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Open Enrollment: An Often-Missed Opportunity To Bolster Employee Engagement

By: Sara Choate, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

There’s a chill in the air and evening sunlight is fading faster every day. It can only mean one thing. Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Bonfires? Football season? No! Open enrollment season is upon us. For many organizations, fall represents the annual period when employees may elect or change the benefit options available through their employer, such as health, dental, and life insurance and ancillary or voluntary benefits.

Often, this time is viewed as a mundane, administrative, and frankly, a bit of a burden for the employees and human resources. It doesn’t have to be this way. Open enrollment is a prime opportunity to openly communicate, showcase your benefits, and hopefully have some fun – all ways to help engage and retain your workforce. It’s also easier than you might think. Keep reading for simple tips on how to transform open enrollment into an amazing employee experience.

  • Communicate with your broker – early & often. Your broker should be a strategic business partner, working with you to help meet organizational goals. I have heard horror stories of employers not receiving final renewal numbers until a week before enrollment forms are due. This isn’t acceptable and puts everyone in a terrible position. Start communicating with your broker at least six months in advance of open enrollment. Explain your expectations and your desire to make open enrollment a positive employee experience.

  • Communicate with your employees – early & often. If possible, plan an in-person open enrollment kick-off event. Send the appointment as early as possible to help ensure the biggest audience possible, and if you can, offer a virtual option. Communicate the ’why‘ behind the event and the importance of participation. As for the event…

  • Make it a party. Yes, make it fun. Give it a theme, and run with it – the cheesier the better. My personal favorite that KPM used several years ago was ‘Rock & Enroll.’ Advertise the event with ‘Rock & Enroll’ flyers around the office and/or through a Teams channel. Play classic rock music as employees walk-in and serve rock and roll inspired food. Of course, Pinterest offers a ton of inspiration. Have rock and roll trivia and prizes to break up presentations. Speaking of presentations, what do you talk about?

  • Present what’s new, what’s changing, and why. Use this time to discuss new benefits, changes to current benefits, or simply provide further education. Many people don’t understand this is their opportunity to move to a different plan outside of a qualifying event. Have a high deductible health plan that’s health savings account (HSA) compatible, but find that it’s underutilized? That’s likely because employees don’t understand HSAs and how they could possibly work to their advantage. Check YouTube for super informative and quick videos to help.

    Overall, hopefully you have great news to share, like premiums aren’t going up, or the company is going to absorb an increase and not pass that cost onto employees. But, what if the news isn’t good?

  • Be transparent. Suck it up buttercup. Be honest about any negative changes and why they are being made. Good news or bad, ask your broker to participate in the event. Have them positively explain the factors that go into a renewal and what participants can do to help control costs, like utilizing the emergency room only for true emergencies. Spotlight telehealth options and provide a quick demonstration showcasing how simple and effective they can be. Even if it’s not great news, employees will appreciate the fact you didn’t sweep it under the rug.

  • Continue to communicate.
    • Provide clear instructions regarding:       
      • How enrollment forms are to be completed. Avoid pen and paper forms if you can. If your human resources information system allows for online completion, or your broker has a system you can use, do it!
      • Deadlines. Pro-tip: make the employee deadline for enrollment a few days earlier than really necessary to provide some cushion for the inevitable stragglers.
    • Provide a take-home packet and an online option. Your broker should be able to assist with information regarding plan options and make those available in paper and/or electronic form. Consider mailing a reminder/information to the home address of each employee, as the primary benefit decision maker could be the other adult in the home.  
    • Utilize Microsoft Teams or another instant messaging platform? Create a channel dedicated to all things open-enrollment.
      • Email a recap of the meeting for those who couldn’t participate and point to the Teams channel.
    • Keep communicating reminders and information a couple times a week as the deadline approaches. Be open to fielding questions or offer your brokerage team as a resource. Benefit decisions can sometimes be personal and private. Some employees may be more comfortable with an outside party like your broker answering their questions.

With proper planning and communication, open enrollment can be a positive experience that helps instill trust in confidence in your organization. Give it a theme, engage your employees, and transform the mundane to magnificent!

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