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The Top 5 Challenges of Open Enrollment (And How HR Departments Can Manage Them Successfully)

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 enrollment
  • 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 engagement.

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 wind.

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 enrollment.

Open Enrollment Challenge #5: Picking the Right Benefits Partner

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 team.

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.

Key Takeaways

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 families
  • 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