Employee benefits communication tips for open enrollment and beyond

A company might offer the most comprehensive benefits package around, but without the right communications plan, employees could have no idea. One challenge is that benefits announcements compete with other messages and priorities that are part of our daily lives at work, and it’s easy to get lost in the noise. On this episode, we talk with two experts in benefits communication who both capture attention and inspire employees to take action.

Podcast Transcript

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5 fertility benefit communication tips for open enrollment

[00:00:00] Nancy: If you work in employee benefits, you know how hard it can be to get employees to take action. Distractions are everywhere, whether you're working in a busy office or remotely with family, roommates, pets, or plants, all vying for your attention. On today's episode, I talk with two of my colleagues who are experts in capturing employees' attention.

[00:00:26] Lauri Armstrong is Carrot's director of people, operations and total rewards. She has over a decade of experience finding creative ways to make sure employees know all about their benefits. And sign up on time. One more note, before we hear from Lauri, this is the last episode of our season. If you missed any episodes, you can catch up on our website or wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:00:48] And if you're not already make sure you're subscribed to get updates on season three and some bonus content we have planned in the meantime too. Okay. Let's hear some advice from Lauri.[00:01:00]

[00:01:04] Hey, Lauri. Thanks for joining me. Hi, Nancy. I'm happy to be here. I would love to start by just hearing a little bit about your career in benefits.

[00:01:19] Lauri: It's been an interesting one for sure. I got my start in HR kind of accidentally as most HR professionals seem to do learning and development is where I really got my entryway and it gradually put me into positions of working with some really fantastic HR professionals, which allowed me to really develop my career into the areas that I found most interesting and total rewards being one of those, which is inclusive of benefits.

[00:01:43] And so. Over the past five to 10 years, I've been really working closely with our benefits brokers choosing and selecting our benefits plans, working with our employees to ensure that they're utilizing their benefits to the best that they are able. [00:02:00] Here at Carrot. I get to do that really on a day to day basis.

[00:02:04] And it's quite rewarding in and of itself. I

[00:02:06] Nancy: wanna have you on the show because you do such a great job here at Carrot of number one, answering like a million questions a day. I always see you in Slack, responding to pupil's benefit questions. And I also feel very well informed about everything that we have access to here at Karen.

[00:02:23] So I would love to hear. Just when you first are thinking about launching a new program, how do you plan out your benefits? Communication strategy?

[00:02:33] Lauri: Yeah, I was a communication major in college, so I always frame everything I do with a, how are we going to get people to. Do what we want them to do or understand what we want them to understand or utilize what we have available to them.

[00:02:50] And there's always multiple facets of that. One is going to be the channels you communicate with people. And as you know, here at Carrot, we are slack heavy. As [00:03:00] you mentioned already, you know, answering questions in Slack. And so when we put together a new benefit offering, we often think about the ways that we're going to get people to see the message that we have.

[00:03:13] And typically we'll start with email only because email is easy to go to and track and find something that might have come from someone like us. We can reference it pretty easily and quickly. But from there, we start to push things over to Slack and we like to communicate early and often. So anything that we're doing, we like to give people a heads up, like maybe in an all hands.

[00:03:37] And usually by the time we're ready to launch something, we have a page in confluence dedicated to it as well, which is. All of the things that we've already discussed, here's the information. Here's how you link to what you need to link to get to what you need. So usually it's conversational first, then email, then Slack, then confluences like that source of truth.

[00:03:58] Nancy: Do you think there are certain [00:04:00] challenges that are specific to an all remote workforce? Like.

[00:04:04] Lauri: 1000%, the distributed nature of our workforce does make it difficult because we don't have the opportunity to have what I had experienced in the past at companies. When you can have like a road show or you have posters announcing something's coming soon.

[00:04:20] I remember even just 10 years ago, there used to just be many more opportunities to engage with people face to face and personal. Hey, have you seen that? We have this benefit coming, but now everything has to be done. Virtually meeting people where they are is generally the best thing that we can do and not to belabor it too much, but where our people are in Slack, we have multiple Slack channels to get through to people.

[00:04:47] One of them though. Think, which is really interesting that we use quite often for our benefits communication without being a over the head, hit you in the head. It's about benefits is our wellness Wednesday channel. [00:05:00] And that's something that we recently kicked off, which is where we have a little bit more of an opportunity to do these just in time benefits, connections.

