We all know that the annual open enrollment period can be particularly stressful for HR professionals. If you’re looking at open enrollment in the rearview mirror, your company probably rolls out new benefits and perks in Q4. But many businesses with heavy seasonality in the final months of the year — such as retailers, hotels and travel companies — often push their open enrollment periods to the second or third quarters, meaning now is the time for these companies to undergo the challenge of optimizing open enrollment.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

It’s not just the timing that makes the process different from others; these businesses also face some unique challenges in communicating and educating their teams on the options available and ensuring they sign up for the proper coverage. For instance, they typically face high employee turnover and a seasonal workforce that might not be eligible for coverage. Adding to the problem is that many employees are on the sales floor or throughout the hotel working with customers and don’t always have easy access to computers during the workday.

These businesses also tend to have a disproportionately high percentage of millennial workers in such positions, meaning that HR professionals must find new channels through which to communicate important, yet often dry and complex, open enrollment information in a way that will capture the attention and understanding of these employees.

Given these challenges, how can you ensure a successful open enrollment for your seasonal and ever-changing workforce? Consider the following tips to communicate, engage and inform employees of their options.

1. Use video and mobile communications. Today’s employees are living in a mobile world, relying on their devices for more activities in and out of work. They also increasingly use those mobile devices to watch video on their phones on a daily basis. To communicate effectively, employers must be able to deliver the right information at the right time on the right device to all employees. Providing short, customized and company-branded videos explaining the open enrollment process, what employees can expect and how to make the best decisions for themselves and their families is key to driving engagement in the process and increasing enrollment.

2. Make it social. Social media provides another way to communicate with employees on their terms. Creating closed groups on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook will allow you to connect on the platforms they’re likely already using. Social media also allows for a more collaborative approach, as employees can easily post their questions about open enrollment (and you can bet many employees will have the same questions) and HR can address them. It also provides for another channel to post and share educational videos, to further guide employees on their open enrollment journey.

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“Key to an effective open enrollment strategy for retail and hospitality employees is to reach those individuals who aren’t in front of a computer most of the day.”

3. Reach employees without computer access. Key to an effective open enrollment strategy for retail and hospitality employees is to reach those individuals who aren’t in front of a computer most of the day. Doing so requires a multifaceted approach across different communications channels to ensure the message reaches them. Consider using a mix of digital methods (social media, mobile, video, emails, text messages) and traditional methods (information sessions, posters, physical kiosks, phone calls) to connect with them wherever possible. Even a mix of the two — such as including QR codes on print communications that link to video content on dedicated open enrollment websites — will help them learn about open enrollment when and where it is most convenient.

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“Open enrollment can be complex and confusing; finding ways to make it fun will help drive the point home and keep employees engaged by building an emotional connection.”

4. Be creative. Open enrollment can be complex and confusing; finding ways to make it fun will help drive the point home and keep employees engaged by building an emotional connection. Offering incentives to participate in open enrollment will ramp up enrollment. Creating a theme also will help to catch their attention at a time when employees are often bombarded with information. With fun messaging, gamification and contests (such as a raffle drawing for the first 100 enrollees), it will be easier to excite employees while educating them about their benefits options.

5. Measure results. More than anything, it’s important to set goals and measure results so you can get on a path of continuous improvement. By measuring the key facets of your 2016 program, you will learn which techniques and messages work well and which are less effective. This will empower you to set even higher goals for your open enrollment season the following year, and to do so with greater confidence. Whether your goals involve saving time, lowering costs or increasing participation, the sooner you start to measure those goals, the closer you will be to achieving them.

With open enrollment now underway for the retail and hospitality industries, making sure your employees are informed, educated and engaged is key to driving enrollment and fostering a healthy and productive workforce. A streamlined and stress-free experience for employees will translate to the same for HR teams, and identifying the best ways to reach those employees, simplify some very complex topics, and measure the results is the key to your success.

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