It’s hard to believe it’s already October. It has been a whirlwind of a year, and it’s once again time to gear up for one of the busiest times of the year for the HR team, specifically benefits, as we prepare for open enrollment season. This is the year everything changed for HR and benefits professionals and it means a shift in the way you go about open enrollment, too. Perception of company benefits has a direct impact on employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment, and now is the time to rethink and redesign your process to ensure you have the tools in place to communicate them clearly.
By implementing clear communications plans and best practices now, you can avoid the chaos that is sure to come without it. But even with the best laid plans, “hiccups” will happen. Aligning your organization with a competent, supportive benefits broker/consultant will help to minimize these “hiccups” and optimize overcoming them when they occur. And now more than ever it is imperative to make sure that your open enrollment process is inclusive of all employee populations. In today’s work world, as we know all too well, many employees aren’t working from the company office, or even at a desk with a computer, so providing flexible enrollment strategies is key to a successful open enrollment.
Below we have provided some tips to help ensure the most successful open enrollment process possible for your organization and its employees:
1. Build an Open Enrollment Timeline – Believe it or not, 4-6 months lead time for open enrollment will make sure you are the most prepared. Figure out a schedule that works best for you and your team.
Some things to think about to incorporate within this timeframe include: Review your insurance renewals (you want to make sure to build in a cushion for your broker to negotiate your rates), select final plans (Are you featuring new benefits or PTO policies for parents/caregivers? Are you increasing wellness benefits to improve the mental/physical health of your employees?), update data on your HRIS or ben admin portal if necessary, schedule [virtual] benefits meetings to educate your employees (should be at least 2 months prior to election due date via multiple platforms), build out a multi-media communications campaign (strategize a series of messages on multiple channels to “drip” to your employees), design your annual open enrollment materials (a good broker will do this for you), hold virtual office hours to answer questions, open your enrollment portal, and decide on an election deadline, any post-enrollment education, and a plan-effective date.
2. Leverage Technology – We used to say that technology can be your best friend when it comes to open enrollment, now with most open enrollments occurring virtually, it is likely the only way employees can get information about their benefits. Having the right benefits administration portal will simplify the enrollment process by streamlining employee elections, carrier feeds and education. Additionally, there are tools to help employees (and therefore the HR team) to better understand their benefits and make informed decisions about their elections, such as Alex by Jellyvision, an interactive employee communication software. If you’re a company who has several different benefits available, consider planning a virtual benefits fair where you invite all of your benefit vendors to introduce employees to all the extras that your company has to offer. Many employees feel they don’t have the time to educate themselves on benefits when just handed materials to sift through, and if employees don’t understand benefits or how to access them, then they can’t utilize what is available to them. A virtual benefits fair can be an important tool to reach all employees regardless of location, and can aid in recruiting and retaining top talent.
3. Multi-Channel Communication – HR and benefits professionals will need to re-think the traditional content mix and distribution channels. There are so many technology platforms to be utilized to communicate, making sure your enrollment materials are responsive to your employees is so important when it comes to employees taking the actions we want them to take. Make sure to exercise use of all of your available channels whether it be email reminders, slack updates, videos or live webinars. According to Forrester Research, employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than read documents, emails or web articles. You may even tap into your Employee Resource Groups as an additional avenue to communicate your messages. Something else to consider is an opt-in texting list for benefits communications. The text open rates average 98% vs 20% for email.
4. Personalize your Employee Message – As we mentioned earlier, not every employee is in the same role (ie – not necessarily at a desk job) or demographic and the goal of your benefits communication is an emotional shift from indifferent to engaged. Younger, Gen Z’s may prefer to engage with open enrollment on their mobile app focusing on college loan repayment while Gen X’ers may prefer to enroll through their computer and learn more about retirement tool and strategies your company has. Whatever the case is, knowing your audience and addressing them personally will drive engagement.
5. Incorporate Employee Support Resources – Having a support structure built in to open enrollment will make sure your employees have a place to turn for their questions to help keep the process moving. It also provides back-up for when the “hiccups” occur. Whether you have a dedicated company email, point person and/or benefits broker with support for you and your employees, planning prior will prevent problems and expedite solutions when they occur.