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6 Tips for Better Open Enrollment Emails


For human resource departments, there isn’t a more stressful time of year than open enrollment season. It seems that everyone has a love-hate relationship with employee benefits: employees demand great benefits, but when it comes time actually to learn about benefits they tune out. It’s not just you; Aflac did a survey and found that 26% of Millennials would rather clean a toilet than research their health benefits. So when you’re communicating about your benefits, you need to do everything you can to grab and hold attention. Here are a few tips I’ve discovered during my career in Internet marketing writing thousands of emails to help improve your open enrollment emails:

Write a clear and meaningful subject line

Your subject line is the first thing people look at when they receive an open enrollment emails. If it doesn’t catch their attention, they will ignore the email. I usually start by brainstorming, writing down several subject lines and then narrowing them down. Be direct and clear with your subject lines.

Bad Examples:

Too vague – “Important! Read Immediately!!“

Too clever – “Hungry for New Benefits.”

Just right – “Deadline for Your 2019 Employee Benefits.”

Give people a clear reason to open your email and give them an idea of what to expect from your email. Keep your subject lines short and always less than eight words – open rates drop substantially after eight words. If you’re curious about the perfect character count, I would say under 40 characters would work better but going over a little is ok. To be next level, throw an emoji in your subject line.

Don’t be overly formal

It’s really easy to ignore an overly formal open enrollment email. When I get an email that starts with “Dear Mr. Ramos” my first question is why are they writing to my father and after that I quickly tune out. When talking about health insurance and employee benefits people often use too much industry jargon and complex terms that others don’t understand. A survey by Policygenius showed that only four percent of people understand terms like deductible, copay, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximum. Write the way you talk and minimize the use of jargon.

Keep it short

There’s a reason the majority of people will get their benefits package and stuff it into a drawer never to be seen again: they are too long. Don’t say something on one page that you can say in a paragraph. If you can say it in a paragraph, can you say it in a sentence?  Write and rewrite your emails until they are as short, simple and clear as possible. Even Einstein understood this when he said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Yes, benefits are complicated, but you don’t need to overcomplicate your emails. If you want to make sure your email is easy to read, check out your email’s Flesch Reading Ease Score. You can check it right in Microsoft Word or online.    

Make your open enrollment emails scannable

People will take seconds to decide if they want to read your open enrollment emails in depth. You might think it’s the most important email you’ve ever written but unless people can scan it and understand that they need to read it, they won’t. To make an email scannable, your paragraphs should be short. You should have clear sections and use bullet points when possible. Plain text is fine but if you are going to use more advanced layouts, make sure to test them. Mobile and different email clients render emails differently. You can’t assume that people will read your emails on a specific device. People’s attention span has shrunk with Facebook a click away, so make sure they get your point quickly. If you want a reader to do something after they read your email, make it clear what you want them to do.

Proofread your open enrollment emails

We all make mistakes; we are human. Make sure to proofread your open enrollment emails. Ask someone else to review them as well before you hit send. I use a tool called to evaluate all my emails and afterward ask a friend at work to review it again. I remember many years ago I worked with someone that always made it known that they were a “staff reporter” in a previous position and didn’t want anyone internally to review their work. Needless to say, there were always mistakes. Always! We are human so don’t be too proud to ask for help.

Tell a story, humanize things and make it about them

I love watching Food Network. I learned how to cook as a kid from Julia Childs and countless other TV food stars. One of my favorite shows was Food Network Star where people compete to become an on-screen celebrity.  One lesson I learned from that show and apply to my writing is to always share a story with the information you are trying to get across. When you think about it, you can read a recipe within seconds but what makes for a compelling show is the story that wraps around the recipe. Now, I know storytelling can be seen as counter to my recommendations to keep things short and scannable, but add a few little elements that keep it human and engaging. Testimonials are one thing you can use that keep things real. Health insurance and employee benefits are highly personal, so let that show. Also, when you are writing an open enrollment email, make sure it’s always about the reader, not about your or your department’s needs.

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