By Andie Burjek
Nov. 2, 2018
Elkay Manufacturing Co. is on the cusp of something new as benefits open enrollment season rolls around. After successfully meeting the needs of employees and the budget of the employer for years, its health care offerings just weren’t popular anymore.
“Because of either new businesses or how things are trending, you find your plan design after a period of time doesn’t fit anymore. That’s when you realize you need to shelve it, start with a clean slate and see what’s a good design to be competitive in your work environment for your employees,” said Carol Partington, corporate senior manager of total benefits for the Oak Brook, Illinois-based plumbing-fixture maker.
Elkay scrapped its previous health plans to introduce three completely new lifestyle plans that will go into effect in 2019, she said. The three plans are meant to appeal to employees at different stages of life and include a core plan, another plan with a higher deductible and lower premium, and one with a lower deductible and higher premium. One challenge was communicating the new plans’ advantages to Elkay’s 3,138 employees.
The vast changes in the health care landscape can be confounding even to seasoned benefits professionals. Employees whose jobs don’t revolve around benefits can get frustrated with multiple offerings. That’s why employers must focus on communication solutions that work for their employees.
Almost half of U.S. workers spend 30 minutes or less reviewing their benefits, according to Unum research released in August 2018. The same survey found that of the 1,227 respondents, many reported feeling stressed (21 percent), confused (22 percent) or anxious (20 percent) while enrolling.
Communication during open enrollment is a large task for any employer, even one that didn’t revamp its entire plan design. Elkay had the added challenge of dealing with a rural, dispersed workforce that didn’t necessarily have regular access to the internet. Their communications solution was to bring the top HR leaders to local HR staff at outside locations to copresent benefits information.
“We get so entrenched in where we are, [and] we have to spend time sitting in the shoes of the employee or their family when they’re making that decision,” Partington said. “With these changes, we’re being mindful that we want them to make successful decisions.”
Elkay wanted to be present instead of solely rely on online material or videos. By holding the mandatory meetings, employees can ask questions, she said. Also, the company schedules conference calls in the evening where family members of employees cans listen to the presentation and ask questions.
Communicating health care information in a way that employees and their families can understand is especially important to ensure the success of these new programs.
“The change in [health plans] will only be successful if we get the majority of our employees and their family members understanding what they’re doing and comfortable with the decisions they’re making,” Partington said.
Ally Financial Inc., a Detroit-based financial services company, sees a unique quality in its benefits strategy this open enrollment season as well. It relies on an unconventional, straightforward and conversational communication style, said Chief Human Resources Officer Kathie Patterson. HR consistently reaches out to employees looking for feedback about the company’s benefits offerings.
Thanks to the dialogue, in 2019 Ally is introducing several new benefits offerings including broader fertility and adoption benefits, hearing-aid coverage and no dollar limit on applied behavioral analysis therapy for autism treatment — all additions specific to the employee population.
The changes the company has made and how it has communicated them has inspired employees to be more open, Patterson said. Employees have both reached out with personal success stories and raised helpful questions or suggestions.
“This open dialogue is exciting and will help us continue to shape and evolve the programs going forward,” Patterson said.
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