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Battled-tested strategies for a successful open enrollment

Elisabeth Duncan, Vice President of Human Resources November 18, 2022

As an HR pro, you spend all year finding just the right benefits to meet the needs of your ever-changing workforce, evaluating program needs, researching potential new benefit offerings, and considering premium costs and coverage–all while staying within your allotted budget. Open enrollment is the culmination of all this hard work, where your employees have the chance to select the benefit plans and programs to serve their needs, and those of their family, in the coming year.

Benefits are an essential part of employees’ overall compensation, and they have the potential to significantly improve the financial, physical, and emotional well-being of your workers. That’s why it’s important to get open enrollment right–perhaps this year more than ever. New research from The Hartford reveals that due to inflation, 40% of US employees say they’ll be cutting back on the benefits they enroll in this year. And when employees are forced to make tough choices about which benefits they choose, it’s even more critical that they understand the value of each available benefit, how they work, what they cost, and why they might need them.

The following strategies can help streamline your open enrollment process to drive higher engagement, and give your employees the support and guidance they need to make informed benefit decisions.

Make communication your foundational strategy

The best way to assure a successful open enrollment is to prioritize communication. Effective communication starts by providing:

  • Detailed instructions on where to go for information and how to enroll.
  • Clear explanations of available benefits, how they work, and who might need them.
  • Regular reminders about deadlines and resources.

Make sure you’re reaching out to employees via multiple channels, such as email, communications platforms (Slack, Teams), intranet sites, and social media. Even better, use employees’ preferred channels to send messages and reminders (text, email, push notifications).

While mass messaging is an easy way to reach your entire workforce with enrollment announcements, it’s also easy for employees to tune these messages out. Consider automating and personalizing your efforts with targeted, data-driven messages that direct employees to the benefits they might need the most.

Turn employees into educated benefits consumers

Employees often find benefits confusing, yet they may hesitate to ask questions–especially if they feel like they should already know the answers. This often leads to employees choosing the same benefits year after year, even when those choices aren’t the best fit for their needs.

Education is key to helping your employees avoid costly enrollment mistakes, whether they’re new to the workforce, growing their family, or approaching retirement. Provide employees with easy access to a variety of benefit and enrollment resources, including:

  • An overview of your benefits package, explaining the value of benefits plans and programs.
  • An easy-to-understand explanation of each benefit offered, including what it covers, how it works, and examples of who may need it.
  • A glossary of benefits terms, acronyms, and jargon, with clear explanations of each.
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to enroll, along with information on signing up for meetings or webinars.

Be sure to provide learning tools to meet the needs of all learners, including visual, auditory, and reading, using a range of resources such as videos, screen readers, braille displays, charts, and pamphlets.

Give employees lots of opportunities to ask questions

Educational resources are great, but many employees are looking for one-on-one support during the enrollment process. In fact, according to the 2021 Aflac Workforces Report, 53% of surveyed employees–and 76% of millennials–said it’s important to have access to a benefits adviser when making their benefits selections. Be sure to provide general benefit Q&A sessions that give interested employees the chance to ask questions. If you can offer your employees individual sessions with one of your benefit experts, that’s terrific. But for the many employers who lack the resources to do that, consider the following options:

  • Enlist your managers to talk about benefits in one-on-one meetings with employees during open enrollment. They can either answer questions, or reach out to HR resources on behalf of their team members.
  • Set up and promote an employee benefits helpline or Slack channel. Even if you can only make these resources available to field questions during certain hours, it can help guide employees to the right benefit choices for them.
  • Recruit and train volunteers from across your organization to act as benefits resources for their teams or regions. Even better, ask bilingual employees if they’d be willing to participate to ensure language isn’t a barrier to understanding benefits.
  • Reach out to your benefits vendors to see if they might have a representative available to attend your benefits meetings, participate in webinars, or join a Zoom call to answer specific questions from employees.
  • Feature a detailed open enrollment FAQ on your intranet or open enrollment site, and offer on-demand webinars or podcasts that address common enrollment questions and challenges.

Whatever tactic you use, it’s crucial that employees feel supported throughout the open enrollment process. When help is readily available, employee engagement–and satisfaction–improves.

Provide a personalized open enrollment experience

Every employee is unique, and so are their benefit needs. Tailoring the enrollment process to each employee can better guide them to relevant benefits, help them choose the coverage to best fit their needs and budget, and improve their overall experience.

To personalize the enrollment experience, consider these engagement-boosting options that don’t require a lot of effort or coordination from your HR team:

  • Provide employees with an overview of their current benefits, and highlight any new or unused benefits. Consider offering an automated plan choice tool that provides personalized plan comparisons and data-driven recommendations.
  • Avoid impersonal mass messaging that disengages employees, such as sending information on maternity benefits to a 60-year-old man, or promoting retirement benefits to ineligible employees.
  • Data-driven, automated benefits outreach can drive higher enrollment and help employees make better benefits decisions. Sending each employee recommendations about the benefits that are most relevant to them using data sources such as claims, eligibility, demographics, and more, can be a powerful engagement tool during open enrollment and beyond. 

Personalization can also be as simple as offering one-on-one benefit guidance or help with enrollment.

Make benefits a year-round conversation

Open enrollment is often a hectic season for HR pros and a stressful time for employees. By periodically reaching out to employees about benefits throughout the year, you can highlight benefit plans and programs, promote educational resources, introduce new offerings, and hopefully relieve some of the pressure when open enrollment rolls around again.

Consider these opportunities for year-round outreach:

  • Once the new plan year begins, send out a “what to expect” benefits communication that provides information on ID cards, benefit support sites and tools, network changes, and more.
  • Send personalized messages to employees who’ve experienced a life event that may impact their benefits eligibility or choices, such as the birth of a child or marriage.
  • Announce any benefit additions or new vendors as they occur, and explain their value.
  • Schedule personalized reminders about underused benefits, and provide resources about how they work, to encourage future enrollment.
  • Send benefits and enrollment surveys to gauge interest in new benefit offerings,gather feedback about the enrollment process, and share the results and any changes you’re making.

A regular cadence of benefits communications, and ongoing benefits education, can help employees feel more comfortable about their benefits, and make the enrollment process less overwhelming.

Ask employees to weigh in on benefits and open enrollment

When it comes to benefits, the only constant is change. You might put together the perfect benefits package for your employee population, or knock the open enrollment process out of the park, but next year is a whole new ballgame. Employees come and go, needs change, and there’s always room for improvement. 

To get your employees’ thoughts on what’s working–and what isn’t–you need to regularly reach out to employees for their feedback. This helps you keep a finger on what matters most to your employees, shows them you value their input, and helps you improve processes and shape benefit strategies.

To gather feedback during the open enrollment period and beyond, consider these options:

  • Encourage questions from employees during open enrollment meetings and webinars, and ask employees to complete a quick survey on the experience at the end of every session.
  • Prominently feature a feedback button on your enrollment site that allows employees to submit comments and suggestions.
  • Conduct a post-enrollment employee survey to learn areas for process improvement.
  • Consider a benefits survey that allows employees to rate current plans and programs, and suggest additional benefits they would like to see.

While none of these strategies guarantee a successful open enrollment on their own, together they can transform your enrollment process and help employees get the most out of the benefits you offer. And when employees are enrolled in the right benefits for their needs, it can lead to a happier, healthier workforce.