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Open Enrollment

8 Steps to Best Support Employees During Open Enrollment

by Caroline Boyland June 15, 2022

Open Enrollment is (always) Approaching

For many HR teams, it tends to feel like the year revolves around open enrollment. You spend months planning and prepping, weeks developing education and sending reminder comms to employees, and then a few more weeks reflecting on the success of the season. Only to feel like a few months later you start that cycle all over again.

It’s a universal truth that open enrollment season is a crucial time for all HR and benefits teams. Employees are making key decisions that will have a direct impact on their health and finances for the entire year—and it’s vital to ensure that employees have all the information they need to make informed choices.

OE season can be a stressful time for employers and employees alike. On the employee side, having to make these major life decisions on top of their regular workday is can be stressful and overwhelming.

Employers can provide support around benefits enrollment

To ensure employees aren’t feeling overwhelmed during open enrollment, HR teams can develop an employee support strategy. The following 8 steps can guide you to providing top-tier support to your employees during open enrollment.

8 Steps to Building an Employee Support System

Step 1: Design a communication plan

We know that open enrollment is one of the busiest times of year for HR teams, adding anything else to your plate might seem impossible. That’s why we recommend establishing a solid communication plan very early on in your planning process. This can ensure that nothing is missed during crunch time.

Outline the dates you’ll need to accomplish everything by, from carrier meetings, to the first employee facing “it’s that time of year again!” announcement, all the way through the reflection period. Writing all these dates down can immediately ease the stress of the impending season.

From there, don’t hesitate to communicate early and often. Let your employees know early on what’s coming down the line, what they should expect, what is required of them, and when they’ll need to take action. Frequency is key here, as it's easy for employees to lose or forget an email in their inbox. Frequent communication will ensure that they’re feeling informed and prepared for the decisions they’ll need to make. And don’t forget to tailor communication to your diverse workforce—if some employees are remote but some are in the office, bulletins in the break-room and in-person lunch and learns aren’t going to cut it. Make sure to communicate in a way that reaches all employees, regardless of where they’re working from.

Step 2:Make resources easily accessible

You know when you go to look for something, maybe it’s an email in your inbox or a PDF saved to your downloads folder, and you can’t find it, so after a few minutes you give up and think “I’ll find it another time”? It’s safe to assume that this is how employees will approach finding OE documentation. Employees are busy, and if they can’t find the resources they need when they need them, chances are they’ll move onto something else.

Because of this, it’s key to ensure that employees can find all of the information they need, all in one place, whether that be on your company intranet, a benefits website, or an HR content hub. Make sure that the content is well organized and easy to navigate, so employees can quickly find what they're looking for. To make things even easier, include direct links to key resources, such as the open enrollment website or contact information for the benefits team.

Step 3: Schedule open enrollment office hours

No matter how much planning and prep you do, it’s inevitable that employees are going to have questions. But when managing benefits for an entire organization, it can seem like you’re spending all of your time answering benefits related questions for employees. And the most time consuming part here is that oftentimes the questions will be duplicates. The best time saver here? Scheduling hour long office hours once or twice a week throughout the open enrollment period where employees can pop in and ask their questions. This will keep most questions consolidated to a short period of time so that your day isn’t slammed with questions, and will provide employees with an opportunity to ask anything on their mind. To prevent duplicate questions, put together a short writeup to send out to the company after each session. This doesn’t have to be a full q&a transcript, but can come more in the format of “these were the questions asked in the session, if you have the same questions, check out the recording for the answer.”

That being said, sometimes benefits related questions can be about employee health or finances. These questions can be sensitive, so ensure employees know that if they have personal questions, they can schedule 15 minutes with you to ask whatever it is they don’t feel comfortable sharing in the larger office hours. In addition to providing support, it's also important to encourage employees to take full advantage of the educational resources available to them so that they have all the details they need in writing for future reference.

