How to reorganize the chaos of open enrollment

Open enrollment can be overwhelming for both employers and employees. Employees are given the opportunity to re-evaluate their current benefits and make changes for the coming year, while employers must choose a benefits package that balances cost and value and facilitates the enrollment process.

“Benefit offerings are changing, placing new demands on employees and employers during open enrollment,” says Keith Kartman, client manager at JRG Advisors. “To make the enrollment process as smooth as possible, it is important that employers educate and communicate with their employees effectively.”

As employer-sponsored benefits transition to more voluntary, employee-paid or employee-subsidized offerings, employees must assume more control. Accordingly, employers should provide benefit information in an easy-to-understand format that gives employees essential information, along with additional resources to help them make smart decisions.

Smart Business spoke with Kartman about making your next open enrollment as pain-free as possible.

What will improve the open enrollment process for both employers and employees?

Communication — Establish solid communication between your HR department and employees. To do so effectively, conduct meetings, seminars and benefit fairs, while providing targeted educational resources that focus on your open enrollment and offerings. If your organization is smaller, conduct one-on-one meetings to determine the type of information employees need.

It is important to keep plan information as simple as possible, while also being interactive. Employees need a clear understanding of their benefit offerings to make more knowledgeable decisions.

Feedback — Survey your employee population to determine their priorities — product importance, preferred method of communication, etc. By doing so, employers can identify what employees want, and workers feel their needs have been heard by decision-makers.

Customization — Customize benefits and information resources to the life stages of your employees. For instance, if you have a large older population, feature more retiree benefits and long-term care insurance. It is also wise to communicate with your employees in the same way that they communicate. For example, if messages are received via postings in a common area, consider placing benefit information in that area as well.

By customizing the benefits to their population, employers can increase employee satisfaction without increasing their spending and make it easier for employees to select the benefits best suited for them and their families.

Additional tools — Provide easy-to-understand tools, such as on-demand benefits videos, benefits guidebooks or an online enrollment system. These tools help facilitate the open enrollment process by reducing employee confusion and the feeling of being overwhelmed while trying to make tough decisions.

Something new — Consider offering new benefits, even if they are voluntary, such as accident insurance, cancer insurance or pet insurance. Employees tend to make more changes when they receive new options. Even if employees must pay 100 percent for such voluntary options, they can still be attractive. Since the benefits are negotiated by the employer, employees typically receive a group rate, which is significantly lower than purchasing them individually.

Breaking it up — Offer a second, off-cycle enrollment period. This can be a time for employees to focus on voluntary benefits and other nontraditional offerings. These benefits are typically overshadowed by health insurance and retirement options, so a second off-cycle enrollment allows employees to focus on their other needs.

What’s your takeaway on open enrollment?

A successful and effective open enrollment process can have a dramatic impact on the relationship between employers and their employees. By considering their needs and wants, employers, ultimately, make the experience more enjoyable and worthwhile for their workers. As a result, they will feel more secure in their benefits decisions throughout the plan year.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors