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 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.


Open Enrollment Articles

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.) 

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.

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.

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.


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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