Open Enrollment Communication Guide: Overcoming Analysis Paralysis
  • Tools & Best Practices

Open Enrollment Communication Guide: Overcoming Analysis Paralysis

Imagine you’re standing in front of the toothpaste aisle at your local pharmacy. You look at your shopping list: toothpaste. Then, you look up at the shelf: tarter control, extra whitening, sensitive, cinnamon flavored, bubble gum flavored, gel, paste…

Time ticks by as you stand frozen—paralyzed by too many options. Your brain starts to hurt, and you feel the slight boil of anxiety rising in your stomach.

This happens to all of us. In fact, it’s so common it has a name: analysis paralysis. When it happens at the pharmacy, we eventually grab a tube of toothpaste and move on. But what about when the decision has a greater impact on our lives?

As HR professionals, we have to be extra sensitive to choice overload. Does this mean we should only offer three different types of employee benefits? Not at all. There are proven strategies we can take to ensure our employees make the best decisions for themselves and their families. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can effectively use these strategies to help employees make smart decisions without becoming overwhelmed.

Can You Offer Too Many Benefits?

According to SHRM, more than one-third of employers increased their benefit options over the past 12 months,1 expanding the average number of employee benefit options to 15.2 These new offerings include voluntary benefits like identity theft protection and pet insurance, and they’re a great way to invest in the diversity of your workforce.

Providing your employees with benefits that deliver a holistic approach to their well-being can lead to higher employee engagement and greater employee retention. The reason for this is because each employee has their own unique needs. When you increase the number of benefit options, you increase the likelihood that you will engage more employees by addressing their individual needs and concerns.

However, with increased options comes increased potential for analysis paralysis. As Harvard Business Review puts it: “More [choice] requires increased time and effort and can lead to anxiety, regret, excessively high expectations, and self-blame if the choices don’t work out."3

Let’s break that statement down a bit. Notice the first part: “requires increased time and effort…” This is the key to overcoming the anxiety and regret. If we load employees up on choices but don’t effectively communicate what these choices are, how they help, and how to take advantage of them, employees will have to shoulder the burden of analysis all on their own.

Think about the last time you had to make a big purchasing decision. What was the first thing you did? If you’re like most people these days, you hopped on Google and went down the rabbit hole of information overload.

That’s why we need to be strategic about our benefits communications. To avoid analysis paralysis and help employees choose the benefits that make sense for them, it’s all about messaging, timing and channel.

Messaging: Think Like a Marketer

To see how we can create more effective communications, let’s take a look at how marketers drive action. Many people think marketing is all about designing flashy ads or tricking someone into clicking on a button, but in reality, marketing is all about communicating effectively in order to drive action.

The best marketers know that it is virtually impossible to change someone’s mind. Instead, they focus on appealing to their emotion to help someone come to their own conclusion. Facts and figures don’t help us understand the personal impact of benefits. In fact, Gartner found that appeals to emotion/personal value (simplify your life, fit in with your group, be confident, etc.) have twice the impact of appeals to logic.4

What does this mean?

As benefits professionals, we are all “selling” something. We’re selling safety and security for our employees. We’re selling engagement and better performance for our company. To do that effectively, we need to keep these three things in mind:

  1. Value first: Communication should be about the value your employees receive (the why), not the features that provide the value (the what). Keep it relevant to your audience, and don’t skimp on the emotional content.
  2. Keep it simple: If you’re using benefits jargon and six-syllable words, you may be alienating a large portion of your employees. Readability matters so aim to reduce the complexity and reach more of your population with information that sticks. 
  3. Drive action: Marketers love a good call-to-action (CTA). A CTA tells people what to do next (i.e. read this blog post for more info, review your voluntary benefits today, etc.). And every employee communication is an opportunity to drive action, whether that be for OE or to showcase an upcoming team outing.

Timing: The Info They Need When They Need It

Now that we know how to communicate effectively, when should those messages go out? The short answer: right when employees need to know it.

Big decisions, like choosing benefits, are made in phases. First, we want to see what’s available: the discovery phase. Then we dig into how the personal value differs from option to option. Maybe we sprinkle in some social proof here and there (read reviews, talk to our friends and family, etc.), and lastly, we weigh this information and come to a decision based on our time constraints.

The best way to hit all of these phases at the right time is to work backwards. Start with your deadline (OE) and create a calendar, spacing out the communication to deliver the right emotional content in a stair-step manner. In marketing, this is called a drip campaign. The purpose is to give the recipient only the necessary content they need at that moment and prime them for the next touch-point, culminating in a final CTA.

To use OE as an example, we can bucket all required communication into three topics: new benefits, benefit changes, and timing and deadlines. Create your communication calendar starting with the final deadline, and then work backwards, allowing for time between the communication (benefit changes, for example) and the required action (reviewing benefit options).

On average, people open emails within 24–48 hours of receiving them, so pad that into your timeline. Also, record your email open rate and click-through rate. Use these metrics to identify which of your messages are working, and which you can improve.

Take a look at more ways to measure and improve OE with this Tip Sheet for OE Engagement Metrics, part of the Open Enrollment Success Kit.

OE comes every year, so the more you can learn now, the better prepared you will be the next time around. And for those who really want to get sophisticated, consider split-testing your communication. (Here’s an in-depth article on the tactic—it’s geared toward marketers but can be adapted to your needs.) This will help you stop guessing about what message resonates with your audience and allow the data to drive success.

Channel: Email vs. Mobile vs. ???

So far, we’ve talked a lot about email. Email has been the standard business communication tool since the days of dial-up internet, and for good reason. It’s easy, and everyone gets it. But to get it right takes work (see the drip campaign and split-testing links), and even when you do get it right, the average email open rate is only about 20 percent.

There are other options, though. While five years ago most of us would have been appalled by the idea of receiving text messages from a business, today no one raises an eyebrow. Plus, research shows that open rates for SMS text messages are as high as 98 percent.5

Now, does this mean we should ditch email and start texting employees till our fingers go numb? Not exactly. It just goes to show there are more options now to communicate than ever before. Email, text, push notifications, in-app messaging, and on and on.

The key is not to pick the one channel you think will do it all. Rather, choose the right channel for the right audience. Remember when we spoke about value-first content? This is very similar. When it comes to choosing a communication channel, your aim should be to meet your audience where they are.

Is your head spinning yet? We know this is a lot of information, and for many HR professionals, it’s the first time they’ve had to think like a marketer. But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Keep an eye out for future blog posts to help you be the best at what you do.

And if you’d rather just have it all automated for you—if you’d like your employees to receive personalized recommendations, helpful right-time information, and tailored multi-channel communications so they don’t suffer from analysis paralysis, let us show you how. We’ll walk you through the AI engine powering the Benefitfocus Platform - BenefitSAIGE. 


1 The Evolution of Benefits, 2018 Employee Benefits Report, SHRM

2 State of Employee Benefits 2018, Benefitfocus

3 Harvard Business Review

4 Gartner

5 2016 Digital Channel Survey, Gartner