2018 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.

How To Explain Benefits To Employees Who Don't Care

 


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.


Recent Articles... 

For 2018, 401(k) Contribution Limit for Employees Rises to $18,500
Employee 401(k) contributions for 2018 will top off at $18,500—a $500 increase from 2017—while the "all sources" maximum contribution (employer and employee combined) rises to $55,000, up $1,000, the IRS announced. HR and payroll managers should plan to adjust their systems and to inform employees about the new limits in year-end open enrollment materials. 

2018 FSA Employee Contribution Cap Rises to $2,650
For 2018, the dollar limit on employee salary-reduction contributions to health FSAs will go up $50, the IRS announced. Tax-exclusion limits were also raised, although slightly, for transit benefits and adoption assistance programs. Open enrollment is an opportunity for employers to encourage employees to sign up for tax-excluded benefits and to take advantage of the increase in the annual limits.

2018 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

2018 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.

2018 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.

2018 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.

2018 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.

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.

Stay Competitive with Benefits or Risk Employee Flight
Does your company offer the benefits that most employees want? If not, you may be wasting money and finding it hard to hire and retain valued employees.

Know What You Need to Select a Benefits Provider
As 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.)

Open Enrollment and Year-Round Compliance: How to Avoid a DOL Audit
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Affordable Care Act each impose a range of reporting obligations on employee health and welfare plans, with steep penalties for noncompliance. Taken together, these complex requirements put employees at high risk for not surviving a Department of Labor (DOL) audit unscathed.

Employees, Stressed by Benefits Decisions, Want More Help
Employees are dazed and confused by the health-benefits selection process, a new survey report reveals. While two-thirds of workers were confident in their ability to make informed benefits choices, nearly as many would welcome benefits advice from a third-party advisor or an online program.

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.

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 Some Worth Revisiting

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.

Distribute the Revised Summary of Benefits and Coverage at Open Enrollment
A revised Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) template for comparing health plan options and an expanded uniform glossary, both issued by federal agencies last year, must be distributed during the fall 2017 open enrollment season for plan year 2018.                  


SHRM Webcasts

11 Marketing Best Practices to Make Employees Pay Attention to—and Act on—Your Open Enrollment Communication
Presenter: Bob Armour
Sponsored by ALEX by Jellyvision
Date of presentation: July 2017

Open Enrollment Bootcamp: 12 Tips for Better Benefits Guides, Presentations, Emails...And More!
Presenter: Kris Dunn
Sponsored by ALEX by Jellyvision
Date of presentation: May 2017

Best Practices In Open Enrollment: Are You and Your Employees Making the Right Choices?
Presenter: Kim Buckey
Sponsored by Pet Insurance from Nationwide
Date of presentation: March 2017

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