When open enrollment season kicks off, usually in mid-to-late fall, your role as a benefits administrator shifts into high gear: This is your opportunity to help your employees make educated choices about their insurance for the upcoming year by helping them to enroll or re-enroll in employee benefits.
There are numerous reasons why employees should eagerly and actively engage in this process. But too often, it’s another job on a long to-do list that’s considered too time-consuming or too complicated to handle.
That’s why an open enrollment communication plan is key: As long as your plan is well-structured and well-communicated, your employees will know exactly what to do and the specific deadlines they must hit to maximize their benefits.
In this blog post, we’ll share the benefits of an open enrollment communication strategy, how to prepare your plan, and best practices for creating a plan, as well as how to ensure engagement and tracking success.
The benefits of a clear open enrollment communication strategy
It’s a win for you and your employees when companies provide clear communication during open enrollment season.
1. Boosts enrollment participation
Employees often avoid reviewing their benefits decisions. A 2022 Aflac Workforces Report found that 89% of employees chose the same benefits each year. This can happen by default—when employees don’t make any alterations to their benefit plans, they passively enroll in the same benefits again.
Yet, when companies go the extra mile to clarify the enrollment process, participation in enrollment improves, and employees can make more informed benefits choices for themselves and their dependents.
2. Avoids missing deadlines
Employees can only participate if they’re aware the enrollment period is open and in full swing. Companies that promote key dates will ensure every employee meets their enrollment deadlines for the upcoming year.
3. Clarifies jargon
Premiums, deductibles, reimbursements, and other key terms can be a minefield for employees, who don’t always feel comfortable asking questions about their individual benefits. Taking health insurance plans as an example, 76% of employers think employees understand their healthcare plans, but only 53% of employees agree that they do.
Speaking on “The Rich Immigrant” podcast, CPA Dee Olateru recounts her story, “When I first started working, the whole benefits enrollment thing was like a foreign language to me. I just went ahead and picked whatever box looked the easiest, picked the regular thing for everything. I got dental because I had cavities, and I went on my merry way. It would take me six years to realize that the high-deductible plan was actually better for me.”
Open enrollment offers the chance for your employees to ask crucial questions about their individual benefits packages, and consider the details that matter in their personal and professional lives.
4. Improves employee retention
Almost a third of workers claim to have left or turned down a job because the benefits package wasn’t up to scratch. While employers will have already made decisions about specific providers and benefits offerings before enrollment begins, effective messaging about the breadth of options available will entice staff and help companies retain their best workers.
5. Frees up benefits staff
In a smooth and seamless enrollment cycle, benefits teams prepare communication and enrollment materials before the enrollment window opens. This enables them to dedicate more time to supporting individual employees with specific or complex queries rather than being bogged down with mundane enrollment tasks.
How to prepare for open enrollment communication
A successful open enrollment communication plan hinges on two areas: notification and education. Employees must understand what tasks they should complete and by when. They must also feel equipped with all the necessary information to make sensible benefits decisions. Here are five ways benefits teams can prepare for open enrollment:
1. Don’t spring open enrollment on your employees
Your employees are busy with ever-increasing workloads, upskilling in their respective roles, and often covering the work of departing team members. They don’t have time to prioritize last-minute benefits administration, even if it’s in their best interests.
Give your employees plenty of notice that open enrollment is approaching. Ideally, you’ll give them four weeks’ notice before open enrollment season starts, which allows ample time for employees to make key benefits decisions before taking their vacation, going on a business trip, or joining a training course. Use this time to craft enrollment messaging, including details about:
- The information they require, such as healthcare records
- Definitions of terms like HRAs, HSAs, etc.
- What their available benefits are
- When open enrollment starts and ends
- How to access the relevant benefits platforms, including reminders of log-in details
Remember: The period between announcing open enrollment and the deadline can be long. People forget, fall back into old routines, or get busy with other work tasks, which is why drip-feeding the information on a weekly basis is a strong strategy.
2. Choose your communication channels
People have varied preferences for how they absorb and process information. So, effective communication relies on a mix of channels to get your message across.
For example, auditory learners may enjoy discussions or webinars, while others who prefer to read may act later if you provide additional resources in written format. To appeal to all types of learners, include the following in your open enrollment communication plan:
- Face-to-face consultations
- Webinars and benefits presentations
- Group discussions
- Online videos
- Printed materials and handouts
3. Create an inclusive benefits communication strategy
Ensure your communication plan targets your entire audience of employees by asking yourself questions like:
- Is language a barrier to understanding our benefits strategy or participating in open enrollment?
- Do all employees have the same access to communication about benefits enrollment? For example, how do you share key benefits information with frontline workers who don’t have company email addresses?
- How can we provide additional support for employees with disabilities? For example, do our benefits platforms comply with accessibility laws and regulations?
4. Improve recognition of employee benefits providers
Use the preparation time to gather details about your benefits providers, so employees become familiar with their brands and respective benefits offerings. Adding the following to your enrollment materials will provide better visibility and recognition:
- Website and social media details
- Contact information
- Plan documents
- FAQ pages
5. Configure benefits comparisons
Support your people in making informed decisions about their benefits policies by allowing them to compare multiple options in an easy-to-read format. For example, in UKG Ready Benefits, this is as simple as using the “Comparison Tools” feature, enabling employees to compare details like monthly premiums, employer contributions, and deductions per pay period.
