5 Tips to Improve (and Rock) Open Enrollment

By: Shannon Maggs, CPP, PHR

If you’re like me, then the term “Open Enrollment” doesn’t exactly make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It might actually make you feel the opposite, landing somewhere between cold and scratchy and chilly and prickly. But really, it shouldn’t.Why? Because open enrollment isn’t just another month in the year, it’s HR’s time to shine.That’s right, HR professionals, during open enrollment you’re no longer the opening act, but the headliner. And as such, it’s your job to provide all employees with the vital information and options they need to decide on the benefits that will impact their lives in the coming year.Like all true rock stars, we know that you didn’t just show up on stage one day. You’ve paid your dues, gone through years of training and are well prepared for this month. We know you’re ready, you know you’re ready but, just in case you still get a little stage fright, we’ve put together 5 helpful tips to help you rock this year’s open enrollment period.Now get on stage, HR rock star, it’s your moment in the spotlight.

  1. Build a Set List: Successful rock stars don’t just jump right into a show, they build a set list and you should, too. Include fan favorites, like updates to any existing plans and pricing, but be sure to add in new tracks to address more recent challenges facing HR. Challenges like higher premiums, entirely new benefit plan options to address those premiums, new and ongoing reporting requirements from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the range of new and confusing options and terminology. By understanding and tackling these issues early, you’ll not only have a better handle on the benefits landscape, you’ll also be better prepared to communicate these details with your employees when the enrollment period opens up. Once built, go through each item to determine next steps. That might mean getting quotes, building cost-comparison sheets or even developing FAQ documents to help with any questions that arise.
  2. Strike the Right Chord: Most employees fear change and, unfortunately, the benefits world is changing. As an HR rock star, it’s your job to strike the right chord with your audience by providing the necessary information to help calm those fears. Usually, that can be done through education. Rather than starting with plan details, consider giving a big-picture overview of the industry, comparing benefits to national averages and the current trends in healthcare. Define key terms and explain how recent legislature – like the ACA – is impacting both employees and providers. Consider going a step further and showing how company-paid benefits impact an employees’ total compensation package. Once you’ve done that, reinforce HR’s role as the company advocate in the benefits battle. You’re all in this together and employees should feel confident knowing that they have a dedicated and passionate ally in HR.
  3. Put on a Show: Tired of the same old song and dance? You’re not alone. According to a survey from GuideSpark, the employee handbook is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Although the handbook isn’t exactly an essential part of open enrollment, this survey makes it pretty clear that employees want a new and exciting way to obtain and digest information from HR. Consider trying something new this year such as incorporating videos, social media or even holding an open enrollment kick-off party. Pair information with snacks, bring in reps from your insurance providers to answer questions and throw in a few small giveaways along the way to help promote benefits for the upcoming year. Just be sure to have the educational materials available so that after the party, employees can evaluate their options and ask any questions they might have.
  4. Give an Encore Performance: Just because the curtain closed after your first performance doesn’t mean the show is over. Be sure to follow up with employees in the weeks to come to help ensure they have all of the information needed to elect the proper benefits. Even in the most engaged workforce, companies will have a few employees who aren’t entirely aware of details and deadlines. In fact, according to a recent article in Workforce magazine, only one-third of employees actually understand that they’re only able to change enrollment options during the open enrollment period or after a qualifying event. As their HR rock star, it’s your job to make sure all employees understand the rules, so preach, educate and follow up until the clock strikes twelve and the open enrollment period ends.
  5. Expect the Unexpected: Just like every rock star expects to eventually deal with a bout of laryngitis, it’s important to remember that there may be a few bumps along your open enrollment tour. It’s nothing to get discouraged over; employees simply don’t know what they don’t know. They might not know what question to ask or, in some cases, who they should be asking. This can often lead to last minute issues or larger problems. Do the best you can to be proactive, not reactive, and be sure to keep a healthy reserve of backup singers – like your benefits brokers and providers’ representatives. Having these additional resources piled into your tour bus will provide employees with another resource to clear up any confusion and help keep you well-positioned to give the performance of the century this year and beyond during the open enrollment period.

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