Open Enrollment is one of the trickiest things to figure out as an HR professional. As the people behind the coordination of the open enrollment process, it’s easy to think that employees will take full advantage of the opportunity to add new benefits, update beneficiaries, or are the very least, learn more about what the company has to offer. Unfortunately, all too often, this isn’t the case at most companies.
As an HR professional, you know how things really tend to go. You spend hours upon hours preparing pamphlets, presentations, and meetings to teach your employees about open enrollment. But by the end of the open enrollment period, you realize that your efforts have been in vain because most of your employees seemed to take little or no action.
Do things really have to be like this? At Launchways, we strongly believe that open enrollment can and should be better than the all-to-common example that we shared above. Based on successful examples that we’ve observed in the companies we work with and within our own expertise conducting hands-on open enrollments for our clients, we have some advice for how to have a successful open enrollment in 2020.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Understand the employee point of view
- Make benefits information exciting and unique
- Take your responsibility to communicate seriously
Information Overload – Understand Your Employees’ Point of View
Take a moment to think about all the information your employees process every day – not only in their professional lives, but in their personal lives too. From emails to social media feeds to flyers to billboards to podcasts, your employees are constantly being bombarded with information. We didn’t even mention the advertisements that are embedded in most of those mediums, which are designed specifically to trap the attention of your employee.
If you want your employees to care about open enrollment, you are going to have to think of ways to breach this wall of information overload. We’ll talk more about strategies to do that later on in this post.
Research shows that most employees in most companies rush through their open enrollment actions. Employees generally spend less than one hour reviewing their current benefits and making decisions about any changes.
Put yourself in the shoes of your average employee. You have the obvious work and home responsibilities. However, with COVID-19 now impacting most people’s work and personal lives, things just got a lot more complicated. Now more than ever, employees might be so overwhelmed that open enrollment is the last thing in the world they’re worried about.
Now that we’ve talked about things you should consider from the perspective of your employees, let’s cover what you can do about these hurdles.
How to Make the Information Stick
You must learn how to make your open enrollment communications stick. To do this, you’ll need to deliberately differentiate your communications from anything else that your employees might be processing with their minds. In other words, you can’t expect to send a standard email and expect a high level of employee engagement. Your employees likely receive dozens, if not hundreds, of similar emails each day. Here are some strategies you can use to deliberately differentiate your communications:
- Establish an internal communications brand that is used in all communication about open enrollment. Determine which colors, fonts, and imagery you will use. This brand will need to be unique, so be bold with those design choices!
- Have a variety of opportunities for employees to learn about and participate in open enrollment. Leverage an HRIS platform that can handle the logistics of employee benefits decisions during open enrollment, but also go beyond digital platforms to provide more hands-on education.
- You should have in-person (or Zoom call) Q&A sessions, virtual workshops, and both prerecorded and live presentations available. You can also leverage a combination of printed materials as well as digital communications. In other words, cast a wide net! Every employee will learn things in different was, so the more diverse you can be, the more likely you are to find a strategy that connects with each employee.
- Be creative by having games, competitions, trivia, etc. related to open enrollment. Don’t forget the prizes! Your employees may enjoy the chance to get away from their typical responsibilities for an hour to compete with each other while learning about open enrollment.
Some of these recommendations may be challenging in the year 2020, especially if many of your employees are telecommuting due to COVID-19. For example, in-person Q&A sessions might not be practical indoors. If this is the case for your company, consider holding them outdoors or limiting the size of the group and having extra sessions (or transitioning to entirely virtual engagements).
Encourage Employees to Take Open Enrollment Seriously
The most important advice we can offer in this post is that you MUST take open enrollment seriously if you except your employees to take it seriously. As an organization, be willing to invest to improve employee understanding of open enrollment processes. Also, understanding the crucial role of modern benefits administration technology and leveraging an effective platform is key.
Make your marketing, communications, and public relations employees a core part of the open enrollment process. While HR professionals are fantastic at working on the people side of the business, they may not have a strong background in marketing or communications. Use the experts that you have available to you to make sure you implement the strategies we recommended in the previous section. Remember to brand your open enrollment messaging, differentiate the communications from other information that your employees will be processing, be creative, and cast a wide net.
Work With the Right Benefits Broker
The right employee benefits broker won’t leave you on the hook to figure out open enrollment. At Launchways, we conduct open enrollment on behalf of all our clients. We provide the highest caliber of employee education, so team members can select the right plan for them and their family. If you’re interested in learning more about what it’s like to work with Launchways as your broker, learn more today.
The basics of making open enrollment successful are the same in 2020 as they always have been. However, because employees are dealing with so many things in their professional and personal lives, employers will need to go above and beyond to make sure open enrollment communications and instructions motivate employees to act.
Here are some key takeaways from this post:
- Take time to visualize your open enrollment communication materials from the perspective of your employees. While visualizing, do you care about the information? If not, why? Use your findings from that thought exercise to guide your open enrollment communication strategy.
- Develop an internal communications brand that is incorporated into your open enrollment materials.
- Be creative and innovative with your open enrollment strategies. Remember, you are competing with “information overload” to connect with them.
- Take your preparation and strategy behind open enrollment very seriously. If you don’t, you’ll never have a successful open enrollment.
- Working with the right employee benefits broker can be a game-changer at open enrollment time.
The open enrollment period between November 1 and December
15 can be one of the most challenging times of year for HR professionals.
Getting enrollment right in a timely manner is crucial to supporting your
workforce and maximizing the two-way value of employee benefits.
