How to handle employees’ open enrollment questions

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This is the seventh article in a 10-part series on successful open enrollment. Previous segments can be found here.

Employees usually have lots of questions about benefits: Is a high-deductible health plan the right option for my family? Why has my premium increased? Where can I purchase a telemedicine option?

And these questions can rush in when open enrollment begins and workers start to wade through their benefit offerings.

Many employees can feel a sense of information overload, which can lead to employees not picking the plan that best meets their needs, says Bettina Deynes, vice president of HR and diversity at the Society for Human Resource Management.

What to do?

Andrew Kaplan, vice president and senior communications consultant at The Segal Group, a benefits and human resources consulting firm, says benefit professionals should start by anticipating the types of questions employees may ask once they start looking at the options they’re offered.

Starting as early as possible, he says, benefit execs should:

  • Conduct focus groups and/or surveys about employees’ benefit priorities and concerns to determine what their needs and interests are likely to be.
  • Keep track of the questions and answers that come out of these group meetings and surveys, and create a FAQ that can be posted on the organization’s website.
  • Search the Internet for common open enrollment questions and be familiar with them.
  • Have consistent informal conversations with group leaders and opinion makers in the company to determine general or consistent open enrollment concerns.

Kaplan stresses the importance of keeping “an ear to the ground.”
SHRM’s Deynes also believes in conducting focus groups and surveys to prepare for the annual open enrollment Q&A with employees. She adds that benefit pros should:

  • Offer workers in-person or phone sessions to ask questions before open enrollment.
  • Set up meetings and seminars for employees during the sign-up period so they can ask questions in a structured meeting.
  • Employ technology tools and resources that can help the staff learn about their options and make decisions.

Various tech offerings can ease the burden of answering employee questions once open enrollment begins. Side-by-side benefit and price comparison tools can be helpful, says Karen Frost, senior vice president of health strategy and solutions at Aon Hewitt, a human capital and management consulting firm.

“Employees are so used to getting their information electronically,” Frost says. “Don’t rely on [just] your written communications.”

No matter the medium used, employers should always be direct, honest and open when sharing questions and answers, says the Segal Group’s Kaplan. A 24-hour window to answer employee questions is reasonable.

For employers unable to answer employee questions in a timely manner, Aon Hewitt’s Frost recommends using an outsourcer to handle calls. “They’ve got the staff to answer those questions, and the answers should be pretty consistent,” she says.

Tomorrow: How to better employee engagement and enrollment

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