Rethinking Your Open Enrollment

Open enrollment should be the time of year when your employees get a better understanding of their available benefits and your benefits team sees a spike in participation. But all too often, the combination of deadlines, filling out forms and information overload leaves everyone feeling worn out. For many companies, it’s a season of confusion for workers and frustration in HR offices.

This open enrollment season, wouldn’t you rather see greater engagement than the usual dread? It’s achievable and well worth the effort. A lot of the pain and missed opportunities arise from a couple of myths about the best way to conduct open enrollment. Let’s consider each one and see what we can learn about improving your company’s approach.

Myth: We can keep engagement high if we allow employees to remain enrolled in last year’s choices without any new actions this year.


Truth: This passive approach can lead to misinformation and general disengagement from the benefits offered.

It’s easy to think workers who are already enrolled in last year’s programs will appreciate being auto-enrolled again this year. And isn’t it tempting to see that as a valuable time saver?

Though the active approach might mean more work in the short term, it’s ultimately the best move for your organization. In 2016, Meredith Ryan-Reid, senior vice president for group, voluntary and worksite benefits at MetLife, told the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), “Active enrollment makes a huge difference.”

Having employees reapply each year requires them to reassess whether they’re making the right choices for themselves and their families. It also helps ensure that you're getting up-to-date information about your employees and their dependents." (1)

Ryan-Reid also noted that the extra effort is worthwhile. “If you do it once, next year employees will have a heightened awareness about it and everyone gets into the rhythm.”

Myth: A one-size-fits-all approach to open enrollment will serve everyone equally well.


Truth: The larger your team, the wider the variation in preference. And many workers strongly prefer one-on-one communication when learning about benefits.

In the same SHRM study cited above, Kim Buckey, vice president of compliance communications at DirectPath, touched on the communication preferences of various employee groups. For example, think about how differently your millennial workers think about health care compared to their baby-boomer colleagues.

“Employees just starting their careers are the most underinsured group and may see student debt rather than health coverage as a more pressing priority,” Buckey said. If so, they might tend to overlook the idea of enrolling in your health care offerings, even if it’s an excellent value. The key to engaging this group could lie in customized communication.

“Regardless of the employee's age, nothing can replace the value of a personalized, one-on-one conversation,” Buckey said. (2)

Myth: Benefits fairs are the best method to promote open enrollment.


Truth: Fairs are a lot of work, but spreading your efforts across other channels could yield greater results.

Inviting your whole organization to a one-day event to promote your benefits is popular, but it might not be the best approach for a successful open enrollment. Sure, it seems like a great idea to grow awareness of your wellness benefit by launching it at a fitness center and passing out goodie bags to employees. But it won’t impact those who can’t make it, and even those who attend might not make the connection after a single touchpoint. Meanwhile, you’ll have invested a lot of time and money planning it.

Multichannel communications and contacts are a better idea. Ryan-Reid told SHRM about the success she’s seen from the multipronged approach to open enrollment and the power of one-on-one exchanges.

"It's important to have multiple contact points, but far and away we see the most success from one-on-one engagement, whether that's a person sitting across the lunchroom table or just being able to talk with someone on the phone. The more personalized and customized the discussion is, the more impact it has." (3)

Also, even for employees who can attend the fair, sometimes hearing from 20 vendors at once can be overwhelming. If you have a benefits week or promotion, be sure and arrange follow-up communication or promotions about appropriate benefits—especially any new benefits that may be launching.

Myth: Our employees won’t read our communications, so there’s no point in sending out multiple communications around benefits.


Truth: You can never communicate your benefits too often, and you can grow engagement with multiple channels. Don’t forget to make it fun!

Think about these myths many employers believe, as revealed in a 2016 survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans:

  • Benefit plan participants don’t open or read communications materials (80% of participating organizations reported believing this).

  • Participants don’t understand the materials (49% of participating organizations reported believing this).

  • Participants don’t perceive value in their benefits (31% of participating organizations reported believing this). (4)

But Ryan-Reid emphasizes the impossibility of oversharing the facts about your benefits offerings and told SHRM that businesses taking a multichannel approach enjoy the most success with their benefits.

Some channels to consider:

  • Email campaign
  • Benefits booklets mailed home to employees
  • Intranet forum posting with an interactive platform
  • Hallway or timeclock posters
  • Social media posts

If you’re still anxious about overwhelming your team with open enrollment communication, just remember to keep it fun! Employee benefits doesn’t have to be a boring topic. Include graphics and a lot of visual appeal in everything you send out. And when you’re promoting using social media, look for chances to share photos of what’s happening around your business with benefits engagement. Team events or staff meetings are great opportunities to catch employees in action.

"There's no such thing as too much communication," Ryan-Reid said. "No matter how many times you think you've shared something with employees, it takes a lot for the messages to get through .” (5)

Related: Read more about promoting benefits in unconventional workplaces or promoting a comprehensive wellness program here.

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