[00:05:09] So if we're in mental health month, we publish something in wellness, Wednesday related to our modern health benefit or something along those lines. So that I think has been a really nice engagement tool when it comes to our benefits.

[00:05:24] Nancy: Yeah. And that's a great example. So modern health is our mental health app.

[00:05:29] People can talk to therapists and coaches, and it's similar in a way to Carrot in that it is available to use year round. So it's something that you don't have to sign up for. Justed open enrollment. , but I think there are some challenges in that too, because there are so many people who really only think about benefits during open enrollment, right?

[00:05:49] Lauri: It is. And I think that's where the connection to timely events really comes into play. So for example, with the Carrot benefit, I know that a great [00:06:00] time of year to really tie that into conversation is during LGBTQ plus awareness month. Trying to find ways to tie a specific benefit to a timely event that relates to the benefit itself.

[00:06:18] Really, I think helps make those connections for people in terms of usage.

[00:06:23] Nancy: Something else I think about with Carrot is. A lot of people aren't really aware of fertility benefits as a concept. So everyone knows about health insurance. I think mental health benefits have become more common, but I know a lot of people learn about Carrot and they say, oh, I didn't even know this existed anywhere.

[00:06:39] So what are kind of your thoughts there? And, and what advice do you have for benefits professionals who also need to set the stage about this is how this works and this is who might benefit from it?

[00:06:52] Lauri: I think the most important thing is to be. Transparent when you have the ability to use a [00:07:00] benefit in such a way.

[00:07:00] And I know that part of what I think our responsibility is as a company at Carrot is to break down some of these misconceptions or stigmas associated with fertility care. But I would say that anybody in a position who is able to share that they have used the benefit publicly within the organization, certainly.

[00:07:24] Engages others and makes it okay for others to feel like they can engage with the benefit as well. So the more publicly we speak about these things, and I think that you see this with mental health, right? More people are talking about mental health and therefore more people feel inclined to be aware that the benefit.

[00:07:45] Use the benefit and then share that they've used the benefit, which just continues. And I think that Carrot is very similar in that way that we just need to be more open and communicative in a personal way with our peers and our [00:08:00] colleagues that we are engaging in the benefit. And I think it will trickle down.

[00:08:04] Nancy: And I remember, I think you used our back pain or general like musculoskeletal pain app, right. And, and share that, that you liked it or had a good experience. I

[00:08:14] Lauri: did. I did. And I even see people talking in Slack, sometimes they'll even bring up a benefit. That's similar to one. We have they're sharing it and saying, Hey, I used this and I'm, I like to interject a little bit and say, but did you know that we also have this and this is available to you for free because we offer it to you as a company.

[00:08:35] So sometimes it's. Beating people over the head is not what really you want to do, but you need to really be active in your engagement with people about what benefits we have. So we do have a number of ways to get to people, but I do think the personal connections are the ones that are the most meaningful.

[00:08:55] Nancy: And like you said, that can be hard, but sometimes people do just chat. We still [00:09:00] need that human connection. So it's nice that that does happen sometimes even remotely.

[00:09:06] Lauri: But you just have to stay aware, right? You have to keep up with things and it can be difficult because we're all very busy individuals, but take some time each day to look at some of your channels where you might see these conversations being had about different benefits and direct people.

[00:09:23] The best thing that. We can do. And what I share with my team is to help people help themselves. So direct people to the location where they can find information, rather than you giving them the information. And that goes for benefits as well. Constantly sharing our benefits. Wiki on confluence has been helpful because people start to then know where to go to self-serve.

[00:09:46] Nancy: In terms of listening to these conversations, do you also sometimes get inspiration for new benefits or maybe expansions that we might wanna consider in the.

[00:09:56] Lauri: We do. I keep a list of things that I see, [00:10:00] or when people ask questions about certain things and sometimes we are able to enact some of those changes.

[00:10:05] I think it really sometimes depends on how you're set up in your benefits structure. For example, we have a broker and a lot of the benefits that we have come to us through that program. And so in some cases we are able to move the needle. And in some cases we might have to wait until a time where.

[00:10:24] We're more of a self-funded type of an organization where we have a little bit more flexibility in our choices. But as an example, I think we had some folks ask some questions, contributing to a personal HSA through a direct deposit. And because of that conversation, we are able to. Investigate that as part of our new implementation with our benefits admin system and payroll system.

