The excitement is building, and there’s a buzz in the air. For many U.S. employers, open enrollment (OE) season is right around the corner! By now, you’ve likely finalized the benefits you will offer employees and are preparing to launch your enrollment windows. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of some industry tips and make a few last-minute improvements to your approach to OE. After all, how employers prepare for enrollment is just as important as the success of the actual enrollment process – and there’s still time to add some extra “oomph” to this already-exciting initiative you’ve been working on all year.
Whether you’re a seasoned OE expert or it’s your first year leading your company’s benefits enrollment season, you’ll be able to act on at least a couple of these best practices gleaned from our experiences both running OE and helping Benefitfocus customers optimize their OE engagement strategies.
1. Go off autopilot
To make sure you’re heading into OE season with more than good intentions, put some data “muscle” behind your efforts. Assess several factors, starting with the lowest-hanging fruit: last year’s results. Leverage all data and feedback – both formal (e.g., enrollment stats, post-OE survey responses) and informal (e.g., emails from delighted and frustrated employees, alike) – for insights on what went well and what didn’t. Don’t make the same mistakes twice – but do look for opportunities to build on past successes! Bonus idea: if you’re not already tracking and monitoring results of your OE, start collecting data this year.
2. Think of your newbies
How many employees are new to your organization and your annual OE routine? If you're communicating with a sizable number of people who haven’t been through the OE ropes, even if they breezed through onboarding and initial benefits elections, you can reasonably expect some confusion with process and protocol. While reviewing your employee-facing OE materials and instructions, put in some extra effort to clarify anything that might raise questions from your newest team members.
3. Lean on your partners
Another trick of the trade is to check in with your benefits partners, like brokers, carriers and vendors, who may be able to take some work off your plate. They may be sitting on resources, from share-worthy collateral to new-and-improved mobile apps, to help educate employees on offerings and make the enrollment process less stressful for everyone.
4. Communicate early (and often)
Launch a pre-enrollment campaign to let employees know that OE is coming soon – and it’s something that can’t be missed. What communication channels have proven to be most effective to engage your employee population? Consider a multi-channel approach to reach them in more than one way, increasing the odds they receive your message and reinforcing your OE engagement strategy. A “Save the Dates” email and/or postcard mailed to employees’ homes is a great way to kick it off, followed by a drip of reminder emails, employee internet ads and verbal departmental reminders.
5. Be clear with your call to action
Generally speaking, your goal with each communication is threefold: to grab attention, reinforce the value of employee benefits and – this is key – drive a desired action (e.g., opt-in to receive text messages about benefits, download an app, mark the calendar, do some benefits research). Be explicit with what you need people to do, from watching an OE video to actually completing the benefits enrollment process. And make it easy for them to do what you need them to do by breaking it down into concise “how-to” steps that include relevant links and contact information if they need assistance.
6. Make information digestible
This tip is a continuation of the previous tip – it comes down to simplifying OE communications. Since employees are already overwhelmed with too many choices, too much information and too many places to find that information, be sure to clearly lay out what employees can expect and what they may need to understand about the benefits and resources available to them. What this boils down to is removing “fluff,” replacing HR jargon with everyday words, breaking up copy with bullet points and, again, being really clear with your call to action so employees know exactly what they need to do.
7. Streamline benefits education
One way to simplify benefits education materials is to group related products together on your intranet, in webinars or benefits sessions, and in your actual enrollment workflow. For example, when sharing details about employer-sponsored medical plan options, be sure to include any voluntary benefits that can help employees manage their health care spending, such as supplemental accident, critical illness and hospital indemnity plans. Not only does this help employees grasp how benefits work together, but it strengthens their perceived value of your benefits offerings.
8. Boost the fun factor
Noodle on creative ways to meet employees where they’re at with OE engagement opportunities they’ll enjoy. What about incorporating QR codes or elements of gamification into the campaign? Think: “Scan the QR code to watch our OE video!” or “Download the app to make plan elections from the palm of your hand!” or “Attend three benefits education webinars for free company swag!”
9. Brand the benefits experience
Wouldn’t it be great if your workforce quickly recognized their OE communications in the sea of incoming messages and knew it was time to act? Take a play from the marketing team and consider branding the benefits experience and leveraging a common theme that can be repurposed every year to make it familiar, “sticky” and actionable. Your benefits program brand may never hold the power of the golden arches or the swoosh, but it will be memorable and engaging.
10. Make it personal
Consumers, especially online, have come to expect a personalized experience – why should expectations of their employee benefits experience be any different? Benefits administrators are catching up and taking a cue from companies who excel at delivering timely and relevant messaging, content and recommendations. Make sure you have accurate contact information for your employees and ask them how they prefer to be contacted about benefits, whether it’s via mobile, email, etc., and craft your communications plan accordingly. Sure, this is a long-game – but you can start small this year.
It’s never too late to plan for OE success
OE season might be exhausting, but it is your time to shine! Making it through a successful annual open enrollment period depends on a winning OE strategy, which is something you can fine-tune, year after year. There's still time to prepare your HR team and employees before this year's enrollment window opens – and by tapping into these tips, you can achieve the strategic trifecta of OE success: communication, education, and engagement.