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Another open enrollment period has come and gone. Hopefully this stressful time of year went smoothly for your HR department and for your employees, but chances are your team is frazzled and your employees still have questions about the plans they signed up for. No matter how well you handled open enrollment, there are probably steps you can take to make things go better next year.

Why is it so important to get open enrollment right? Well, according to Aflac surveys, 80% of employees believe that their benefits package influences their engagement in their jobs and with their companies. Moreover, a majority of employees surveyed said that they were likely to accept a job with lower compensation but better benefits. Therefore, it is vital that you make sure that employees have access to their benefits, are fully informed about the range of benefits available to them, and feel positive about every part of the benefits enrollment process.

So how can you make next year’s open enrollment period more satisfying and less painful for everyone involved? All the answers you need are in the open enrollment period you just survived. Take a hard look at the past enrollment period to figure out what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what you can do to handle open enrollment more effectively next year.

In today’s post we will examine the key components of a successful open enrollment analysis, plus share a few best practices every team could benefit from:

  • Collecting Data
  • Identifying Trends
  • Analyzing Behaviors
  • Creating Actionable Next Steps
  • Common Best Practices

Collect Data

The first step to figuring out what to do next year is finding out exactly what happened this year. Hopefully you collected useful information during open enrollment, such as employee enrollment rates or the number of emails, meetings, one-on-one sessions, and calls between employees and internal stakeholders regarding the benefits options. What’s important to do now that the enrollment period is over, though, is to find out what employees and internal stakeholders thought of the process in order to identify pain points and preferences.

Some of the most important insights into your open enrollment procedures can come from soliciting feedback from employees. The best way to do this is to send surveys out to all employees who participated in open enrollment. Here are some key things to ask employees about in the surveys:

  • Ease of enrollment
  • Accessibility of information about benefit options
  • Perceived quality of benefit options
  • Areas for improvement
  • Preferred methods for enrollment and communication

In addition to talking to employees, you should also make sure to send surveys to your internal stakeholders – namely managers and members of the HR department – to see how open enrollment went for them. Be sure to include questions about:

  • Success meeting enrollment goals
  • Processes that went well
  • Issues that arose
  • Suggested procedures for next year
  • Ways to make their job easier during open enrollment

Identify Trends

Once you have collected enough data, it is time to analyze it to draw inferences that will allow you to plan for next year. You should look for trends in survey responses that indicate either successes or challenges during the enrollment period.

Some common trends that you may encounter in employee surveys that you should take seriously include:

  • Confusion regarding benefit details
  • Dissatisfaction with benefit options
  • Frustration with the enrollment process itself

Things to look out for in your survey responses from internal stakeholders are:

  • Answering the same questions over and over
  • Not knowing who to direct employees to for further information
  • Difficulty tracking enrollment/other systems issues

Analyze Behaviors and Processes

Behind each trend is a behavior or set of behaviors that drove the end result for your employees or stakeholders. In many cases the good or bad behaviors and processes will become evident as soon as you identify the trends, others may require further interviews with troubled survey respondents to identify.

The same trends can also have different behaviors behind them that will become clear upon further investigation. Take, for instance, the example of employee dissatisfaction with benefit options. You have a serious issue when a lot of employees are not happy with the benefits offered to them, since benefits are key to employee performance and retention. In some cases, your benefits package may need to be reviewed and expanded. Most of the time, however, employees’ dissatisfaction stems from not being clearly informed of the full range of options available to them. Taking the time to explain the options and how they provide for employee needs can nip this issue in the bud.

General categories of behaviors and processes to examine in explaining each trend include:

  • Distribution of benefit option information
  • Communication structures and behaviors
  • Availability of resources for employees, managers, and the human resources team
  • Enrollment process – did employees enroll on paper or online?
  • Enrollment tracking

Create Actionable Next Steps

For each behavior that you identify in the previous step, you should create actionable next steps to improve the enrollment process next year. Think about how you can prevent the issues that came up this year, what new practices you can establish to make the process easier, and how you can preserve existing positive behaviors so that they do not get lost over time.

You shouldn’t put off implementing new best practices until next enrollment period. Make a game plan for how you can prepare for open enrollment over the course of the entire year. Set quarterly and monthly goals and keep yourself, and your team, accountable to that schedule.

Let’s continue the trend/behavior example from the previous section and look at some actionable next steps you can take to address employee dissatisfaction with benefit options. The first step you can take is to follow-up with survey respondents to find out exactly what they thought was lacking in the benefits package. If it turns out that the options actually include many of the things that they want, then you know you have a communications issue. So, create a plan for how you can address the issue over the time from now until open enrollment closes. This might include a monthly newsletter featuring benefits options, establishing one-on-one meetings with each employee to determine their needs and find the plans that meet those needs, or creating a new benefits handbook.

Common Best Practices

Each company’s challenges are unique, but there are some things that most people can do to make open enrollment as productive and pain-free as possible.

Get Employees Ready in Advance

Take the opportunity to highlight your benefits package and boost employee engagement by providing clear and positive information about benefits options. Create easy to digest reference materials, make the HR team and insurance brokers as accessible to employees as possible, and hold open meetings explaining benefits year-round. Also, make sure that your managers have the information they will need well ahead of time, because their team members will come to them with questions as soon as open enrollment starts.

Establish Effective Processes

Track as many metrics as possible in real-time during open enrollment next year, so that you can correct issues immediately and minimize post-enrollment follow-up. You should examine your benefits processes every year, but try to make your job easier next year so that you do not have to do as much data collection.

Also, set up clear communication procedures and do not deviate from them. That way employees know where and how to get more information about their benefits options and you can avoid costly mixed messages and wasted time.

Make Compliance Easy

Keep your team members happy by making ACA compliance as painless as possible. The best way to do this is to take a look at how you document coverage offers. If you don’t have a standardized, streamlined, and electronic way of tracking coverage offers, it’s time to investigate different software options. Record keeping is a pain, there is no reason to make your team’s job harder. Also, make a plan for when you are going to send employees information necessary for compliance, such as the Summary of Benefits and Coverage and the Uniform Glossary. The more formalized the process is, the less likely you are to let something slip through the cracks.

Communicate Year Round

Even if you have your open enrollment procedures down, there are probably things you could do year round to make your lives easier come enrollment time and provide employees with more information, more regularly.

The best way to do this is to send a benefits newsletter every month or quarter, or to regular email updates on benefit options and policy changes. This way, employees will have access to more information when the time comes to choose their benefits, without being overloaded with information all at once. The sad truth is that the majority of employees spend less than an hour reading about available plans and choosing their benefits. So, giving them information in more manageable pieces throughout the year can help prepare them more effectively than providing more information than they will use at the start of open enrollment.

Sending regular updates can also make your internal stakeholders’ jobs easier too. It can be hard to record all of the policy changes that occurred over the past year; newsletters give you a reason to record the changes over the course of the year rather than all at once when open enrollment is approaching. The newsletters or emails will also become valuable resources for your team to direct employees to in order to answer common questions.

Key Takeaways

In this post we have explored how to analyze your processes to make sure open enrollment gives you less of a headache next year. Some key takeaways include:

  • Track data during open enrollment and collect information from employees using surveys
  • Identify issues and successes from last year
  • Figure out the behaviors and processes behind the trends
  • Create a plan for next year to correct the bad and improve on the good

What practices has your company implemented to make open enrollment easier and more successful? Share your tips in the comments below.

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