Open enrollment. Every year, right on schedule, it arrives. A time of reflection and decision-making. A time of questions and opportunity.
Has the birth of a child in a family changed benefit priorities? Has recent medical news or a medical experience caused rethinking about employee support? Have new financial responsibilities shifted needs? Employees have a lot to think about. And well-informed employees create the healthiest organizations. But how do you engage with your employees to ensure the best choices get made? Where and when do those conversations take place? What is the art of employee engagement?
There’s a lot to learn from Dr. Robert Cialdini, whose Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Harper Business) provides extraordinary insight into why people say “yes,” and how persuasion actually works.
Dr. Cialdini organizes his theory into six general principles—Reciprocation, Social Proof, Commitment and Consistency, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity. All six offer ideas that benefits leaders can put to use.
It’s a basic human fact: Give a gift and you open a door. Provide a positive experience for another and a relationship begins. People who have experienced good, feel not just good, but also indebted. They also feel far more inclined to listen to those who have something important to say.
As open enrollment begins, benefits managers and leaders might consider inviting employees to do something that is good for them. Why not suggest that the employee enroll in a gym? Perhaps a gym incentive (such as discounted membership fees) is already part of the benefit, but that incentive should be made more prominent in the open enrollment offer. This idea—of inviting employees to take better advantage of “extra” offerings or “gifts”—can be applied to any special benefit such as a price transparency tool, a telemedicine provider, or Accolade’s mobile app.
Open enrollment can also breed employee uncertainty. What should I do? What is the best choice I can make? After all, employees’ family health and financial well-being are on the line.
Uncertain people, Dr. Cialdini suggests, look to peers for answers. They want to know what others are doing. They want proof that the decision they are about to make is a good one.
You can provide them with the facts they need. Your open enrollment website could track the number of employees who have, either in the past or in the current enrollment period, taken advantage of that discounted gym membership (or any other special program). Testimonials could be presented. You could spotlight those who have made the choice and feel it was the right one.
In 1987, according to Dr. Cialdini, a social scientist set out on the eve of an election to ask potential voters whether they planned to vote, and why. Of the 100% of those who asked if they planned to vote, 86.7% ultimately did. Those who were never asked the question voted at a far lower rate—61.5%.
The point? Those who are asked to make a commitment tend to follow through at much higher rates than those who do not. The implications for open enrollment are clear: Long before an employee’s final enrollment data are due, they should be asked—in forums, in one-on-one conversations with managers, through email communications—to make a concerted commitment to engaging in the conversation about their benefits package. They should be invited, and expected, to make the right decisions.
There are plenty of ways to help employees signal their commitment. “Take a mint from the bowl if you plan to enroll in the new gym benefit,” the benefits manager might say at the close of an OE forum. Or simply: “Reply to this email with a yes if you plan to enroll.”
“People prefer to say yes to those they know and like,” Dr. Cialdini says. Employees, in other words, are more inclined to listen to people who share basic similarities, points of view and experiences.
The translation of this is simple: Benefits leaders and managers will improve the overall dialogue by sharing stories, on the open enrollment web site or elsewhere, about employees who responded to invitations (like that gym membership discount). The site could ask inclusive questions such as, “Why not become part of this action?”
At the same time, of course, authority matters. Experts and expertise matter. Employees choosing health benefits need clear, accessible and trustworthy information. The language that is used in both written and verbal communications should be straightforward, helpful, jargon-free, and enriched by the testimonials referenced earlier.
Managers might directly reach out to their direct reports and remind them to enroll in the program of interest.
“The tendency to be more sensitive to possible losses than to possible gains is one of the best-supported findings in social science,” writes Dr. Cialdini. What does that mean for leaders and managers hoping to optimize employee engagement during open enrollment?
Employees must be reminded that time runs out. That discounted gym membership has an end date. Other programs have a limited or dwindling supply. Employees who act early might benefit from a $100 value incentive. Those who act late might only receive a program value of $50 or $25.
The clock ticks.
You shouldn’t wait either. Put one or all of these principles to use and help your employees take full advantage of this open enrollment season.
Learn more and read 5 Imperatives for Real Consumer Health Engagement.