[00:10:50] So I, listen, I hear it. And we also see this in our benefits engagement surveys, or I should say our engagement surveys, our Ian surveys that we have, there's [00:11:00] always comments in there about how we can provide more benefits, different benefits. And so we do read all of those and where we can, we will make changes, but it really depends on a number of factors.

[00:11:13] Budget of course is going to. An important factor in that as well as does it make sense for us right now as an organization, right? There are certain things that you don't really need to have a thousand things to give people. You want to be able to give people. What they need and give them the most bang for their buck, if you will, but evaluating the benefit to determine if it's the right benefit for your company, based on your culture and your people and your demographics and all of those things, factor into what you're doing with your benefits programs.

[00:11:45] But we do listen.

[00:11:47] Nancy: So thinking back on your career, are there any benefits, communication campaigns that stand out for you that were creative or that went particularly well? Or maybe that didn't go well. And you learned something,

[00:11:59] Lauri: if you [00:12:00] don't learn something from any benefits campaign, you're probably, I don't know, a, some kind of miraculous, supernatural being because there's always something to be learned from these.

[00:12:11] I think the most important thing that I've learned over time. Is that you really do need to stay on top of people because no matter how many times you communicate something, there's going to be a handful or more of people who just didn't get the message. For one reason or another one of the big gotchas.

[00:12:36] I think that I have found over the years with regard to benefits, communications are paying attention to your employees who might be on leave while you are running any types of benefit campaigns, because they miss that communication or they're cut off from it in some way. Sometimes it's nice to when people come back from a leave of absence to, to grab.

[00:12:58] Some time with them to [00:13:00] talk about maybe some of the things that have happened while they have been out. But especially if they miss your open enrollment period, you know, they are obviously eligible to participate in that open enrollment. So you just can't lose sight of those people who might not be. In front of their computer during the time that you're doing these.

[00:13:20] Nancy: Yeah. That's a great point. Another kind of timely moment that I think of. And then I know some of our customers use to promote Carrot is also onboarding, but there is so much information to absorb during that time as well.

[00:13:33] Lauri: It is a really high period of time where there's just so much information coming at you.

[00:13:39] And we see this in our own internal onboarding where we share everything and the kitchen sink, and it's just so much to absorb. So one of the things that we. Do is, we have a, a tool that allows us to also trickle after higher communications to people. So maybe like seven days [00:14:00] after they start, we'll send them a it's all automated, but it sends them a communication like, Hey, have you signed up for your benefits or have you visited the benefits platform or whatever it may be.

[00:14:10] And we have this for points in time communication, but I think by automating little drips of information, it can be helpful, especially in that post onboarding. Phase where again, you're just drinking from the fire hose and no idea which way to look.

[00:14:26] Nancy: That's very marketing savvy too, to have a drip campaign.

[00:14:30] So that's smart. Yeah. Just cause it, it's hard to take it in all at once. And I care two people are also learning how our product works and about their own job roles. So that's

[00:14:39] Lauri: smart. Yeah. And I think the point you made earlier is really important that there's really just two points in time in a year when people are really focused on benefits or maybe one, two, if you were hired this year, you have your onboarding phase and then your open enrollment period.

[00:14:54] And that does become somewhat challenging when you work in an environment like the benefits world is [00:15:00] today because the it's not just medical, dental vision that are out there. There are so many other. Benefits in perks and they can all be joined or left at various times throughout the year. I think some of our benefits plans start in March and end in the following March.

[00:15:17] So they don't even follow that same full year calendar year cycle. And as administrators, I do find it more important to just raise awareness more often about the various items that we have. So I think going back to that wellness Wednesday channel that I had mentioned, I use that opportunity weekly to share with people, a new benefit we have, and sometimes it's a financial perk.

[00:15:42] It's not always a medical benefit. I find that we don't have to advertise Carrots specifically very much within Carrots, since it's very much about who we are and what we're all here for and believe in. But at times we may announce new [00:16:00] additions to the benefit, or just share some general thoughts about the benefits with folks.

[00:16:06] So I do think that it's repetition. It's getting people to just know where you. Communicate. And again, the wellness, Wednesday channel is free to join. You don't have to join it, but the people who join it are probably more educated on our benefits than those who are not.

[00:16:22] Nancy: That's a good point about Carrot.

