#Nextchat: Creating a Better Open Enrollment Experience


Open enrollment is one of the most important times of the year for organizations, and it’s also one of the most dreaded. Complex and ambiguous changes to health care and retirement plans have created a lot of confusion for employees. However, with proper planning, employers can develop communication strategies to help employees make the best choices for their health and finances.

Communication is key to a successful open enrollment. And when it comes to developing a benefits communications strategy that will engage your employees, creating messages that resonate with your audience is critical to that success. Employee personas are the foundation for any successful communication campaign. They provide stakeholders with a clear picture and a shared understanding of who you are communicating to. Because your employees range from college graduates who have just started their first job to midcareer managers with young children to senior leaders approaching retirement, having a specific communication plan for each segment of the workforce will help to deliver more relevant information. Employees will be better prepared to make—and feel more confident about—their benefits decisions.

It’s also important to ensure that you provide employees with more personalized guidance during the process. The HR Magazine article 6 Simple Ways to Improve Open Enrollment cites an employer that expanded its open enrollment period to ensure all employee questions about options were answered before workers made selections. “By expanding open enrollment to seven weeks last year, up from two weeks in previous years, Veterans United Home Loans in Columbia, Mo., made 300 slots available to employees for individual 20-minute sessions to discuss their unique benefits questions and concerns with HR. The company had introduced HDHP [high-deductible health plan] insurance options with an has [health savings account], and some leaders were concerned that people might avoid choosing those plans simply because they did not understand them.” The company was uncertain how many workers would sign up for the sessions, however, every slot was filled.

Confusion and uncertainty around changes to the Affordable Care Act and the changing scope of retirement plans have also caused many employers to increase assistance to employees during open enrollment periods. In the HR Magazine article Communication: Spreading the Word about Benefits, Jennifer Benz, founder and CEO of Benz Communications in San Francisco, says that “Now more than ever, your employees need that help. As an issue brief from the Employee Benefit Research Institute states, ‘There is strong evidence workers simply lack the ability to navigate the complex and technical nature of health care,’ and Aflac finds that 54 percent of employees don’t want more control over their health insurance options because those decisions are too daunting.”

New HR technology can assist employers in better understanding the needs and personal preferences of employees. Greater insight into employee behaviors allows employers to push more relevant messages to employees and help them make more informed benefits decisions. Technology can also help HR with many of the burdensome administrative tasks associated with open enrollment. For instance, chatbots are being used to answer frequently asked questions. 

Think about how your company managed last year’s open enrollment. What were your biggest challenges? What were the most-asked questions from employees? Where were your communication efforts successful, and where did they fall short? 

Even if you’re in the midst of open enrollment right now, it’s not too late to tweak your approach to ensure that your employees are comfortable with and confident about their benefits decisions.

Please join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on October 25 for #Nextchat with special guest Jennifer Benz –(@JenBenz). We’ll chat about how to make open enrollment a more effective and efficient process for HR and for employees. 

Q1. What were the most-asked questions by employees during last year’s open enrollment period?

Q2. What are your biggest challenges during open enrollment period? What snags have you run into in past years?

Q3. What forms of communication have delivered the most success during open enrollment periods, and does it differ by employee segment/generation? (e-mails, fliers, infographics, video, etc.)

Q4. What open enrollment information do you communicate in person, through managers or one-on-one enrollment support?

Q5. How are you using innovative tactics and activities to improve information flow and provide decision-making support during the open enrollment period in your organization?

Q6. How and what HR technology (AI, chatbots, pulse surveys) are you using to help understand employees’ needs, push customized information and distribute information during open enrollment period—and all year long?

Q7. How do you involve your benefits vendors in your open enrollment process and in your benefits education throughout the year?

Q8. What advice can you share with HR professionals who are managing an open enrollment process for the first time?

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