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If your benefits plan runs on a calendar-year basis, then this is an important time of year. It’s the time when you and your company leadership are making crucial decisions about your benefits plan for 2017.

And while you’re spending all that effort to decide what benefits features to offer your employees, it only makes sense to also begin devoting time and energy to deciding how you will communicate those benefits. After all, employees not only value the fact that you offer a benefits plan. They also value your efforts to ensure they understand their benefits.

When you’re trying to put pen to paper to create your plan (okay, hopefully you don’t actually write out your communications plans by hand), here are five factors to consider:

What’s changing for next year? Are costs increasing? Are there new features? Are you taking away favorite features? Are you adding a wellness requirement? These kinds of changes can create confusion and uncertainty on the part of your employees, so keep your plan changes in mind as you design your communications strategy.

Consider your employees’ perspectives. With any luck, you have some sort of feedback mechanism in place that lets you regularly tap into your employees for direct input about what they do and don’t like, value or understand. Armed with that insight, how do your benefits plan changes create new gaps or address previous concerns? Be sure to align your communications plan accordingly.

Create a realistic timeline. When changes are coming, you want your employees to be up to speed in time to make informed decisions. But you don’t want to inform them so far in advance that they forget by the time open enrollment happens. Think carefully about the best time to communicate, not to mention the frequency.

Do a sound check first. If the changes you need to communicate are likely to be perceived as negative, consider testing your messages first on a select group. Then ask for their feedback and consider whether you need to refine your messages before you officially implement your plan.

Don’t limit your communications to open enrollment. Yes, we say this all the time – and for good reason. (See a previous blog post.) When the day comes that you have important changes to communicate, those messages are likely to be better received by employees who hear from you throughout the year, not just when there’s (what they may perceive as) bad news. Year-round communication creates a feeling of transparency, which can be your best friend when it’s time to communicate change of any kind.

While change isn’t particularly easy, you can lessen its impact on your employees with some advanced planning and careful thought.

For additional perspective on managing benefits plan changes, check out this blog post.