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6 ways to emphasize wellness in your annual enrollment communications

July 14, 2009

in health communication,twitter

for the past few years, high deductible health plans (HDHPs), while controversial, have been the silver bullet du jour for employers trying to keep their costs manageable for themselves and their employees. coming quickly on the HDHP’s heels, employers have been weighing the value of wellness programs that focus on altering lifestyle habits and reducing barriers to preventive care.


personally, i shoot for rational wellness — i work out regularly, don’t smoke, do drink, and must have a sweet after every meal, including breakfast. all of the above keeps me fairly healthy, clears my mind when i need it, and generally makes me much nicer. professionally, i believe corporate wellness programs are a smart move even though there are differing views on whether well-designed programs truly deliver stronger financial performance and increased productivity, improved engagement, lowered presenteeism, and positive employer image. really, they had me at “it’s the right thing to do.”

with annual enrollment coming up — and employees facing the prospect of choosing their health benefits — many companies are refining their benefits program and retuning their annual enrollment communications. whether or not your company offers a comprehensive wellness program, there are a number of ways you can incorporate wellness messages.

#1. frame your message wisely.

after years of hearing about rising costs, how to be an informed health care consumer, and “we’re in this together,” employees are tuning out. yes, there’s much employees can do to help maintain costs by choosing the right plan, enrolling in programs they need, mail-ordering generic drugs, and the lot. but this is change in a minor key. there’s precious little they can do to change the cost structure in a major way. this fact makes framing your company’s wellness message around cost containment not nearly as inviting — or successful — as framing the message around things near and dear to your employees’ interests: feeling good, being around to see their children grow up, and living long enough to retire at a better time for retirement than today.

#2. add completing a health risk assessment to the steps leading to enrollment.

i’ve been involved in health communication for roughly 14 years, i get the lingo, and i know what i need to do to enroll yet every year rob and i procrastinate, then muddle through at the final hour. it’s such an onerous task, and making the wrong decision seems fraught with potential doom. because choosing benefits is so overwhelming, annual enrollment communications often offer a step-by-step guide to break the process into manageable bits. typically, the steps include understanding how much you used your benefits in the past year, reviewing any big changes to prices and plans, and working with available tools to find the best plans. this year, why not add completing a health risk assessment (if you don’t offer a health risk assessment, you can suggest getting an annual physical)? more and more companies are doing so, and it makes great sense. encouraging completion as part of annual enrollment makes the HRA the hub of managing one’s health. once employees know their health risks, they’ll have a better sense of their true health needs. their interest will also be heightened, as employees are often surprised by what their assessment tells them. and with employees worried about the confidentiality of the HRA, framing its completion this way emphasizes that the HRA is a source of information for the employee to use, not the company.

#3. reference existing programs that support healthy lifestyles.

with any decision support you offer — whether online tools, print, or web — look for opportunities to reference those additional programs your insurance provider and other health partners offer, such as acute care and disease management; diabetes, asthma, and other free pharmaceutical programs; health coach programs; and stress and financial counseling. these are often overlooked and misunderstood benefits.

#4. add wellness to your employee meetings.

many companies hold employee meetings during annual enrollment. if you’ve ever run one of these meetings, you know they’re guaranteed to pull a crowd. like most face-to-face communications, they’re highly valued because they allow employees to hear firsthand about any big changes and get specific answers to their individual questions. while you have employees gathered, dedicate a portion of the meeting to wellness issues. what you focus on depends on your company’s needs — what are the top chronic conditions present in your workforce? do people need a refresher that preventive benefits are fully covered? given the stress we’re all under, would it be a good time to remind everyone what your EAP offers? options abound, and so do speakers. your EAP, insurance provider, or local chapter of a national health organization can send a speaker — or you can provide prepared materials for the HR presenter.

