Most employers have annual open enrollments for benefits during the months of October through January. Open enrollment is that one time per year that employees can make changes to their benefit elections. Since most employers offer a Section 125 Cafeteria Plan, employees are not able to make election changes again until the next open enrollment or should a qualifying life event take place.

Open enrollments need to be planned carefully, with consideration given to the employee population and the best way to communicate the depth and breadth of your benefits program. Employer costs for employee compensation averaged $36.22 per hour worked in June, 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wages and salaries averaged $24.72 per hour worked and accounted for 68.3% of these costs, while benefit costs averaged $11.50 per hour and accounted for the remaining 31.7%. Employers are spending a great deal on benefits and they recognize the importance of providing employees with the means to take care of their health and finances. They also realize that employees are more likely to stay when affordable, comprehensive benefit plans are an option. It stands to reason therefore, that time and attention needs to be given to the open enrollment process.

There are several strategies to consider and your benefits broker is a great place to start. We work closely with our clients to create a positive, informative and engaging open enrollment experience. We want employees to understand and appreciate their benefits package.

A few ideas to consider

1. Get Employee Ready
Provide materials ahead of time in a format that appeals to your employee. Employees should come to the meeting or to the online portal ready and armed with information. Look to new options like text messaging and social media to provide reminders and support. Keep it simple. Provide definitions on key terms, important websites to check providers and a list of all the information needed to complete required forms.

2. Include Management
Open enrollment is all about people. Your people value benefits and most likely are working for you because you offer a comprehensive program. Meet with key supervisors or managers prior to open enrollment and explain the benefit changes or enhancements. Employees will most likely turn to these people with questions. If managers have a negative attitude about the program, it will trickle down to employees quickly. It’s important to get everyone on board.

3. Know Your People
Think about prior open enrollments – what worked and what didn’t? Consider comments and feedback given. You may want to send out a survey asking employees about their satisfaction with the benefits offered as well as how they are communicated and implemented. Where do your employees go for information? Have you thought about an advocacy program that can help employees understand benefits as well as assist them in finding providers or provide claims assistance. You may need to update your communication tools and resources to match your particular employee population. Be sure to create communication pieces in other languages if needed. Think outside the box!

4. Make It Fun
Don’t overwhelm your workforce with repetitive communications. Use different types of tools to educate and inform – booklets, checklists, definitions, videos, audio presentations and websites can be used in various ways. Consider testimonials (without names) from employees who have utilized a benefit that you’d like to promote. For example an employee with a HDHP or telemedicine experience. Nothing gets people’s attention like freebies. To encourage employees to sign up for benefits as soon as possible, introduce a raffle and hold a drawing every day during open enrollment. Host a health fair or large group event to announce open enrollment.

5. Maximize All Available Resources
Look to your benefits broker or other partners to develop customized internal employee communications. Use graphics and copy to make emails more interesting. Carriers also have many resources available. We have found great success using Brainshark for open enrollment presentations. Brainshark takes a power point presentation and adds an audio component. Employees can view and learn about benefits from any smart phone, computer or tablet. The message is consistent, it’s easy to use and employees can share with their spouse and dependents.

Enrollment strategies are always changing. What worked last year may not be relevant this year. Put some thought and time into planning your open enrollment. Talk to your benefits broker and together you will be ready for a successful open enrollment!