[00:16:24] Yeah. It would be hard to forget about Carrot and our, our day to day. But we do have employees who, when we do a spotlight, if they have fused Carrot, they share their story. And it's just nice to hear how our own colleagues are using the benefit. Do you have any other, maybe pieces of advice or thoughts you'd wanna share with other benefits professionals like

[00:16:43] Lauri: yourself?

[00:16:44] The only thing and the most important takeaway for me over the past maybe year or so, especially with the way that the world has just been the way it's been. Right. Very uncertain, chaotic in, in many ways is just that people need benefits more than they've needed. It [00:17:00] benefits in the past. And I've learned.

[00:17:02] Quite a bit that it is way more than just medical, dental, and vision benefits. Employees want to feel included. They want to feel like they belong. They want to feel like the organization is working for them. So the benefits that you. Put in place really are for people to be a member of, of your company's community.

[00:17:26] And they feel that the challenge of course, is getting them to know that they exist. So the just in time method for me has probably been the biggest eye opener of just continuously advertising these benefits through a personal method or personal channel. Very natural way of working and talking with people about the benefits, rather than just sending an email, announcing something it's just more conversational to do it in these just in time ways that are [00:18:00] related directly to whatever is going on in the world at the time.

[00:18:04] Nancy: Thanks so much for talking with me. I really appreciate it.

[00:18:07] Lauri: Thanks Nancy. This has been a great time. I appreciate it.

[00:18:16] Nancy: Benefits leaders like Lauri are very busy and that's one reason benefits providers often share communication materials with our customers to. We do that here at Carrot for our customers too. I wanted to hear more about how it all works. So I reached out to my colleague who works in Carrot member engagement.

[00:18:42] Haley: My name is Haley Kennedy and I focus specifically on member engagement and member life

[00:18:49] cycle.

[00:18:49] Nancy: So I wanted to bring you on because you do so much great work coming up with strategies to communicate with our members. So what else [00:19:00] have you seen to be effective in promoting fertility benefit?

[00:19:04] We

[00:19:04] Haley: really see three main tactics as the way that employers can best promote communicating about their fertility and family forming benefits to their employees.

[00:19:15] It first starts around launch date. So making sure that you communicate to your employees, like a way that you can send them an individual communication, either straight to their inbox or. On a Slack channel that everyone checks or a direct mail piece, some type of communication that everyone is going to get individually that tells them that they have access to this benefit, what the benefit includes and where they can find more information on it and use it.

[00:19:44] And then from there, what we see as most effective is having that ongoing communication throughout the year to eligible employees about the fact that they have this benefit. And what's included that could include like monthly engagement with [00:20:00] sharing resources that are relevant to different ERG groups or employee resource groups.

[00:20:05] We have monthly webinars that we put on for our members and also eligible employees are always welcome to join. We give resources to our different customers, that they can share that information with employees and where relevant within the company to communicate through those different channels to the employees.

[00:20:24] So we see the customers that share that information month over month, and even participate in our campaigns throughout the year that engage with the eligible employees. Have the highest levels of awareness among their employees of the benefit and also engagement with the benefit. The benefit that the employer is providing to their employees is actually getting used and supporting people on their family.

[00:20:48] Forming

[00:20:49] journeys.

[00:20:50] Nancy: Something I talked about with Lauri on our benefits team are some of those timely moments that she uses to remind us of the benefits that we [00:21:00] have access. Is that something that you think about with our customers and, and what are some of those moments that you try to make the most

[00:21:07] of.

[00:21:08] Haley: It is still helpful to include it in new hire onboarding information so that people just have all the information there up front. It's always great to mention, like, Hey, in addition to this medical plan, you also have access to fertility and family forming benefits through Carrot. I might not need Carrot today and a year from now, I might be thinking about forming a family and I might need Carrot.

[00:21:31] Then that ongoing communication about. More just, Hey, here's resources available to you. This might be helpful for mental health awareness month. Like if you're currently pregnant to do this yoga class or, you know, during infertility awareness week in April, we had a lot of resources around infertility overview and treatments available, just resources that you can find within the Carrot platform.

[00:21:58] So. [00:22:00] Employees know that they have access to these, if they need them, or if they're curious to learn more, they just simply have to create an account at any time during the year. And it's not something they have to opt into during open enrollment

[00:22:12] Nancy: season. Yeah. I think that's a great point. Fertility benefits like Howard are something you, you use when you need them.

[00:22:18] You don't have to wait until October. If you have some kind of, you wanna start growing your.

