Open enrollment is often the busiest time of year for benefits professionals. These tips from industry experts will help benefits pros keep their stress levels in check and avoid benefits burnout during open enrollment.

1. Leverage the help that is available to you. "You will never get help if you don't ask for it. Others in your department or at the broker/consultant you work with can provide support in completing tasks that are piling up; you just have to ask," says Joe Miller, president, Wellness Research Institute. "Your consultant may also have tools that can automate or streamline some of the administrative tasks that can be overwhelming. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and when your sanity is at stake, don't be afraid to squeak a bit."

2. Curtail problems early. “Minimize employee benefits confusion to the best extent you can. Proactively communicate with employees about the state of benefits within the organization and make yourself available for employee questions," says Ed Bray, SVP, employee benefits, Ascension Benefits and Insurance Solutions.

Also see: OE communications: 5 tips

3. Get as much work off your desk as you reasonably can. Whether it's managing the overall renewal process with carriers, ensuring insurance cards are out to participants in a timely manner, developing open enrollment communications for employees or scheduling carriers to attend open enrollment meetings and fairs, brokers are ready, willing and able to lend a hand, says Bray. "The good ones will do it anyway, but because it's such a buyer's market for brokers today, any broker will do whatever it takes to keep a client happy," he adds.

4. Be open and honest. "Be transparent. Don't be afraid to get real with employees about what's changing, why and what they need to do. 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," says Laura Hamill, chief people officer, Limeade.

5. Lean on others. Make it a team effort, Hamill adds. HR can't run open enrollment in a vacuum, so lean on consultants and communication pros, turn to senior leaders for top-down messaging and bring in your benefit vendors in for staff presentations.

Also see: 5 ways to encourage better health care consumerism

6. Conduct midyear maintenance. "Conduct a midyear underwriting review," advises Brian Ball, USI national vice president, employee benefit strategy & solutions. "A midyear underwriting review allows employers the opportunity to set a strategy based upon the assumption that the midyear pricing will be indicative of what the renewal could look like."

7. Prepare yourself. "When you know you have a big project or event coming, start taking extra good care of yourself weeks in advance. Get rest, eat well and exercise so you can be healthy, rested and focused going in to open enrollment," says Anita Madison, VP of training and consulting with ComPsych.

8. Prepare the project. Like other industry pros, Madison stresses the importance of planning ahead. "Thinking through issues such as how many enrollments you can accommodate per day, the number of staff and hours needed, materials and how far in advance they will be needed and produced will greatly reduce stress levels," she says.

Also see: How to drive better engagement in benefits program among millennials

9. Treat yourself. "Open enrollment can be such a stressful time for HR professionals. I encourage my team members to take time for themselves to avoid burnout," says Erin Barfels, chief human resources officer with ARAG.

10. Make a to-do list. “Start by determining each day’s most critical to-do, and then focus on one task through to completion – rather than trying to work on multiple priorities simultaneously," advises Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Pulse. "You’ll get more done and feel more accomplished along the way. Don’t forget to reward yourself by taking little breaks to move around or grab a healthy snack.”

11. Start on the right foot. Start the day with a relaxing ritual like going for a walk before work or listening to your favorite music on the way to the office, Barfels adds. "You will have better luck handling open enrollment fires if you start the day with some 'me time,'" she says.

12. Connect with others. "Making time to socialize with co-workers will help build workplace camaraderie, create a support system for you and other employees and give you a sense of acceptance," says Denise Heybrook, a senior consultant in Aon Hewitt's health transformation team and a licensed clinical professional counselor. "Most importantly, taking time out to socialize provides a healthy break during the workday."

13. Communicate, communicate, communicate. And then communicate again, says Charles Smithers, acting CEO, National Business Coalition on Health. "And, if you can afford it, outsource the benefits design tasks as these consulting firms are trained to do this sort of thing every day rather than once a year."

14. Focus on your own enrollment. "Don't forget to focus on your own benefit enrollment," advises Craig Rosenberg, health and welfare national practice leader at Aon Hewitt. "Follow the same advice you're giving all your workers and set aside some time to consider what plan choices best meet your needs. Making choices early in the enrollment period will help you avoid the last-minute rush and help you focus on supporting your workers and managing other critical annual enrollment items."

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