#Nextchat: Planning for Open Enrollment Success



Open enrollment is one of the most important times of the year for organizations; however, complex and ongoing changes to health care and retirement plans can create confusion that leads to poor choices. With proper planning, employers can develop communication strategies to help employees make the best selections for their wellness and future financial security.


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 the target audience. 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.

“Q&A webinars or benefit town hall meetings allow employees to ask questions about the changes for the upcoming benefit year. Being creative with your communication practices is critical to a successful open enrollment period,” suggests Michelle Kohlhof, director of human resources for ExecuTech Strategic Consulting.


It’s 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 a [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.

“I agree with the tips shared in the HR Magazine article. I think the more guidance we can provide employees during open enrollment, the better the experience they will have with the process as a whole. Benefits can be complicated, and I’ve found that while guiding employees through the complex benefit changes can be challenging, it is what makes us better partners to the organizations we serve,” says Kohlhof.


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. 

“We implemented a benefit enrollment system last year, and this made the open enrollment experience so much easier for our organization. The carrier forms can be so complicated to complete, and it was such a relief to have a selection system that made it easier on employees. I highly recommend implementing such a solution!” says Kohlhof.

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 was your communication effort successful, and where did it fall short? 

Even if you’re now in the midst of open enrollment, 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 Oct. 17 for #Nextchat, with special guest Michelle Kohlhof (@MKohlHR), director of human resources with ExecuTech Strategic Consulting. We’ll chat about how to make open enrollment a more effective and efficient process for HR and employees.


Q1. What was the question most asked by employees during last year’s open enrollment period -- and what are you anticipating this year?

Q2. What are your biggest challenges during the 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 have you found that it differs by employee segment/generation (e.g., e-mails, fliers, infographics, videos, 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 (e.g., artificial intelligence, 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 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?

If you missed this #Nextchat, you can read all the tweets here.


How to participate in an HR Twitter chat.



The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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