Five open enrollment communication plan proven practices
“Communication” can be a vague term, so let’s break down how companies can effectively distribute information about enrollment campaigns across the company.
1. Share a point of contact
Your employees will have questions. Even if you provide a mountain of information on what’s included in your benefits plans and how to enroll, individuals need someone to turn to with their personal questions.
Anticipate this by funneling queries to:
- A dedicated benefits administrator or HR professional
- A group Slack or Teams channel
- An email address
- A helpdesk or internal chatbot
- Scheduled Q&A sessions
2. Communicate consequences
Explain what will happen if your people don’t enroll or update their benefits plans this season. Far from being a threat, this is a chance to outline consequences beyond your control, including:
- Dependents dropping off the plan
- A lapse in coverage
- New joiners not receiving their benefits on time
3. Remind your employees to inform you of any life changes
Your employees will inevitably go through life events like welcoming a new baby, adopting a child, getting married, or divorced.
Remind them to update their current benefits with these changes, which may affect their coverage and eligibility for the new plan year.
4. Use visual aids
Visual aids are a great way to convey complex information. Your open enrollment materials don’t have to be boring or overwhelming; they can be accessible and engaging. For example, HR teams could create:
- Interactive infographics summarizing their benefits plans
- Presentations on the benefits landscape at the company
- Videos explaining the benefits options
- Real-life examples of employees who are enjoying a variety of the company’s benefits
5. Leverage open enrollment technology and tools
82% of employees want to manage their benefits online, but only 37% of employers offer this functionality, according to Aflac, even though there are tangible benefits for both parties. Automation tools actively track employee engagement with enrollment and send notifications when key events happen.
For example, UKG Ready Benefits has been a game changer for Hydro-Gear, which uses the platform to provide self-service benefits enrollment. Hydro-Gear has a mix of hybrid, remote, and on-site employees, who all need unlimited access to key benefits information from a central tool. This is a typical request for companies, with Aflac reporting that 40% updated their benefits from home during last year’s open enrollment, compared to 53% in the workplace.
HRIS administrator Lisa Leslie describes the company’s experience of using UKG Ready Benefits to streamline enrollment: “This year, open enrollment was much easier, and we didn’t have any errors because the information was already in UKG. It was seamless.”
How to ensure engagement and participation
Open enrollment is a marathon rather than a sprint, but you’ll want to check in periodically throughout the window to check that you’re on track to meet your benefits goals. Here are some suggestions to ensure engagement in your enrollment process:
- Configure electronic signatures: This feature in UKG Ready Benefits allows employees to confirm their benefits while providing you with secure documentation about their plans. Benefits administrators will receive automatic notifications whenever a new signature is submitted, so you can keep tabs on how many people are reacting positively to your open enrollment communication plan.
- Focus on the employees who aren’t engaging with enrollment: Do some detective work to find out if there are any problems. For example, if a chunk of employees hasn’t opened your emails about enrollment, could a different subject line improve engagement? Alternatively, consider different communication methods to reach this section of your organizational lineup.
Monitoring and measuring open enrollment success
You’ve put in the legwork, but how do you know if open enrollment has been a success this year?
1. Set goals for your open enrollment at the start of the season
You might choose SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, your enrollment goal might be to increase participation in open enrollment by 50% during this enrollment period.
2. Take benchmarking data
Track progress toward your goals by working from current or historical data. For example, you might compare enrollment participation for the past three years, to give you a solid benchmark to improve upon.
3. Choose relevant metrics
Select relevant metrics to track based on your enrollment goals. If your goal is to improve employee retention rates, you might track attrition, surveys from exit interviews, or employee referral programs. Alternatively, if your goal is to reduce missed enrollments, you can track numbers of missed enrollments and returns by plan.
4. Keep track of enrollment numbers in real-time
Tools like UKG Ready Benefits provide more than a dozen real-time reports, enabling you to understand engagement with particular benefits, including during open enrollment. This data allows benefits administrators to stay on top of changes and course-correct where necessary for maximum participation.
5. Ask for employee feedback
As a post-enrollment tool, send out benefits surveys or run small focus groups to learn more about your employees’ experience of open enrollment and your benefits scheme in general. Include a mix of quantitative and qualitative benefits questions to gain actionable insights into how to improve this aspect of your employees’ total compensation and to better understand what can be done for the next year’s open enrollment.
Succeed at open enrollment with UKG Ready Benefits
The success of open enrollment hinges on effective communication between your benefits teams and your employees. By considering the diverse needs of your workforce and implementing a well-structured open enrollment communication plan, you can reap several benefits:
- Greater participation in your benefits scheme
- Improved employee experience
- Increased employee retention rates
- No more missed deadlines
- Enhanced efficiency in administering employee perks and benefits
Succeeding at enrollment all comes down to prep work, including developing your communication strategy, setting goals, and understanding how you’ll track your enrollment victories.
Check out the UKG Ready Benefits to discover how it can revolutionize your open enrollment process, by driving efficiencies and aligning with your organizational goals.