Keys to Successful Open Enrollment

For many, Fall is the season of bonfires, s’mores, and preparing for upcoming holidays. For many businesses, it’s also open enrollment season! This season comes with its own set of challenges and rewards, and at the forefront of those is employee engagement. Many employers cite employee engagement in the benefits enrollment process as one of their top challenges. While effective benefits enrollment correlates with their bottom line, employers struggle to engage their employees, creating a less than perfect benefits enrollment process.

While we cannot avoid all the struggles of open enrollment, these eight steps will help to ensure your company has a smooth and successful open enrollment season:

1.  Know Your Employee Needs

Studies on employee engagement through the benefits process often point to a lack of understanding as the most significant contributor to employee disconnect through open enrollment. This lack of understanding stems from the employees misunderstanding the benefits offered, and from employers misunderstanding the needs of their employees. Engaging employees in this process begins with understanding what benefits your employees need and how to best communicate what benefits are offered. There are many ways to approach these challenges but no matter if you choose to poll employees or hire an outside company, understanding employee needs is the first step to successful open enrollment.  And, this should start long before the enrollment season.

2.  Develop a Game Plan

Look at employee feedback and your experiences from last year, what worked, what did not, etc. Use this information to build an improved plan, addressing the shortfalls of last year and setting up clear and specific deadlines for yourself, your benefits team, and your employees. The key to an effective game plan is to remain employee-centered; when employees feel engaged they are more likely to remain a consistent part of the enrollment process, making your job a little easier and ultimately leading to improved outcomes for employees and your organization.

3.  Set Goals

Set goals for yourself and your employees. These goals can be concrete such as beginning enrollment on a specific date, reaching a specific number of new enrollments, etc. Or soft goals, such as improving employee experience of enrollment or increasing the understanding of benefits offered, etc. These goals will create a foundation for your approach to open enrollment and help to ensure a smoother process not only now but in the future.

4.  Line Up Extra Help

Employees will inevitably have questions throughout open enrollment, questions that may require hands-on assistance, and depending on the size of your company this may be a lot for one person to handle. One way to prepare for this and keep employees actively engaged is to select leaders, a team of employees, HR or otherwise, that will be your benefits champions. This team will not only help you spread the word about benefit options, but, with a little training, can be equipped to answer questions on programs and the enrollment process.

5.  Develop a Communications Strategy

While deciding how to communicate information can feel like an extra step, it is a key component to any good benefits strategy. Create a plan that will work for your employees; think about how they prefer to receive information (on paper, via e-mail, social media, etc.) and when this information should be dispersed. After deciding on the medium(s), create clear and concise save-the-dates, deadline reminders, and enrollment information that will help your employees to stay engaged without overwhelming them with too much information.

6.  Make Employees Aware

Now that we have a plan in place, extra help lined up, and a strategy to communicate with our employees, it is time to raise awareness! We all know our work with open enrollment begins long before we hand out the forms. A key step in the beginning is to remind our employees that open enrollment is coming and make them aware of any changes to benefits packages. Keep in mind, law surrounding enrollment require that employees be made aware of changes in coverage, costs, or any benefits that will be removed or added. Check your state and local laws as well as company policy to ensure all communication meets both the needs of the employees and the requirements of the company.

7.  Make Enrollment as Easy as Possible

Successful open enrollment relies heavily on the ease of understanding and enrolling in benefits that best fit the individual employees’ needs. Creating a team, or outsourcing the process, can help ensure employees questions are answered in a timely manner, making the enrollment process less stressful for everyone involved. In addition, the use of your communication strategy can ensure every employee is aware of upcoming deadlines.

8.  Remember the ‘People Factor’

The final step of a successful open enrollment is to remember that everything you do is in support of your employees. Do not forget that your hard work assists employees in feeling valued, happy, and healthy. Open enrollment can be a stressful time for everyone in the office and an effective strategy keeps that in mind, remember self-care and empathy throughout the process. No matter how you approach open enrollment, the bottom line is everything you do ensures a positive and healthy work environment for employees, and ultimately ensures the success of your organization.

Whatever your approach to open enrollment, a successful strategy includes prioritizing the needs of your employees as well as your company. Keeping both the organization and the employee in mind will set your organization up for a successful open enrollment season, and ultimately a successful year.

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