With that said, open enrollment is tricky because it is such
a complex challenge. There’s no one thing an HR leader or department can do to
make the enrollment season go smoothly – it requires proactive planning and
strategizing for a variety of factors and concerns.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- Introduce five of the biggest challenges,
concerns, and areas of opportunity for HR professionals before and during open
- Provide actually strategies HR leaders can use
to navigate or plan for these challenges
Open Enrollment Challenge #1: Logistics
Part of having a successful open enrollment period is having
a very clear vision ahead of time for what that enrollment is going to look
like and how you will ensure success. Without a logistical vision for how
you’re going to pull off enrollment, you’re leaving your ability to have a
successful open enrollment up to chance.
As a department, your first concern is understanding whether
you’ll be leading an active or a passive enrollment. If you’ve recently
rehauled your benefit offerings or you have internal data suggesting that many
employees are on suboptimal plans, then an active enrollment can make a big
difference for your benefits program On the other hand, passive enrollments
work best in organizations with many long-term employees who are generally
happy with their coverage.
If you’re going to leverage technology to streamline your
enrollment procedure (and in 2019, you definitely should) that means your
logistical planning needs to involve your IT team, as they’ll be the people
determining the actual look and feel of the system that your employees will use
to enroll in their benefits. HR and IT must work together to ensure the user
experience is easy, clear, stress-free, and built right into the systems that
employees use for their day-to-day work to maximize accessibility and invite
Open Enrollment Challenge #2: Communication
Communication is the probably the single biggest key to a
great open enrollment season, but it may also be the single biggest challenge.
As an HR professional, it’s your responsibility to ensure
that nobody can forget about open enrollment season. At the same time, however,
benefit election time is also when HR departments can actually harm buy-in and
hurt long-term employee engagement by providing the wrong kind of communication
or using the wrong tone with employees.
For example, weekly email reminders to make benefit
elections are useful for employees who have not completed the process, but they
can seem annoying or impersonal to professionals who were sure to make their
elections early in the cycle. Creating a communication strategy that maximizes
that valuable communication while eliminating repetitive or unnecessary messaging
is key to short-term success during enrollment and long-term success
maintaining a great relationship with your talent.
One of the best ways to be successful is by spreading your
message across multiple platforms. If your organization uses an ERP that all
employees work through, partner with IT to get reminders in highly visible
spaces that your team members can’t help but see. If your company has a
preferred messaging system or bespoke communication app, you can use those
channels to send enrollment reminders as well.
Open Enrollment Challenge #3: Education
Education is your greatest weapon to ensure employees choose
their ideal benefits package, maximizing two-way value for talent and the
organization alike. With that said, out of all these challenges, education can
be the toughest one to truly embrace and hold yourself accountable to because
it takes a lot of work.
In order to provide employees with the information they need
to select the plans that are best for their families, you need to think like a
teacher, providing multiple access points to the information and presenting
things in a variety of ways to make sure that everybody understands the
material, regardless of their personal learning style. That means just passing
along the literature from your provider isn’t nearly enough.
Employees require a blend of independent learning
opportunities (like brochures and manuals), large group learning opportunities
(like formal training sessions), and small group (or even one-on-one) support
from benefits-savvy HR team members to maximize their educational level and
resultant engagement potential. Making time for those initiatives requires
buy-in from senior leadership, but education is truly the difference between
setting up your team for enrollment success and leaving them dangling in the
Open Enrollment Challenge #4: Engagement
Engagement is the special sauce that makes every single
aspect of operations at your organization run smoothly. When it comes to open
enrollment, engagement means a workforce that cares about maximizing the value
of their benefits and getting those elections made in a timely manner.
Health and wellness are crucial points of employee
engagement for any business, but when they are active pillars of the employee
culture, it significantly streamlines the yearly dance of open enrollment. When
talent is engaged in terms of health and wellness, they work toward building
their own understanding of how they’re using their benefits, what they need,
and how they could be making smarter selections. That translates directly into
making the right choices in November.
If that culture doesn’t already exist in your organization,
the lead-up to enrollment season is a great time to brainstorm some incentives
that invite engagement and build a positive, empowered attitude toward
enrollment throughout the organization. The more you can create a positive buzz
for health and wellness, the more active a role your employees will take in
Open Enrollment Challenge #5: Picking the Right Benefits
Of course, the over-arching challenge that hangs above the
other four is the challenge of offering your employees the very best, most
valuable benefits you possibly can.
Many employee benefits providers try to build a standardized
definition of a “great benefits package,” but for your open enrollment to be
successful in the long term for your department, your organization, and your
talent, you should never settle for a one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re a
small or medium-sized business, this can require working with a white glove
service to help you connect with exactly the coverage you need to support your
Partnering with the wrong benefits broker can and will cost
the organization in the long-term, whether it’s over-spend on unused benefits
or employee dissatisfaction with limited offerings. Finding a benefits partner
who understands your organization, your team, and your goals is crucial to
maximizing employee experience and business value through enrollment.
Open enrollment is a complex challenge, but when you
understand each individual aspect of the challenge and can formulate a
proactive strategy that addresses each concern, you maximize your chances to
deliver wins for your employees and organization as a whole. Remember…
- You must plan ahead in the lead up to
open enrollment and create a roadmap for success
- You must communicate positively with your
team in a way that guarantees awareness and provides them with the information
they need to enroll
- You must educate your team in a way that
ensures they are able to make the best benefit enrollment selections for their
- You must engage your team in a positive
manner that builds their enthusiasm for wellness in general
- You must find the best possible benefits
partner for your size and goals