10 Easy Steps to Improve Your Open Enrollment Process 

 September 19, 2017

open enrollment

For many HR representatives, open enrollment is similar to the doors of Walmart opening on Black Friday: pure chaos (and the occasional tasing).

In 2017, this period will be especially hectic, as health care reform and political turmoil swirl. These eleven steps can be used to improve your company’s open enrollment process.


1. Plan ahead

Employers need to begin planning their open enrollment four to five months in advance. This planning process should include:

— Auditing your materials (pamphlets, memos, videos, etc.) for any errors or changes in facts

— Preparing a marketing plan

— Compiling your support materials

— Discovering what employees want to know more about/know the least about

— Scheduling any meetings, webinars, benefits fairs, etc.

— Beginning communication with your benefit partners to ensure you’re on the same page, and ready to go for open enrollment

Planning ahead will make your enrollment period far less stressful when it comes around, which will benefit all your employees, not just your HR professionals.

diversity committee

2. Consider new benefits

Your business also has to ask itself numerous questions regarding new benefits offerings:

— Would employees be interested in new popular options such as HSAs or wellness programs?

— Should you offer auto-enrollment for certain benefits?

— Did you offer similar plans last year? If so, how interested were employees?

— Which benefits were employees most likely to use?

All of these questions can help you determine if your company should consider offering new benefits, or which old benefits it should replace with new ones. The benefits landscape is constantly changing, and it is up to each employer to adapt how they see fit.


3. Review last year’s results and set new goals

Each year you should discuss how your previous open enrollment process went. It is important to figure out what went well and what could be improved. Reviewing last year’s process is the best way to improve this year’s. This review factors directly into the next part of the step, setting clear goals.

The two questions businesses have to ask themselves when setting goals for their open enrollment processes are: What do we measure and how do we measure it? Your company has to decide what metrics it is going to collect and use to measure success. These metrics should be tied directly to your goals. You then need to confirm how you will gather and measure the data.


Some examples of open enrollment goals are:

— Increase enrollment in the company’s consumer-driven health plan by __%

— Get __% of employees saving for retirement

— Engage __% of employees in viewing the wellness program video

— Reduce printed OE material budget by __%

— Decrease the number of calls to HR hotline by __%


4. Communicate

Communication with your employees is the key to any successful open enrollment period. Ask employees if there is any topic they’d like to know more about, or which topic confused them the most. Discover how employees would like to be contacted (email, phone, meeting, etc.) with information regarding open enrollment and benefits.

Survey employees to find out how their experience was last year. All of this information is key to improving your open enrollment. Ultimately, this time is for your employees, and it is vital to get their point of view.


5. Prepare your staff

Your staff should not go into open enrollment meetings and have to ask basic coverage options questions. This information needs to be distributed to all your employees, prior to any official open enrollment meetings.


Deliver this information through the communication channels we discussed above. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says there are four main questions your employees want to know:

  • Why do I need the coverage?
  • Which features fit my needs?
  • What value does the program provide?
  • How much is this going to cost me per paycheck?

Answering these questions will give your staff a solid foundation of understanding their employee benefits plan. This knowledge makes the open enrollment process easier and more efficient for everyone.


6. Utilize Technology

Any company that doesn’t utilize the latest technology is going to have trouble keeping up with their competition. This statement holds true for open enrollment too. New HR technology can help you both communicate with employees and administer benefits enrollment.

Online enrollment technology allows your employees to enroll on their own time, where they want and provides an improved experience overall. This technology makes open enrollment easier for employees to complete and less stressful for your HR team to manage.


7. Identify and Recognize Your Employees’ Needs

If you want to really improve your processes, you have to understand what your employees need. One of the best ways to understand these needs is to develop personas and segment your staff.

drinking coffee

Segmenting your staff allows you to tailor open enrollment materials to specific groups that will be more receptive to them. For example, your millennial employees will likely be more receptive to information about pet insurance, than baby boomers.

Use segmentation, internal surveys, and employee feedback to shape your benefits package. The more input your staff has, the more likely they are to respond positively to the company’s employee benefits offerings.


8. Stay Up-to-Date

Unless you’ve gone full ostrich during the past eight months, you’ve probably heard about health care reform. President Trump and Congress have already attempted to pass legislation that would replace the current ACA policy. But up to this point, they haven’t found success.

Still, the battle over health care reform is far from over, and it wouldn’t be a total shock if to see the ACA eventually repealed and/or replaced. This state of flux makes it important that your HR team and benefits broker is staying up-to-date on all of the latest health care reform news.

Additionally, health care legislation, in general, is exceedingly erratic. Your HR professionals and broker have to be able to answer any employee questions about new, or possible health care changes.


9. Set Office Hours

Many open enrollment communications occur through materials such as an email or flyer, or in group settings. These are obviously the most cost and time effective options for reaching a group of employees.


Still, there may be employees who want to ask more sensitive questions, and wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so in a group or electronic setting. Your HR team has to have open office hours for employees to come in and ask questions one-on-one.


10. Give Them Enough Time

“It is a rushed process, and I feel like I don’t have time.” This statement was the number two open enrollment frustration, by employees in a recent Namely survey. There is a rather simple solution to this frustration. More time.

Instead of one week of open enrollment, give staff members two or more weeks. Similarly, prepare your employees ahead of time. Beginning at least six weeks in advance of open enrollment, start preparing your team for what they need to know before open enrollment begins.


The Wrap

Only 20 percent of workers said they had enough information to make informed decisions about their benefits, according to Aflac’s 2015 WorkForces Report. This type of disconnect is common among workplaces and leads to a chaotic and ineffective open enrollment period.

Use these five steps (and make sure nobody brings a taser to work) to improve your open enrollment process.