Commentary: We hear you sighing. We see you with your head on your desk. We feel the disbelief. And we know you’re asking, “Is it that time of year AGAIN?”

It is. It’s open enrollment season. And while we also don’t have a clue how 12 months flies by so quickly, as any parent knows, it does. Just when you think you’ve wrapped things up and everyone’s elections are made, it’s time to consider changes for the next plan year. And before you know it, you’re in the thick of enrollment guides, information sessions and buried in PowerPoints filled with slides reading: “What’s New for [INSERT YEAR HERE].”

Also see:14 ways to avoid benefits burnout

Fall typically holds a flurry of activity for benefit professionals and for most companies, open enrollment takes place during another hectic time – holiday season. At Limeade, we work through open enrollment with a variety of awesome employer-clients – and we’re a rapidly growing company ourselves – so we’ve picked up some helpful tips for making this time of year less frantic and more productive.

Make it a team effort. HR cannot (repeat, CANNOT) run open enrollment in a vacuum. So lean on consultants and communication pros to craft your  messaging. Turn to senior leaders for top-down messaging on why changes are happening. Bring in your benefit vendors to explain the impact of changes and walk employees through the enrollment process. Like many things, open enrollment takes a village, so use yours.

Get your systems and your technology in lockstep. Few things can set off a fire drill like systems crashing and just plain misbehaving – especially with online enrollment. So get ahead of the game by partnering with IT to determine how people will enroll, how data will be handled and how it needs to flow between departments (like HR and payroll). It’s also important to have non-HR employees test the process and provide feedback on what’s not clear. Map out contingency plans and decide who will be on point if things go awry. Your worst-case scenario might be paper enrollment, so have forms ready and prepare your vendors for this “In Case of Emergency” solution.

Also see:9 questions to ask your wellness technology vendor.”

Be transparent. Don’t be afraid to get real with employees about what’s changing, why and what they need to do. No spin. No sugar. No jargon (please). If you’re making significant plan changes this year, use personas to help people understand how this will affect them. And provide decision guides that walk them through all the variables (particularly deductibles, copayments, HSA contributions, covered services and provider network details) so they can make the best choice for themselves and their families. When you’re upfront about what’s happening and you provide helpful, detailed communications, you build employees’ trust, head off confusion and save yourself the time and energy spent responding to a barrage of questions.

Talk to your employees. And more importantly listen. We all put a ton of blood, sweat and tears into benefit planning and open enrollment communications – so much so, that it can become a bit of a one-way street. Keep in mind that this is a time when employees are sitting up straight and paying attention. So ask for their feedback. How do they feel about what’s changing? The benefits overall? Why? What could be done differently? Whether you’re talking with employees at a town hall, engaging with them over social media or asking for their honest responses to a survey, really listen to what they have to say, thoughtfully respond and act on their feedback as much as you can.

Also see:8 office policies that drive workers crazy.”

Get a leg up on next year. We’re aware of the head-on-the-desk disbelief. But setting aside a bit of brain space for next year’s enrollment is less daunting than it sounds: all we’re suggesting is that you take employee feedback and lessons learned from this enrollment period and start compiling them for next year. That might be possible benefit changes, new benefits to add or ways to communicate differently. You know what they say about the early bird ... and in this case, the sooner you nail down what 12 months from now looks like, the more proactive (and effective) you’ll be when it comes to next year’s systems and communications.

Automate and eliminate. While we’re on the topic of next year’s open enrollment (bear with us for one more minute), think about your enrollment process and deliverables. Are you rewriting communications from scratch every year when they really just need some updating and tweaking? Are you continuing to hold information sessions that few people attend? As you go through enrollment this year, look for ways to scale back on time and resources, as well as processes you can put into place so things run themselves. You’ll thank yourself next year.

Make it fun! Why not make open enrollment an opportunity for employees to earn points and prizes? Launch an Open Enrollment Challenge and reward people for taking various actions, like attending an open enrollment info session, updating beneficiary details and enrolling by a certain date. Or plan an Open Enrollment Walk, where people can head out for a stroll with HR and colleagues, giving them an opportunity to ask benefit questions along the way. (P.S. Make time afterward too).

Also see:5 tips for better open enrollment communications.”

Don’t forget about you. At Limeade, we wouldn’t be in the business we’re in if we didn’t believe in the importance of self-care. So how about a little less head-on-the-desk and a little more head-in-the-clouds? Although it might feel like you don’t have time to take a break, right now you need it more than ever. So along with those enrollment meetings, town halls, social media replies and survey reviews, block time for you on the calendar. Go for a run, head out for a relaxing healthy lunch, read a great book, meditate, daydream (yes, head in the clouds), take a yoga class – whatever makes you happy and keeps you sane. 

Laura Hamill, Ph.D., is chief people officer with Limeade, a corporate wellness technology company.

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