Open Enrollment Guide & Resources

How to communicate with and help employees to choose workplace benefits

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Companies are preparing to kick off open enrollment for their employees to choose their workplace benefits. Health, vision, dental, life insurance ... even pet insurance may be up for grabs. 

How can HR professionals best communicate with employees about their choices, when many workers are unfamiliar with the language and concepts of benefits offerings? What's the best way to help employees through open enrollment season?

Take a look at our primer below for ways to start the conversation, and at our glossary of common (and commonly misunderstood) terms. Our news articles offer lots of tips on educating employees and helping them make great choices.

What is open enrollment for benefits?

In the U.S., open enrollment season is a period of time 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 ranging from legal services to pet insurance. Some benefits are fully paid by the employer, some are employee-paid through salary deferral or a section 125 cafeteria plan, and for some the cost is shared. 

When do most companies have open enrollment?

Most companies schedule open enrollment to end a few weeks before enrollment forms must be submitted to benefit providers. For calendar-year benefit plans starting Jan. 1, open enrollment often takes place in November.

How long does open enrollment have to be?

Open enrollment is not required to be a certain length of time. Most employers have an open enrollment period of at least two to four weeks.

 

Open Enrollment Resources 

  • Need help defining health benefit terms to employees? Check out and share the health benefit terms glossary here on SHRM.org. You can also download a PDF version to print and share with employees.
  • These 10 questions for employees choosing next year's health plans are a great way to encourage employees to consider health and relationship changes before making their open enrollment selections.
  • How to explain high-deductible plans to employees. More companies are making high-deductible health plans an option (or, increasingly, the sole choice) for employer-sponsored health coverage. Here is a quick guide on how to help employees understand the costs and benefits.
  • How much life insurance is enough? This guide will help get employees on the right track when determining how much life insurance is right for them.
And check out the SHRM Vendors' Guide, Benefits Enrollment and Administration, to compare and research benefits enrollment and administration companies.

Webcasts

The City of Miramar’s Bold Strategy for Inspiring Employees to Act During Open Enrollment
Sponsor: 
ALEX by Jellyvision
When the city of Miramar, Fla., added a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account, it created a communication challenge for the benefits team: How could they get their decentralized workforce to understand these changes and enroll? Learn how Miramar's benefits team got the word out, and get tips for building out your own multi-channel open-enrollment communication strategy.

7 Tips for Meeting Your Employees’ Benefits Communications Expectations During Open Enrollment
Sponsor: ALEX by Jellyvision
Open enrollment planning season is upon us, and as HR teams across the country put the finishing touches on their benefits plans, they’re turning their attention to the next big hurdle: making a communication plan that employees will actually pay attention to. Get tips and tactics you can put into place to meet your employees’ needs.

2020 Inflation-Adjusted Limits & Thresholds

For 2020, 401(k) Contribution Limit for Employees Rises $500 to $19,500
Employee 401(k) contributions for 2020 will increase by $500 to $19,500, while the total for employer plus employee contribution limit rises by $1,000 to $57,000, the IRS announced. For participants ages 50 and over, the additional "catch-up" contribution limit will increase to $6,500, up by $500.

2020 FSA Contribution Cap Rises to $2,750
Employees can put an extra $50 into their health care flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) next year, the IRS announced on Nov. 6. But with open enrollment for the 2020 benefits year already under way, the increase may have come too late for some employees to take advantage of it. Tax-exclusion limits for employer-sponsored commuting benefits and adoption assistance are also rising for 2020, the IRS announced.

2020 Payroll Taxes Will Hit Higher Incomes
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the maximum earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax will increase to $137,700,up from $132,900. Before the start of new year, adjust payroll systems to account for the higher taxable wage base and notify affected employees that Social Security FICA taxes will be withheld from more of their pay.

2020 HSA Limits Rise Modestly, IRS Says
Next year, the annual limit on health savings account (HSA) contributions will be $3,550 for self-only and $7,100 for family coverage. Here are some details that employers that sponsor high-deductible health plans should know about HSA contribution limits.

IRS Lowers Employer Health Plans' 2020 Affordability Threshold
The annual limit on the percentage of income that employees can be required to pay for health plan premiums will fall slightly next year.

PBGC Raises Pension Premium Rates for 2020
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), which insures pension plan obligations, announced 2020 premium rate increases for defined benefit plans. For pension plan sponsors, PBGC premiums are a factor when deciding whether to keep plans open to all employees, pension advisors say.

2019 Inflation-Adjusted Limits & Thresholds

Open Enrollment Tips for Fall 2019

2020 Benefit Plan Limits and Thresholds Chart
Here's a handy, printable chart showing key 2020 benefit plan limits and thresholds, and how they're changing from 2019.

Simple Open-Enrollment Tips That Can Make a Big Difference
Many employees face open enrollment with emotions ranging from annoyance to dread,  lack confidence in the benefits choices they make and give their employers a mark of "C" for their efforts. These tips can help you raise your grade this open-enrollment season.

Open Enrollment Reminders for Employees—and HR
At many organizations, the open enrollment season for 2020 benefits is underway or about to begin. As HR representatives address open enrollment meetings, speak with employees one-on-one and send out enrollment reminders, they can use these pointers to help employees make smart decisions.

Employees Still Perplexed by HSA Plans During Open Enrollment
Employees often don't know how to use health savings accounts (HSAs) and the high-deductible health plans the accounts are coupled with. This leads some to bypass an HSA option during open enrollment, while others who enroll in HSA-eligible plans often fail to take full advantage of them.

Open Enrollment Trends for 2020
For 2020 open enrollment, employers are providing workers more benefit plan choices, placing greater emphasis on employee well-being and using new technologies to support decision making. They're also tailoring communications to employee groups that aren't taking advantage of offered benefits, among other changes.

