Guide to Open Enrollment

How to communicate with and help employees through choosing 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 You can also download a PDF version to print and share with employees.
  • These 10 questions for employees choosing 2017 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.

Open Enrollment Articles

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.

Get Disability Benefits on Employees' Radar
While educating employees about the value of coverage that provides continuing income in the event of a disability is important, employers also can use open enrollment as an opportunity to review their disability benefits and to compare them to what other employers are offering.

At Open Enrollment, Millennials Value Financial Security and Workplace Flexibility
Retirement and core health care benefits remain vital to Millennials, but also top of mind are flexible work arrangements and help with financial planning.

Missing the Mark, Benefits Spending Is Undervalued by Employees
HR professionals identify gaps in their benefits strategy that include not analyzing employee benefits data and struggling to make communications relevant to a diverse employee base.

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.

Help Employees Envision Their Future During Open Enrollment
More sophisticated communications will be the key to helping employees navigate increasingly complex benefits options during open enrollment. But the messaging shouldn't just be about saving dollars. Instead, helping employees to envision their future lives can motivate them to take make smarter choices.

Employees Dazed and Confused by Benefit Choices
Employees are confused and stressed out by the health-benefits selection process, a new survey report reveals.

· Looking for more news, tips and tools regarding open enrollment season? Find all of SHRM's open enrollment content here.

SHRM Webcasts

7 Tips for Using Humor to Make Your Open Enrollment Communication More Effective (No Joke!)

Sponsor: ALEX by Jellyvision

When it comes to benefits communication, a little humor can go a long way. Done right, it can delight and surprise your employees, keep them engaged, and motivate them to take action. In this program, David Daskal, a benefits communication expert for Jellyvision, will share seven actionable tips for incorporating appropriately humor into your benefits communication strategy in a way that gets the results you want.

New Employee Benefits Models to Save Money in 2017
Sponsor: Namely

As they search for the right benefits mix, many companies are exploring new models: self-funded, level-funded, defined contributions, private exchanges and more. Learn more about these new approaches to employee benefits and how to determine which one fits your company best. And, hear first-hand from a company that successfully implemented a self-funded employee benefits approach.

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