[00:22:23] I tell

[00:22:24] Haley: people that fertility and family farming benefits is a lot like the mental health benefit that your company offers to you. Something that you can opt into at any time during the year offers you resources beyond just funds, but it could be articles that you can read and learn about videos.

[00:22:42] We even have a global database that has providers that you can find based on your location and your area that are close to you and already vetted. A team here at Carrot. I know that's one of the most annoying things for me when I'm trying to find a new provider is like, where do I go? How do I even [00:23:00] find one?

[00:23:00] Who do I have to call? And what's covered by my insurance and Carrot makes it really easy. So just even communicating. Not just to eligible employees throughout the year, but even to our members to ensure that they're making the most of their benefit and using the platform to its fullest extent as well, so that they know all the resources and features that they can use on the platform to help support them on their family forming journey.

[00:23:26] Yeah. And I feel like

[00:23:27] Nancy: we've touched on a lot of common barriers that employees can face to signing up for benefits. Like not knowing when to sign up or maybe being concerned that it's going to be a difficult situation to navigate. Like a lot of healthcare can be what are some other challenges that come to mind specifically around fertility benefits when it comes to

[00:23:46] promoting.

[00:23:47] Haley: Yeah, I think the biggest thing that Carrot focuses on when we're thinking about communicating benefits to employees is just being really sensitive to the different stages where [00:24:00] different people are on their path to parenthood. So it could be someone who's just starting out exploring, and it could be people who have been around the block a few times.

[00:24:11] Like they've done a few rounds of IV. They maybe have experienced loss or they've already had a child and are trying for a second one. And so it's not necessarily starting their family, but continuing to build their family. There's not one way to communicate to everyone ensuring that we're always using inclusive language, given that there's so many different ways to build a family and form a family and become a parent that it's not all just one type of.

[00:24:40] Journey to being a parent being

[00:24:43] showcased, but that it's a, a variety of the different paths that we support here at Carrot other challenges that we face is really like the normalizing the conversation. I would say

[00:24:57] society faces

[00:24:58] mm-hmm and then that [00:25:00] comes into the workplace. And so talking about fertility or infertility or different ways that you might form your family, that might not be the.

[00:25:10] What everyone expects type of route. I think one of the challenges that our customers could be facing is even just having that conversation about the benefit, how to talk about the benefit in general. I think that's a way that we can start maybe knocking down those barriers from within our own companies.

[00:25:30] Which then, you know, ripple affects into society of people, sharing their stories and feeling comfortable, talking about this benefit that is offered to them and maybe sharing my story with another employee at the, my same company could help somebody else realize like, oh, I didn't know that it could help me too.

[00:25:47] In that way. We've all seen the conversation around mental health evolve. Over the past few years specifically, and especially due to the pandemic. And I'm hoping that as more and more employers start to [00:26:00] offer fertility and family forming benefits, that conversation starts to become more

[00:26:04] normalized.

[00:26:05] Nancy: Is there anything that you would advise HR leaders not to do when it comes to promoting fertility

[00:26:12] benefits?

[00:26:13] The first thing to

[00:26:14] Haley: avoid is like launch it and forget. What we see is that customers who launch the benefit and don't continue that conversation, don't share the resources month over month, or participate in communicating the benefit to their employees. A few times throughout the year, often are the ones where the employees are using it, the least amount back to what I was saying earlier, sending that message to your employees, that you are committed to supporting them.

[00:26:44] and continuing the conversation, fertility and family forming journeys can be stressful and overwhelming enough, just having the information about how to use the benefit easily accessible and it not being a hard conversation to have [00:27:00] or art information to find anywhere. Like having it be ease filled. Is really important to really starting their journey with Carrot so that we can continue on that ease, filled experience for them and give them the support that they need from the very beginning.

[00:27:19] Nancy: For more tips on promoting fertility benefits at your company, check out our show notes. And if you enjoyed this season and have a moment rate us on apple or Spotify or leave us review on apple. So more people can find our show. And as always, if you'd like to learn more about Carrot, fertility, visit Carrot, fertility.com.

[00:27:38] Thanks so much for joining. This season, I'm looking forward to sharing more conversations about the intersection of work and fertility health next year.

[00:27:48] Baby Steps is produced and edited by Eric Montgomery and Christopher Olin. To get notified when new episodes are released, subscribe to baby steps on apple, Spotify, or [00:28:00] wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.