issues in the workplace….and this was pre-COVID!

In general, here are the most effective ways to communicate with different contingents of your workforce:

Traditionalists – Preferring face-to-face conversations: Generally considered retirees that were born before 1946. Consider them the “meeting” generation. In-person meetings are sought and valued for the interpersonal relationships and group collaboration, but can be time consuming and expensive when commuting costs accumulate. Combined with the fact that in-person meetings will be all but sidelined and replaced with video conferencing for the near future, this is arguably the most vulnerable demographic to accommodate.

Baby Boomers – Preferring in-person or phone calls: Baby Boomers (1946-1964) tend to prefer face-to-face communication or phone conversations. They have adapted (or are in the process of adapting) to online communication technology, but it’s not second nature as it is with younger employees.

Generation X – E-mail:  Generation X (1965-1980) are knowledgeable about and receptive to technology. They still use email and have adapted to using social media, but they are flexible enough to be receptive to in-person or phone communication. Gen X’ers mainly use technology for convenience purposes, such as online banking and shopping. Technology has yet to become central to their social lives.

Generation Y (Millennials) – Texting: Generation Y or Millennials (1981-1996) are equally adept at using social media but are notorious “texters.” Instant messaging is easy and immediate. Much like Gen Z, Millennials have grown up with technology at their fingertips. They view technology as a critical part of their lives and work. They are constantly connected and tend to adapt quickly to new technologies for socializing and working.

Generation Z – Social media and mobile apps: Generation Z (1997 and younger) has not yet been assigned a clever name and they have never been without a smart phone, tablet or laptop. It’s how they get information and communicate. But they also don’t necessarily use the smart phone to make a call (it’s a small computer, not a telephone to them); they use social media as their preferred communication method.

To be as efficient as possible, you need to find an accommodating balance that embraces technology, satisfies generational preferences, and reaches your entire target audiences.

Finding a happy medium.

Try to incorporate a blend of multiple communication methods. For example, make emotional connections in-person. If you need immediacy, try mobile messaging. To articulate details or create a “paper trail”, use email. Need to follow up on messages? The phone is a good choice.

But keep in mind, there are always new ways to communicate. Zoom is ubiquitous.  Slack, Yammer and Chatter, and Team Rooms increasingly allow employers to send messages and open up intra-office communications. These platforms are generally searchable, allows file sharing, and provide an instant, easy way to communicate.

And don’t be fooled about the technical prowess of your older generational employees. When they have a need to access information, they are highly resourceful and adept.

Put the right technology in place, then test it.

As you design your upcoming benefit plan options, make sure you have the right technology. And make sure it’s in place as early as possible so that the adoption is high.

The right technology can be the difference between having an efficient, productive open enrollment and a potential train wreck.

  • Install a Human Resources Information System (HRIS) if you don’t already have one to coordinate all of your benefits carriers
  • Test your technology early and often, including your HRIS and all communication options
  • Employ your communication technology for open enrollment as soon as you can
  • Make sure you have the technology to perform ongoing audits of your benefits programs
  • Talk with your broker, advisor or consultant now, so you don’t develop a plan hastily, causing problems later.

Remember: You’re not just communicating, you’re marketing.

Communicating to your employees is no different than communicating to your clients or prospects. The messages need to be crisp, reflective of your brand (e.g. Culture) and convey important information in bite-size nuggets. Consider these suggestions;

  1. Make sure your subject lines or titles and the headlines of your messaging grab the attention of the employee. Give them an incentive to read.
  2. Use plain language. Jargon or overly-corporate writing is a turn-off to employees. Talk to them like they’re sitting across from you, not as though you’re lecturing them.
  3. Be as personal as possible. Talk directly to them. And keep it short and simple.
  4. Be creative whenever you can. Use typography, video, links to your intranet to attract attention and make getting the information as interesting and entertaining as possible.
  5. Re-send. And then re-send again. You not only have to make your message compelling and interesting, you need to make sure everyone sees it. Don’t be afraid to repeat the message.
  6. Mix up your “media.” A good rule of thumb is to use a variety of channels to push your message. Use the equivalent of your internal Social Media, then email, put up posters, and then follow up with texts or phone calls. Think as wide and deep as possible.

The opportunities to iterate and try new things is never better than in the face of adversity. COVID is presenting many opportunities to help bridge some of the traditional challenges employers face. With an open mind and a plan to communicate effectively in the new era, open enrollment can become a more welcoming experience for all of your employees. Get helpful tips and reminders on the open enrollment process with our Open Enrollment Checklist 2020.

About Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC:

Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC  is a subsidiary of Marsh established in 2008 to serve as a platform for the middle market. In 2015, it expanded its national footprint into Canada. MMA offers commercial property, casualty, personal lines, and employee benefits to midsize businesses and individuals across North America.

MMA helps companies identify, assess, mitigate, prevent, eliminate and finance risk. Our values-driven approach facilitates growth and strengthens companies using comprehensive programs that reduce the cost of organizational risk. MMA professionals are experienced in designing detailed and complex domestic and international employee health & benefits and business insurance programs around the unique exposures faced by complex organizations.

Learn more about MMA. Call (763) 746 8000 or check us out a www.MarshMMA.com