Skip to content
Jennifer Benz August 24, 2016 4 min read

6 Tips for Communicating Wellness Programs During Open Enrollment

As you begin to plan your communications for open enrollment, plan now to include more than just a casual mention of the wellness (or biometric) screenings that may be part of your benefits offerings.

About two-thirds of U.S. employers that offer health benefits include at least one wellness program. Many of them link the results of biometric screenings—not just participation in them—to big-dollar incentives, further making the point that wellness has financial, as well as physical, rewards.

Such an important piece of your benefits strategy deserves a prominent place during open enrollment. Communication is always key to driving employee engagement with benefits, and it’s even more important for wellness programs because they’re so personal. Whether the company goal is to have employees get a biometric screening, complete a health risk assessment, or engage in healthy behaviors throughout the year, effective communication is essential.

Here are six tips to help you—and your employees—get the most from your wellness programs during open enrollment:

1. Connect the dots.
Clearly explain how the wellness program is connected to the company’s overall benefits strategy. Help employees understand that their participation in the company’s wellness program can help keep them healthy, contribute to reducing their need for medical care, and lower the cost of their health care benefits now (when incentives are linked to employee health care premium reductions) and in the future. For instance, identifying health issues early, during routine annual screenings, means earlier intervention and often, easier and less expensive treatment options. Healthy employees use the health care system less often, which can contribute to fewer claims, decrease absences related to health issues, and improve employees’ overall health. Successful companies recognize that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. Connecting the dots for employees is a win-win for everyone involved.

2. Make it clear, keep it simple.
Just the names of some wellness program elements—biometric screenings and health risk assessments, for example—can seem daunting. Most of us don’t understand medical jargon, and when we see or hear it, we find it overwhelming and often scary. Wellness programs need to be communicated in a way that makes sense to employees. That’s why you need to define terms and repeat concepts. Try different formats to say the same things. Don’t overwhelm with too much information. Use visuals and bullet points, graphics, charts, and FAQs to simplify the details. This is especially important as benefit plans become more complex. Understanding dispels fear and the resistance that can result from it.

3. Focus on confidentiality and privacy.
Health information is very personal and elicits strong emotional responses. Take care to continually reassure employees that their privacy will be protected and the results of any wellness screenings will remain absolutely confidential. Clearly communicating the company’s commitment to maintain employee privacy and confidentiality will inspire confidence, earn respect, and win engagement.

4. Plan for questions and concerns. 
Remember that change—even change for the better—is unsettling. Change involving personal health, combined with all the associated privacy and confidentiality issues, can be that much more unsettling. Employee reactions will vary. Some employees may be resentful of what they perceive to be a “Big Brother” intrusion into their lifestyle choices. Others may be afraid of knowing their own results. Your communication should anticipate and address these reactions. Include user guides and tip sheets that explain how the wellness program works. Anticipate lots of questions and be sure to respond when you get them.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate—and make it a two-way conversation.
We can’t say it often enough: It’s essential that you think beyond annual enrollment and talk to your employees and their families year-round. A benefits website outside the firewall is the single most important investment you can make that provides easy access to benefits information for employees and family members. Once your site is built, you can add social media tools, such as Twitter and/or a blog; these are the easiest and most cost-effective ways to publish a fresh stream of news and relevant updates. These channels also enable two-way dialogue with employees and family members. Use the feedback or questions you receive to create new content and evaluate how your programs are working.

6. Keep it engaging.
Results depend on employee engagement. Make sure your wellness program communications are:

  • Relevant. Successful programs speak to employees’ interests and concerns.
  • Social. Successful programs take a “we’re-all-in-this-together” approach with relevant health-enhancing activities (challenges) within a social network.
  • Positive. Positive messages around well-being improvement encourage, rather than threaten. They help people feel good and give them the fortitude to tackle what isn’t working.
  • Integrated. Wellness offerings from multiple vendors must be integrated to provide employees with a simple, easy-to-navigate user experience.
  • Safe. Make sure you’ve covered all your bases regarding data integrity, safety, security, and regulatory compliance.

As we all know, wellness has its own rewards. Watch those rewards grow when you communicate effectively about your wellness programs.

Need some support for your wellness efforts? Download our white paper, The business case for employee well-being programs

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.