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Communicating Health Care Reform to Plugged-in Employees
 

   9/23/2013
By Keith Kitani

As open-enrollment season approaches, HR professionals have a few choices when it comes to relaying information about health care reform to employees, who will be hearing about the new government-run insurance exchanges that open for business in October 2013, complete with (for many) federally subsidized coverage.

One option is to do the bare minimum. The government is encouraging companies to provide written notice about the new marketplaces by Oct. 1. There is no requirement, however, for employers to make sure this content is easy to understand and engaging for their employees. Savvy HR execs know that this bare-bones approach may not be enough.

Another option is to turn to the old-school lunch seminars and piles of printouts to provide employees with additional information. This is a feasible approach and one that most businesses will turn to, but it has also been proved to have limited impact. How many employees truly understand their benefits when they’ve seen just a PowerPoint presentation or read a brochure?

Employees need specifics about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and health benefits in general, especially during this confusing time. They want to know exactly how the ACA will affect their company benefits—and they want the information in a format that makes sense for their lifestyle and work habits, whether they sit at a desk all day, work remotely or are on the road getting their job done.

New Channels of Communication

So, consider a new school of thought. The national conversation is leading many employees—for the first time—to want to learn more about their benefits. HR professionals can use this opportunity to educate and engage with workers through the channels in which they increasingly expect to receive information.

Consumers have quickly become accustomed to accessing content on their smartphones, laptops and tablets. They expect important information to be tailored to them and easy to consume—like short-form videos they find on YouTube and Vimeo. Plugged-in consumers make for plugged-in employees; so companies have to reconsider their traditional communication approach.

Here are some tips for using health care reform as an opportunity to engage, educate and empower your staff:

  • Don’t overwhelm with too much content. Because health care reform is multifaceted, HR teams understandably want to convey every last detail to employees. However, shorter bursts of information are much more digestible, particularly in a digital-driven world.

  • Build a strong foundation. Crafting a powerful message around the ACA as it relates to your organization will outline for employees what information they actually need to know. Discuss your approach and, if possible, test it early on to see what resonates.

  • Don’t leave it to government-driven communication. Workers are likely reading and hearing about health care reform from many sources. Mandated communications dictated by the government may cause more confusion if HR does not carefully deliver a message that is tailored to the organization. Make sure your employees are not in the dark by providing supplementary materials to mandated notices.

  • Toss the textbooks. Don’t talk academically or politically about health care reform. Instead, use your organization’s voice, language and tone, and communicate in a style that your employees already know. Deliver high-level information on how the law will affect them in a format that will work for their job and lifestyle.

  • Reach employees where they are. We live in a digital world where people are plugged into smartphones, tablets and computers all day long. Communicate with workers through the medium they are used to: information on a screen, with a variety of action, and a narrative. Consider making information easily accessible through an Internet or intranet connection, which works for people whether they are tuning in at the office or reviewing benefits packages with family members at home.

Ultimately, health care reform will change the benefits reality for millions of people. You know your employees and their needs better than the government does. Communicating about the ACA’s effect on benefits and other complex HR topics isn’t merely about delivering information required by the law; rather, it’s about empowering employees to make smarter decisions about their benefits and helping them to become better health care consumers. New tools and technologies—including internal websites that can be easily updated and short-form videos that can be easily understood—help achieve these goals while positioning HR as a communication leader in the organization.

Keith Kitani is CEO of GuideSpark, a benefits communication firm.

Related Articles:

Start Communicating About Health Care Changes, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2013

Misunderstanding HSAs Is Open-Enrollment Hurdle, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2013

Remember New Templates for SBCs, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2013

Quick Links:

SHRM Online Benefits page

SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page

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