(Story by Laura Hamill originally appeared in Employee Benefit News)
We hear you sighing. We see you with your head on your desk. We feel the disbelief. And we know you’re asking, “Is it that time of year AGAIN?”
It is. It’s open enrollment season. And while we also don’t have a clue how 12 months flies by so quickly, as any parent knows, it does. Just when you think you’ve wrapped things up and everyone’s elections are made, it’s time to consider changes for the next plan year. And before you know it, you’re in the thick of enrollment guides, information sessions and buried in PowerPoints filled with slides reading: “What’s New for [INSERT YEAR HERE].”
Fall typically holds a flurry of activity for benefit professionals and for most companies, open enrollment takes place during another hectic time – holiday season. At Limeade, we work through open enrollment with a variety of awesome employer-clients – and we’re a rapidly growing company ourselves – so we’ve picked up some helpful tips for making this time of year less frantic and more productive.
Make it a team effort. HR cannot (repeat, CANNOT) run open enrollment in a vacuum. So lean on consultants and communication pros to craft your messaging. Turn to senior leaders for top-down messaging on why changes are happening. Bring in your benefit vendors to explain the impact of changes and walk employees through the enrollment process. Like many things, open enrollment takes a village, so use yours.
Get your systems and your technology in lockstep. Few things can set off a fire drill like systems crashing and just plain misbehaving – especially with online enrollment. So get ahead of the game by partnering with IT to determine how people will enroll, how data will be handled and how it needs to flow between departments (like HR and payroll). It’s also important to have non-HR employees test the process and provide feedback on what’s not clear. Map out contingency plans and decide who will be on point if things go awry. Your worst-case scenario might be paper enrollment, so have forms ready and prepare your vendors for this “In Case of Emergency” solution.
Be transparent. Don’t be afraid to get real with employees about what’s changing, why and what they need to do. No spin. No sugar. No jargon (please). If you’re making significant plan changes this year, use personas to help people understand how this will affect them. And provide decision guides that walk them through all the variables (particularly deductibles, copayments, HSA contributions, covered services and provider network details) so they can make the best choice for themselves and their families. When you’re upfront about what’s happening and you provide helpful, detailed communications, you build employees’ trust, head off confusion and save yourself the time and energy spent responding to a barrage of questions.
Talk to your employees. And more importantly – listen. We all put a ton of blood, sweat and tears into benefit planning and open enrollment communications – so much so, that it can become a bit of a one-way street. Keep in mind that this is a time when employees are sitting up straight and paying attention. So ask for their feedback. How do they feel about what’s changing? The benefits overall? Why? What could be done differently? Whether you’re talking with employees at a town hall, engaging with them over social media or asking for their honest responses to a survey, really listen to what they have to say, thoughtfully respond and act on their feedback as much as you can.