Step 4: Offer a decision support tool

This one is a no-brainer, support is quite literally in the name. The best way to support your employees during open enrollment is by providing technology that can empower them to make more confident, educated decisions when choosing their benefits. Decision support tools vary in sophistication—but they typically follow the same type of process, the tool typically:

  • Asks the employee to identify key factors about their personal life -Provides education around the benefits offered
  • Helps the employee choose the right plans

This type of tool can be life-changing for employees going into open enrollment with little-to-know benefits understanding, which may be more than you think. Recent research found that while 82% of HR Leaders are moderate-to-confident that employees understand their benefits options, 63% of employees reported that they are unconfident when choosing benefits. This disparity is causing the lack of understanding to continue to grow, as traditional methods of benefits education are remaining commonplace and are not doing enough to help employees make decisions. Decision support can be just the tool your team needs to empower employees to make confident decisions. Learn more about decision support, here.

Step 5: Communicate the complete benefits package

You can provide the best benefits package in the world, but it will do nothing if your employees don’t know what’s being offered to them. Open enrollment typically has employees focusing on traditional benefits like medical, dental, vision, and retirement plans—but the Great Resignation has led to many HR teams bringing in new non-traditional benefits as well.

If your organization is offering non-traditional options, like gym membership discounts, commuter benefits, meditation apps, or others, be sure your employees know not only that these are being offered, but how they can take advantage of them. Creating something even as basic as a PowerPoint slideshow that outlines what the benefits are, how to access, and any important links can go a long way in helping your employees take advantage of their options.

Step 6: Measure success in advance

Open enrollment can often feel like running a marathon, and when it’s over, you just want to take a step back and breathe. That’s why it is so important to set up ways to measure success before open enrollment even begins.

Think about what defines a “successful” open enrollment to you and your team, and set up a system to track these metrics before OE begins. You will be thanking yourself after the mad-enrollment-dash when you don’t have to take the time (and brainpower) to figure out how to measure your success.

It’s also key to ensure that your process for measuring success can identify any key areas for improvement. This will help you prepare for future enrollment seasons by giving you an idea of what you’ll need to focus on. This sets you up for continuous success and will ensure each open enrollment season is better than the last.

Step 7: Ask for input

Don’t be afraid to ask employees for feedback! We know this is easier said than done depending on the size of your company (it’s easier to wrangle feedback from 50 people than 50,000 people), but it is so important to understand how employees feel about the process.

You won’t be able to best support employees during open enrollment if you don’t know how they’ve felt about enrollment in the past. This can be done through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-ones,

Not sure where to start? Questions like these can help guide you to collecting strong feedback:

  • What did employees think about the process?
  • Was it easy to understand?
  • Were they able to find all the info they needed?
  • What could be improved?

Most importantly, how did they feel about the benefits being offered to them? Is there anything they were happy to see, or hoping to see that wasn’t offered? By collecting this valuable input, you can ensure that you're meeting the needs of your employees, you’re communicating effectively, and that you’re optimizing your benefits budget.

Step 8: Continue the conversation

It’s helpful to think about enrollment throughout the year, to make sure you’re truly meeting employee needs. Keep the conversation going and educate employees about their options on an ongoing basis to ensure they’re making the most of their plans.

If there are any changes or updates to benefits, communicate these changes with employees as they arise. For example, if you’re thinking about incorporating fertility benefits into your next OE season, communicate that to employees early as some employees may be planning for a pregnancy and this could impact their timeline. Major changes to plans that could affect the cost of care can potentially impact when an employee wants to schedule a surgery or appointment. Although plans might not change until the following open enrollment, these are types of things that employees schedule or plan out months in advance, so it’s key that they know if they’ll have the same type of medical coverage.

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure employees feel supported during open enrollment, but things can vary based on your organization size, employee demographics, and benefits offering. Find out what works best for your team and your organization, and optimize the process each year.

By thinking about the process from end-to-end, you can ensure that it runs smoothly, achieves your goals, and that your employees are getting the most out of their benefits. These steps will also ensure that the return on investment for your benefits budget is high and that employees are engaged and satisfied with their benefits package.

If you’re interested in learning more about how our AI-powered decision support tool, Nayya Choose, can empower employees to make more confident benefits decisions during enrollment, read more here.

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