Changing your health benefits package is hard. Even though adjustments are necessary (and sometimes out of your control), they are often met with anxiety and frustration by employees.

Providing the best possible benefits package is a balancing act. Compliance concerns, economic changes, health and wellness strategies, long-term organizational goals—these are just a few of the factors HR must consider. An optimal benefits package helps employees be informed consumers, even in the face of a changing economy or company goals.

Communicating benefit changes doesn’t need to be a losing battle though. Thoughtful communication plans, transparency, and added support can help employees accept and appreciate even the most drastic of plan changes.

Ready to optimize your approach to communicating benefit changes? Here, we share six strategies for a smooth transition:

Be transparent about why it’s happening

If employers never changed their benefits package, employees would be in trouble. After all, employee benefits should reflect a rapidly changing workforce and economic and health landscape.

“Every year, we look at market trends, how they are impacting the population, and how employees use their benefits.  Employee engagement is necessary in order for employees to thrive and be productive,” says Jenny Coutu. As a Managing Consultant at Strategic Benefit Advisors, Coutu has worked with dozens of clients when changing their benefits offerings.

Help employees accept the change by explaining why it’s happening, how it reflects their behavior and needs, and how they will benefit from it. If employees know that the change is informed by a larger strategy centered on their benefits, they’ll feel better about adopting it.

If the change is out of your control—for example, the insurer removed or changed a plan option—tell employees that too. Being honest builds trust, positions you as their ally, and gives you a chance to explain how you will help them navigate the new circumstances.

Validate employees’ concerns

Even when a change is for the best, it’s still frustrating—especially if you are removing a plan option. Employees are juggling a lot of balls, and they like stability. Asking employees to learn about something new is daunting under the best circumstances, never mind during COVID-19. While it’s important to be positive, it’s equally important to validate employees’ concerns and acknowledge the impact of the plan change. Let them know you understand, and you have a plan to make this easier.

Share changes through multiple mediums

Don’t expect everyone to read a lengthy summary; instead, help employees learn in a way that makes the most sense for them and their schedules. Your communications plan should include memos covering key changes, longer summaries that dive into the details, town hall meetings, videos, a microsite, and FAQs. Consider innovative strategies too, like recording a podcast that people can listen to on their drive to work.

Plan early

Try not to drop a major change on employees during open enrollment. Instead, start communicating the change as far in advance as possible—ideally years ahead if you are removing a plan. This gives employees time to get used to the change, and it gives you the time to answer their questions and share supportive resources.

Know your audience

Your communications plan should be specific to your audience. For example, if you are sharing a change with healthcare workers who are stressed and working long hours, spend time developing short, digestible communications (e.g., FAQs and videos) rather than planning a large townhall that they might not have time to attend.

Provide decision support

Choosing the most cost-effective health plan is too hard. That’s why more than 90 percent of employees stick with the same plan year after year, often losing out on more than a $1,000 in savings annually. Empower employees to choose the right plan by investing in health plan decision support. With MyHealthMath decision support, employees receive an individualized savings estimate identifying the health plan that will generate the most savings based on their specific needs. They can also connect to a live analyst with any questions about their estimate. This extra support is more important than ever in a year when your benefits are changing.

“Decision support helps employees see the bigger picture and have the tools they need to confidently understand and assess their benefits,” says Coutu.

Interested in learning more about more ways to communicate heath benefits? Watch this recorded webinar: Optimizing Open Enrollment During a Pandemic.