Right around open enrollment season, many of the HR teams you deal with every day will start to notice that the normally cheerful employees they see walking around the office start displaying an unfortunate expression on their faces.

The cause? Benefits stinkface.

It’s a problem that can lead to significant time-and money-loss for employees and their employers if not properly diagnosed and treated.

Benefits stinkface manifests when employees feel confused, annoyed, or frustrated by the tasks they’re being asked to do — or the information they’re asked to understand — during open enrollment. What follows are the most common root causes, and their antidotes:

1. Frustrating, confusing insurance jargon

If you and your clients just recycle the language the insurance company uses in benefits communications, you’ll alienate a good portion of the employees. Instead, within the limits set by compliance requirements, do your very best to translate any and all legalese or jargon into language you’d use when explaining something to a friend.

2. Relentlessly boring benefits presentations

If your presentations are little more than a glorified data-dump on nearly identical slides, there’s a good chance your audience is going to sit there with their eyes glazed over.

To nip benefits presentation boredom in the bud, do the following:

  • Add visual content to at least every third slide.

  • Don’t be afraid to use small doses of humor and surprise.

  • Separate sections by color to make information easier for people to process and retain.

  • Ask fun pop quiz questions and hand out small prizes throughout as an incentive for paying attention.

3. Information overload

White space is your friend. I repeat: White space is your friend.

In the same way that many people seize up when they encounter a page of text in a book or on a web page without a single paragraph break, the people watching your benefits presentation or reading your emails are likely to zone out or feel overwhelmed if your content is dense with text.

This rule applies even if that text is a boatload of bullet points. (Having ten bullet points sort of negates the simplifying power of bullet points; stick to four or five, max.)

4. Fear of new plan choices

Deciding to make any kind of big change is an emotional process, and choosing a new benefits plan is no exception. Initially, many employees fear the unknown and assume the worst.

To counter this inherent bias, it’s essential for enrollers and HR departments to provide clarifying information. Such as visual side-by-side comparisons between old and new plans, and sample case studies that show how people in a variety of life situations might benefit (or not) from making a change.

5. Inconsistent names for things

Sometimes different departments within a company, and different benefits and HR advisors, refer to the same programs or plans by slightly different names. Don’t let this inconsistency sneak into your benefits communications. Help the client choose a single name for each thing and stick with it. And check for this particular kind of consistency every time you proofread your content.

6. No clear WIIFM or call to action

As anyone in marketing will tell you, your messaging should always answer the question “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and provide a call to action (say, a phone number to call, a website to visit, a “learn more” button to click).

Similarly, your open enrollment materials should both explain how doing X, Y, or Z will help the employees in specific terms, AND provide them with an action to take, even if it’s something as low-key as “Keep an eye out for more from us soon.” In short: if you leave employees hanging about what they should actually do about open enrollment, they’ll get frustrated.

7. Fuzziness about “grey area” services

What’s covered or not — and to what degree costs are covered — for services that go beyond annual checkups and drop-in visits (see: psychiatry, chiropractic services, physical therapy) can be difficult for employees to understand especially when there are a multitude of plan options to choose from.

So don’t underestimate the value of a simple FAQ section that tackles some of the common questions around these sorts of services.

If you notice that the employees have come down with a bad case of benefits stinkface, act immediately. Thankfully, it is not a chronic condition, and in fact it can be cured with ease. Just reexamine and tweak benefits communication materials, and you and your clients should see a whole lot of Benefits happyface.