Open Enrollment is the worst time to engage employees in wellness, January is the best

When an organization doesn’t have an Annual Communications Plan in place, Open Enrollment starts to feel like the only time of the year when the benefits team will actually get the chance to educate employees about everything they need to know, including wellness. After all, if employees are already paying close attention to their health insurance, shouldn’t it be easier to get them to pay attention to their health too? In our experience, Open Enrollment is actually one of the worst times of the year to communicate about wellness, for two reasons:

  1. For most organizations, OE falls in November which, according to Google search data, is when Americans are the least interested in wellness. And when people aren’t interested in something, it’s very hard to get them to pay attention to it.
  2. Even the prior point aside, wellness content sent during OE adds to employee confusion because it compounds information overload. It’s yet another thing for an employee to read and digest.

During OE, all benefit teams really need to do is focus employees on what’s most important: understanding plan designs so they can make informed decisions. Any content that doesn’t fit with that objective should be cut, especially healthy lifestyle tips; things like “drink more water” or “get more steps in.” Even driving enrollment in wellness programs should be pushed to other parts of the year, unless it’s directly related to an incentive that could impact the employee’s election.

What about other topics, like consumerism and benefits appreciation? It’s a bit outside the scope of this blog post, but yes, these subjects should also be communicated throughout the year, not during Open Enrollment. All of these topics are great additions to your Annual Communications Plan. (If you need a template, you can download one here.) But for OE, they should be left on the cutting room floor.

When is the best time to communicate about wellness?

January is the best time of the year to do a hard push on wellness. To reach this conclusion, we used a trick from online marketers: we analyzed Google search engine data. The reason why that’s so helpful is that the terms people search for on Google are indicative of what they’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in eating healthier, you’ll search for “healthy recipes.” If you're interested in spicing up your Thanksgiving dinner, you may search for something like "how to deep fry a turkey." When we map the volume of those searches over the course of the year, we get a clear snapshot of when people will be most receptive to various subjects. This is one of the strategies we use to create effective Annual Communications Plans: we make sure to talk about topics during the time of year when employees will already want to tune in.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means in practice. It turns out that people don’t search for the word “wellness,” so we picked two related terms: “fitness” and “diet.” Here are the results: Over the last five years, November and December is the time of year that people have the lowest interest in wellness (the low valleys in the graph), and January is the highest (the peak).


As November rolls around, people’s interests tend to shift from wellness to the holidays, and even more specifically turkey. No really...here is the search term “turkey” (the yellow line), compared with “diet” and “fitness.”


Then, when the new year strikes, we all make our New Year's resolutions, and there’s a tremendous spike in wellness interest again. Then (shockingly…) interest slowly decreases every month, until we finally turn our attention wholeheartedly back towards holiday meals.


That means that wellness programs that launch in January, as people renew their gym memberships once more and stock their fridges with healthy foods, have the benefit of a captive audience. Even if you have wellness resources that you promoted during the Wellness Dead Zone (October to December), you can safely assume that you have anewly attentive audience at the start of the year. January is a great time to promote your resources again! And if you’re deciding when to launch your wellness program, it’s hard to go wrong with timing it sometime between January and March, when employees are already searching for resources to help them stick to their resolutions.

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