#5. reach out to the family.

sending annual enrollment communications to the employee’s home is one way companies reach out to the family, a population that typically represents upwards of 60% of the health care price tag for most companies. you can reach out further this year by including direct messages to your employees’ families, letting them know what benefits are available to them. and be sure to invite families to your annual enrollment meetings, where you’ll have another opportunity to encourage their involvement, participation, and informed decision making.

#6. use social networking tools to inform, connect, and motivate people.

wellness-related social networking sites are well-established in the marketplace. there are community groups and twitter profiles for smoking, cancer support, losing weight, increasing fitness — you name it. using these same methods internally is another way companies can talk with and support employees and families, and some companies are already starting to use them.

since we’re talking about annual enrollment here, i’m going to share just one story. (i’ll cover other examples — both in-use and potential ideas — for social networking and wellness in a future post.) during their march 2009 annual enrollment, ikea created a blog so their co-workers could talk with an HR service center representative. ikea also used twitter to communicate with co-workers and family members about improved benefits, available resources, and enrollment deadlines. their use of twitter has since expanded to cover business messages as well as broader HR topics. (disclosure: i worked with ikea on this effort. jennifer benz, a partner in the work, is writing a case study for a future issue of employee benefit news.)

phew! that was a long post. let me know what you think.


[image: pinksherbet]

Leave a Comment

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Crystal Peterson July 14, 2009 at 10:08 am

Really good post, Fran. I think a wellness message, if done correctly and targets your audience, can be very effective. I'm actually in the process of reviewing our benefits now for our upcoming open enrollment and I will be incorporating a couple of your tips.


autom July 14, 2009 at 10:16 am

ya that was long. but worth the read.

with regard to point #2 i'd like to add that if internal communicators are given the opp to be involved in mapping out and fine tuning an online version of the health risk assessment vehicle (or the overall enrolment/re-enolment vehicle) that they also ensure they are involved in thoroughly testing it. including a solid UAT (user acceptance testing) phase helps identify gaps not only in usability but also content.

i once managed the full implementation of a new bilingual health benefits microsite (from design concept to roll out) for a former firm. went off swimmingly and learned many a best practices including the UAT peice.

thanks for the share -a


Frank July 14, 2009 at 10:53 am

Fran, this is an excellent article. Really great to share how to do this…I really like the “reach out the family” aspect…it takes a village.


Mark Bednar July 14, 2009 at 4:57 pm

excellent post, fran. well thought-out, and the practical examples are right on. i'm thrilled w/ IKEA's use of social media. The more interactive and engaging you can make this stuff that “you and rob muddle through” (and, you're not alone w/ that — I'm there w/ you), the better. I've seen companies do interactive web-based benefits guides as well, and that's far more engaging than a black and white word doc. i think, too, it's important to remind employees of the consumerism side (esp. in refernece to HDHPs) and that being healthy not only saves the company money but them as well — and that may be a sexier message for them.


Jill Sherer Murray July 15, 2009 at 9:18 am

Fran, this is a fantastic post and so helpful (and of course, timely, statement of the obvious I know…). Thanks so much for taking the time to share! Keep all the great insights coming. See you soon–


femelmed July 15, 2009 at 9:30 am

hi, everyone. thanks for your comments.

crystal, glad to know you can put some of this information to immediate use! holler if you're pulling your hair out in the madness of AE comms.

autom, glad to see you can fight against your ADD ;0 user testing is a great idea, as is having some communication folk involved in writing these assessments.

frank, it takes a village — it does, it does. i love the idea of actually bypassing the employee and appealing straight to the kid with health comms.

mark, firms are now coming out with flash quizzes that actually tell the employee what plan to enroll in after they answer a few questions. i don't know yet of any study on how these are working out, but it'd save me, you, rob, and everyone else a huge headache if they nailed it.

jill, thanks for reading!



autom July 15, 2009 at 9:52 am

this is the way to do it..responding to others' comments IS the convo that happens on blogs. as ppl do a tug-n-war think on whether or not twitter is a broadcast or conversation platform, blogs should not have to come under similar scrutiny—the platform is *intended* to foster dialogue. kudos for setting an example! a


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