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Open Enrollment 2020: What Employers Should Know

By Lacey Conner, SHRM-CP on Aug 19, 2019
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It’s that time of year again. The unofficial end of summer is signaled by back-to-school time, football, pumpkin spice everything and ... your business’ annual benefits open enrollment. While health insurance open enrollment may not be at the top of your fall favorites list, an easy process where employees understand their benefits options and are able to pick the best plans for their personal situation is good for their financial and physical health. What’s more, research shows when employees are satisfied with their employer sponsored benefits, employee engagement increases.

What is Open Enrollment?

Open enrollment only occurs once each year and for a limited amount of time. The period differs from provider to provider, but generally occurs in the fall. New enrollments and plan changes can only occur during this window unless a qualifying life event occurs. It’s a busy time filled with a host of tasks and laws to comply with. It’s no wonder it can overwhelm both employees and employers.

Qualifying LIfe Events and Medical Benefits Enrollment Changes

Consider these numbers from a 2016 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey which includes responses from 1,900 employees across the U.S. in different industries and sized businesses:

  • 72 percent of employees say reading about benefits is long, complicated or stressful.
  • 48 percent would rather do something unpleasant, such as talking to their ex or walking across hot coals, instead of completing their annual benefits enrollment. 
  • 36 percent say the benefits enrollment process makes them feel frustrated, anxious or confused.

How to Make Open Enrollment Less Stressful

With so many workers expressing feelings of stress, pressure and confusion surrounding the benefits enrollment process, it’s critical employers take steps to create a more positive experience. Lacey Conner, Human Resources Consultant at Axcet HR Solutions, shares seven tips for a streamlined open enrollment process:

  1. Plan early. Employers should start preparing for open enrollment up to three-to-six months in advance. The further out you begin to plan, the more flexibility your business will have to explore different benefits options and put together the right mix of medical plans for their workforce, especially if it is multigenerational. At this time you should compile all materials to ensure they are accurate and up-to-date, including brochures, memos, internal websites and videos. Then begin planning your timeline including employee emails, informational meetings, webinars, benefits presenters and any anonymous surveys that will be conducted to find out what your employees really want.
  2. Review the previous year and set goals. The best way to create a more simplified enrollment process this year is to carefully review what worked and what didn’t last year. What measurements will you use to determine success? Is it the open-rate on benefits emails? What about watch time on videos or attendance rate in optional meetings? At the very least the percent of employees opting into your benefits should be tracked. Then set realistic goals to improve from the previous year.
  3. Communicate with employees. One of the most often reported complaints from employees enrolling in benefits is that the enrollment process is rushed and there’s not enough time to make informed decisions. By starting the benefits conversation before the official start of open enrollment, especially if there will be changes to your program, you can reduce the stress and pressure your employees feel. Ideally, messaging should be started one month before open enrollment and should continue on a regular basis throughout the entire process. Remember, keep your messaging clear and concise. According to an Aflac study, 61 percent of benefits enrollees say there are at least some things they don’t understand about their overall policies, including deductibles, copays or providers in their network. So, while it may be easy to get caught up in benefits acronyms, like HSA and PPO, strive to use whole words, define health benefits terms and clearly explain what the cost and value of the benefit is to the employee.
    Businesses must explain health insurance benefits and terminology to employees for full benefit.
  4. Consider all generations. When planning your messaging and educational materials, remember all generations have a different level of comfort with technology. While older generations may favor live presentations, brochures and print materials, younger workers in their 20s and 30s grew up surrounded by technology. These generations tend to favor video, mobile apps and information that is easily accessible on-the-go through their mobile devices. By offering the right mix of materials, you can increase education and engagement across your entire workforce.
  5. Have a benefits administrator available. An employee meeting featuring a benefits expert to answer enrollment questions is a must. At Axcet HR Solutions, our Human Resources Consultants visit client sites at the beginning of open enrollment to distribute the information on the plans for the upcoming year. We’re there to help employees understand the functionality of their plans and how to get the most out of their benefits. A face-to-face interaction with a benefits expert helps ensure your employees are getting the latest and most accurate information.
  6. Use technology to your advantage. Technology helps businesses reduce the administrative burden of open enrollment and improves accuracy. Whether you are using technology to administer anonymous surveys, deliver educational materials or have a comprehensive online enrollment system, technology will greatly improve the enrollment experience. For example, our clients gain access to a comprehensive, online platform for open enrollment, making it easier for all client-employees to access and submit their annual enrollment elections. But we don’t substitute technology for high-touch, high-value relationships. In addition to our in-person open enrollment meetings and seamless online enrollment, dedicated human resources consultants continue to work with our payroll administrators to keep the client updated on the progress and completion of benefits enrollment.
  7. Track enrollment progress. Missing the open enrollment deadline may mean serious consequences for affected employees. Unless a qualifying life event occurs, a missed open enrollment deadline means the individual may be without benefits until the next opportunity to enroll, which typically isn’t until the following year. As the enrollment deadline approaches, make a point to reach out to employees who have yet to enroll in benefits.

The Axcet Difference

The quality, variety and ease of understanding and enrolling in benefits can be all the difference when ensuring your employees are healthy and engaged. Additionally, the right employee benefits have been proven to improve your business’ ability to recruit and retain top talent. That’s why we afford our clients a personal, dedicated HR consultant experienced in employee benefits administration. This certified expert navigates the benefits minefield for clients, ensures legal compliance, manages the ever-growing paperwork and takes this headache off the business owner’s shoulders. Axcet manages every step along the way — from the agreements with the carrier, to enrollment and education and then plan administration. 

The Secret to Using Benefits to Improve Employee Loyalty and Productivity

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