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5 tips for People Ops to boost benefit utilization (especially during open enrollment)

Improve your employee experience and benefits utilization while boosting People Ops productivity and effectiveness.

Nikki Henderson
Nikki Henderson
5 tips for People Ops to boost benefit utilization (especially during open enrollment)

During the hiring process and around open enrollment time, conversations about employee benefits are front and center. Yet getting them to utilize those benefits to their full potential is another story. Beyond feeling disappointed when programs your People team diligently researched and implemented are underutilized, the pressure is on as utilization can often be used as a measure of job performance. These tips will help your employees reap the benefits of your benefits packages to improve employee experience, while helping you think more cross-functionally to maximize your impact year-round.

1. Make it easy for employees to find what they need

Employees already contend with dozens of platforms, tools, and logins in their day-to-day. If your benefits are spread out across multiple pages or providers, they’ll forget what they are and how to navigate them—especially as time goes on. 

One way to simplify the employee experience is by choosing a top-performing HR benefits platform (HRIS) whose sole purpose is to condense everything into one, and cover the admin for you. If you don’t go the platform route, create a single page that serves as a springboard. If you create it as a web page, you’ll get valuable metrics around traffic, time on page, and links clicked. If you create it as a doc, use custom tracking links for the URLs to monitor. That way, if you do a comms blast, but still see low sign ups or that nobody is clicking your specific link, that might be a signal to rethink your strategy.

Pro tip: Make sure to promote your benefits platform/page by including it in your bio and HR channels. Create a short link so it’s easy to remember and type.

2. Craft a benefits communication plan like a marketer

The way you communicate your benefits makes a huge difference in how they’re utilized. You can’t rely on an email blast during open enrollment or a long-winded onboarding presentation—like a marketer, you really need to consider who you’re trying to reach and where.

Plan your messaging around things like business moments, seasonal themes, and common employee scenarios (e.g. medical leave). With a constant drumbeat of benefits conversations on different topics, you can hit different messages and audiences at the right time, and have a playbook to iterate on year after year.

When you have your topics, write different versions of the messaging to see what sticks and customize your message by channel. If your company communicates across various platforms like Slack and email, don’t just copy and paste the same thing. Try offering incentives to people who follow through on your call to action. 

Pro tip: If you’re relying on poorly designed resources from a benefits provider, you might consider working with your communications team to rebrand them so it all looks cohesive and offers more context on concepts employees aren’t familiar with.

3. Train managers to be benefits champions

Though People teams do their best to be the connective tissue between employees and the company, it’s often managers that are the avenue to scale empathy—but not if they shrug and say, “hmmm… ask HR” in key conversations.

By giving managers more training on your benefits, how to use them, and when to recommend them, you can empower them and their team members. For example, if a manager has a team member wanting to improve a skill, that might be a good time for them to discuss a coaching benefit. Or if a teammate is expecting a child, having a manager ready to support them through a leave makes a huge difference. But these conversations might not go well, or happen at all if managers aren’t keenly aware of everything they have at their disposal to offer. 

Pro tip: Develop special manager trainings and playbooks—especially for critical moments when employees need a strong support system (like planning a leave). If managers already come equipped with resources and a plan, they won’t drop the ball.

4. Work cross-functionally

Different departments have different access points to employees and skill sets that can complement yours, so learning to collaborate cross-functionally will multiply your efforts and then some.

Some teams you may want to focus on first are Talent Acquisition; Finance; and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI); and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). With these teams, you can demonstrate a very clear “what's in it for me” with the work you do, and give mutual feedback. Recruiting can tell you what benefits are most competitive to make the best offer letters. The Finance team may have suggestions for how to cut costs or measure results. DEI can make sure your benefits and messaging are inclusive. By plugging in to ERG programming, you can better understand unique populations’ needs, their perceptions of current offerings, and be their resource to connect the dots between issues they care about and how your benefits address them specifically.

Pro tip: If your company doesn’t already have ERGs, start asking around to see if there’s interest and from whom—their mere existence can be a huge benefit unto themselves. If you do have ERGs, make sure you have regular meeting times to strategize with them about upcoming events and member needs.

By now, you can see these tips lead you to lots of cross-functional collaboration and encourage you to think deeply about how you communicate your messages. In the end, your benefits packages are built for everybody, but how you actually reach them all requires a custom thoughtful approach.

5. Go beyond benefit utilization rate to understand success

Utilization rate is an obvious way to measure success, but it definitely shouldn’t be your only metric—especially because specific groups will use certain benefits differently. Having a good mix of quantitative and qualitative data will give you a clearer picture of your impact and with whom.

To get a solid mix of quantitative and qualitative data, our customer champion, Izzy Friedman, loves to conduct regular pulse surveys (in Lattice) to understand employee satisfaction and get their anonymous direct feedback. The platform tracks results over time and allows you to analyze the data across departments, tenure, gender, etc. Even if you don’t choose a feedback platform, conducting these surveys regularly will give you data you can’t get otherwise.

Pro tip: Other quantitative metrics to check out: take-up and dropout rates to see which parts of the funnel are leaky. Financial metrics like HSA balances and retirement plan contributions will speak to averages and program growth. And don’t forget the communication metrics from tip two above!

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