Does AI Have a Place in Open Enrollment?
Decision support technology using artificial intelligence (AI) can help match employees with benefits that at support their physical, emotional and financial health. But there are challenges around employees' willingness to use these tools and concerns about how well their privacy is protected.

What's New for Benefits

Employers Enhance Emotional and Mental Health Benefits for 2020
Employers have spruced up their emotional well-being benefits, such as by offering programs that help workers to monitor and reduce their stress levels. During open enrollment, they're also incorporating more communication on available mental health offerings that address issues such as anxiety and depression that, if untreated, can lead to costly physical conditions.

2020 Large Employer Health Costs Expected to Rise 6% If Plans Unchanged
Large U.S. employers are predicting that for 2020 their health care costs will rise 6 percent without any cost-management adjustments and by 5 percent if they make changes to their plan designs. Here are steps employers are taking to rein in rising premiums.

Employers Boost Benefits to Win and Keep Talent
Student loan aid, telemedicine and telecommuting are among the employee benefits that are becoming more common, while fewer employers are providing disability insurance and domestic partner benefits, the Society for Human Resource Management's 2019 Employee Benefits survey shows.

When It's Time to Change Your Benefits Menu
As an organization's workforce changes, employers should be prepared to add, modify or end benefit programs, recognizing that benefits valued in the past may not be effective in the future. 

Employees Seek Personalized Perks During Open Enrollment
Employees' desire for benefits tailored to their own needs is changing the mix of offerings this open-enrollment season and leading HR managers to customize their benefits communications.

For Open Enrollment, Communications Get Social
Almost every employee now carries a smartphone, which allows HR benefits managers to make social media posts and text messaging part of their open enrollment toolkit. Here are tips for the upcoming open enrollment season.

Mandatory Health Plan Notices
For the many employers in the throes of open enrollment planning, we’ve compiled model health plan notices from federal government agencies. We also provide, where possible, a related reading item for each notice.

 

Revisiting the Basics... 

Open Enrollment: Choosing Active vs. Passive Benefits Election
Requiring employees to proactively elect to enroll in benefit plans for the coming year can prod them to reconsider the appropriateness of their selections, but it requires HR to engage directly with employees to ensure that no one inadvertently misses their opportunity to receive coverage

Open Enrollment: Developing Your Game Plan
Set goals for this year's open enrollment season and devise a strategy for meeting your objectives. Tailor your communications campaign to support these aims.

Open Enrollment: Targeted Communications Address Differing Needs
In drafting open enrollment communications, consider whether you're reaching people with information that's relative to them, taking into consideration where they are in their lives and what their particular needs are.

Open Enrollment: Using Social Media and Decision-Support Tools
HR benefit managers are turning to social media to get the open enrollment message out, holding twitter charts and sending text messages linked to videos. But many employers remain hesitant about using new media for benefits communications.

Open Enrollment: Voluntary Benefits Emphasize Choice
Voluntary benefits can help to address possible financial gaps for employees, especially for those enrolled in high-deductible health plans. While these choices enhance the benefits package, they also raise issues that employers and employees should keep in mind.

Ready for Prime Time? Using Video in Benefits Communication
A compelling video can go a long way toward getting employees to respond to benefits-related communication. While video has long been a part of employee benefits communication, recent developments are taking it to a new level.

How to Humanize Benefits Communications with Technology
Whether they use apps, videos, portals, microsites or automated e-mails, benefits administrators can reach employees with key messages across multiple channels. But many employees seek more of a human touch in how they learn and make decisions about benefit options.

6 Simple Ways to Improve Open Enrollment
Smart HR leaders are continually looking for new and different ways to engage workers during open enrollment. To that end, here are some tried-and-true tips to make the most of this crucial time.

Know What You Need to Select a Benefits ProviderAs vendor choices grow and benefits technology evolves, it's more important than ever that benefits leaders know what they need to know when selecting benefits administration partners.

How to Explain Benefits to Employees Who Don't Care
Employee benefits are vital to workers' health and financial security, so why do so many employees wait until the last hours of open enrollment to crack open their benefit brochures and then march into HR and declare, "Just tell me what I should do"? (Watch the video clip.)

Use Voluntary Benefits to Attract and Keep Part-Time Workers
Part-time employees typically are not eligible for their company's core benefits offerings and oftentimes can feel left out. Offering part-timers access to employee-paid voluntary benefits can help to keep them onboard.


...and More Practice Tips

At Open Enrollment, HR Departments of One Step Up
Enrollment season puts extra pressures on departments of one, but these HR pros are up to the challenge. Their success carries lessons for HR teams of all sizes.

Open Enrollment Tips for the Coming Season
The fall open enrollment season is a time that some HR professionals dread as an administrative nightmare while others see an opportunity to personally engage with employees, and to help them make choices that will safeguard their health and financial well-being. Here are some suggestions for avoiding the former and achieving the latter.

How to Explain High-Deductible Plans
More companies are making high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) an option—or, increasingly, the sole choice—for employer-sponsored health coverage. So it's important to provide clear communication that helps employees understand how HDHPs operate and whether the plans are right for them.

Address HSA Misconceptions During Open Enrollment
Open enrollment is an opportunity to help employees understand the value of a health savings account (HSA), but many employers make common mistakes that undermine their communication efforts. For instance, don’t apologize for offering a high-deductible plan with an HSA, but focus on the long-term health-savings advantages.

Dental Benefits Are Often Misunderstood, Underused
Lack of knowledge about their dental coverage can cause employees to skip regular checkups and routine cleanings, leading to more expensive and invasive treatments later on.

As Open Enrollment Ends, Capture What You've Learned
Reviewing what went smoothly and what tripped you up can ensure an easier, more effective open enrollment process when next fall inevitably rolls around.





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