Open enrollment can be a stressful time for HR professionals who work with benefits. Often, management doesn’t have a true picture of the time and effort that go into making this event successful. The following are a few simple suggestions to help maintain your sanity.
• Start planning early. With the changes resulting from health care reform, it’s important to start reviewing benefits plans as early as possible to determine changes necessary for compliance. Additionally, upper management will need to sign off on significant changes; providing them sufficient time for decision-making will help reduce stress.
• Develop a written plan. Having a plan in writing helps focus HR’s efforts. Start by determining the deadlines for sending communications to employees and department contacts prior to open enrollment. Next, list each benefit plan and any actions that need to be taken, including deadlines for accomplishing each action item. Keep in mind that employees will need ample time to review any changes or new options, ask questions and make selections. As the plan is being developed, action items that were not contemplated previously may become apparent.
• Include department contacts. Avoid the tendency to send out announcements to line managers or other department contacts via e-mail only. Instead, go the extra mile to ensure that they have a basic understanding of the process by placing a phone call or sending a follow up e-mail.
• Communicate effectively. Open enrollment communications should be clear, descriptive and concise. Additionally, they should be written and distributed in a way that takes into account that sometimes the employee is not the primary decision-maker regarding benefits selection for the household.
• Involve the experts. Benefits administration can be complex. Making the right plan selections and anticipating issues and concerns that may arise is pivotal. As such, it is important to involve the key players, including:
• Upper management. Be prepared to explain why decisions are being made regarding how open enrollment is being conducted.
• Benefits brokers. Brokers may be able to suggest new solutions to challenges (such as making online systems effective or providing access to benefits counselors) that might help to ease HR’s workload.
• IT departments. While technology can help to reduce open enrollment stress, a badly designed system will do the reverse, and require fixing problems after the roll-out and explaining to upper management what went wrong. To avoid this, ensure that meetings are held with IT about how data will be handled. The IT department needs to understand how the data will flow from online open enrollment systems to the payroll and human resource information systems, and how the benefit plans are designed and work.
Finally, allow team members that have specific expertise in certain areas to review documents, communication pieces, plan designs and implementation ideas. A little forethought now will save bundles of time and stress later.
Ryant Johnson, SPHR, has more than 12 years of expertise in human resources.
Open Enrollment: Help Employees Make Better Health Care Choices, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2012
Viewpoint: Get More from Your Benefits Investment, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2012
Tailor Benefit Communications to Different Learning Styles, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2012
Employee Advisory Committees Promote Benefits Buy-In, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012
Employee Loyalty Hits 7-Year Low; Benefits Promote Retention, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2012
40% Don't Understand Their Benefit Options; Web-Based Tools Can Help, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, December 2011
Message to Employees: Get Proactive During Benefits Enrollment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011
Employees Make Avoidable Benefits Mistakes, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011
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