The Biggest Open Enrollment Challenges for HR

November 16, 2015

The period of time each year in which employees can add and/or change their healthcare and other company benefits is known as open enrollment. Upon interviewing Human Resources professionals, employee communication company GuideSpark found several shared common challenges surrounding the open enrollment period.

  • 63 percent report finding it difficult to simplify complex issues surrounding health care reform, retirement planning, and compensation to make these topics more understandable to their employees.
  • 50 percent have difficulty finding the perfect time to inform employees about these topics that will allow them to best absorb the material.
  • 45 percent face challenges in connecting with off-site employees. This includes companies with global offices as well as those with employees who telework.
  • 34 percent find themselves consumed with answering the same questions from employees repeatedly throughout the open enrollment period.
  • 31 percent would like to find a way to make general open enrollment materials as effective as possible, as well as carve out time to create more personalized materials for their employees.
  • 27 percent feel they lack the adequate financial resources to improve their benefits coordination.
  • 26 percent find they struggle with getting a consistent message regarding open enrollment across to all employees.
  • 16 percent wish to find better ways to increase employee plan participation.
Tips to combat open enrollment challenges

1. Based on these identified challenges, GuideSpark suggests several tips for success. The first is planning. About 12-16 weeks before the start of open enrollment, you should sit down to review the positives and negatives of last year’s open enrollment period, take inventory of the materials from last year which can be reused, and outline the materials for any new benefits that will be available this year. Survey your employees to see if there are specific topics surrounding benefits that they would like to be more educated on this year. Speak to company managers to negotiate release time for the employees to attend benefits-related training. About 6-12 weeks before the start of open enrollment, you should have materials updated, training scheduled, and a specific rollout plan for communication. Communication and testing should be happening in the period 1-6 weeks prior to the first day of open enrollment.

2. The second tip involves both setting and measuring goals. Before open enrollment, you should have a list of clear, quantifiable goals you hope to accomplish over the open enrollment period. Examples include, “I want x percent of employees to enroll in the company wellness program,” and “I want to decrease the volume of questions emailed to Human Resources regarding open enrollment by X percent.” Create a plan for how you will track this progress during the open enrollment period.

3. The third tip is to make sure your communication plan is multi-pronged. This can include postal mailings, email, posters, social media postings, webinars, in-person meetings, and even texting. The key is to make your messages as simple as possible and free from Human Resources jargon employees might not understand. Be sure to focus in on anything that may be new to open enrollment this year, making special effort to reach long-time employees who may be thinking this open enrollment will be the same as the last one.

Creation of the communication plan for employees

When forming your communication plan, it is important to know that the age of your employees can be an indicator of how best to reach them with your message.

  • Those born between 1946 and 1964, known as the Baby Boomers, are likely nearing retirement and thus will have a different set of concerns than their younger colleagues. They are looking for the simple and plain truth regarding long term medical benefits and financial planning.
  • Generation X, which refers to those born between 1965 and 1981, tend to embrace online marketing and prefer training sessions in a more casual environment. They also usually need some time to process information presented before taking action.
  • The youngest generation, known as Millennials, are extremely technically savvy, and would prefer to receive text messages over postal mail. They are less likely to want to attend lengthy training sessions, and instead want their information in a concise written format that will help them understand it as quickly as possible.

4. The fourth tip involves continuing education. Ideally, education regarding company benefits is not relegated to only right before open enrollment starts. You can take some of the pressure off of the open enrollment period by offering benefits training all year long. Try holding sessions throughout the year on topics such as the benefits of the company health plan, advantages of enrolling in a flexible spending account, how a 401(k) works, etc., and you are likely to see much more informed employees at open enrollment time.

What other companies are doing about open enrollment

If you are curious to know what your Human Resources colleagues in other companies are up to, The Healthcare Trends Institute has released a report on the 5 major trends in open enrollment for 2015.

Requiring Active Open Enrollment

According to insurance company Aflac, 90 percent of employees keep the exact same benefits from year to year. The concern here is that the employees who roll over their benefits are not engaging with any of the materials being distributed regarding benefits to find out what is new and different from the year before. Therefore, companies are moving toward discontinuing benefits rollover and requiring all employees to actively sign up for all of their benefits each year.

Offering Consumer-Driven Health Plans

Consumer-driven health plans have a lower premium and a higher deductible. Employees that pursue these plans are encouraged to set aside money from their paycheck pre-tax into a healthcare flexible spending account in order to help cover the expenses associated with a higher deductible. Consumer-driven health plans are steadily on the rise among employers with 500 employees or more.

Exploring Private Exchanges

Private health care exchanges are compliant with the Affordable Care Act, administratively efficient, and have built-in cost management. They also allow employers to offer a much wider range of health insurance options and supplemental health benefits to their employees. Consulting firm Accenture estimates that by 2018, more than 40 million Americans will be enrolled in private health care exchanges.

Maximizing Wellness Programs

Armed with the knowledge that healthy employees are typically more productive, many employers today are focused on the overall health of their workforce. As such, they are creating initiatives to support healthy lifestyles, such as organizing lunchtime walking groups and offering healthy snack options in their vending machines. Some are pairing health achievements with financial incentives, such as cash rewards and gift cards. Others are going so far as to issue financial penalties for unhealthy habits, such as smoking. In fact, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 98 percent of companies with 200 or more workers offer at least one wellness program.

Embracing Technology

The days of paper-based employee health benefit booklets are fading away. Increasingly, companies are using technology throughout the entirety of the open enrollment process. Many employees enjoy the convenience of having all of their benefits information and training fully available online. Businesses are also moving toward online enrollment, as well as using software and available online services to communicate with their benefits partners, analyze trends, and verify their compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
We offer our best wishes for a smooth and successful open enrollment season.