Slideshow 5 ways to prepare now for a smooth open enrollment

  • October 20 2016, 12:33pm EDT
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5 ways to prepare now for a smooth open enrollment

The busiest and most stressful time of the year for HR and benefits professionals is fast approaching. Although it can be daunting, benefits consultants Rosemary Hughes and Suzannah Gill offer tips on how to make the process successful.

5 ways to prepare now for a smooth open enrollment

Open enrollment is one of the most visible and important times of the year for HR and benefits teams. Months of carefully developing plan offerings, employee communications and technology platforms culminate in a span of only a few weeks, so this also tends to be one of the busiest and most stressful times for HR. Although the list of responsibilities can be daunting, with thoughtful preparation and proper planning for the months ahead, you can reduce your stress levels and deliver a smooth, successful open enrollment.

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Create an annual strategic plan

Prepare a list of all projects and tasks that you and your team have historically been responsible for and note when you traditionally handle each task.
Then review the list and timeline to consider if any changes would be appropriate. For example, are there any projects that you usually address during open enrollment season that could be transitioned to another team or to a different time of year, allowing you to focus your attention primarily on essential open enrollment activities?
See also: Targeted communications, transparency tools can enhance HDHP open enrollment

Review your open enrollment materials

Historically, many companies have used their open enrollment communications to comprehensively discuss every aspect of their benefit plans. However, because employees focus most of their attention on a few specific programs that require their immediate attention, such as medical, dental, vision and voluntary life, many of the other plans and perks get overlooked.

Consider spacing out your benefits communication into more focused packages throughout the year. During open enrollment, focus exclusively on those programs that require immediate enrollment decisions. Then, highlight the additional benefits and perks at other times throughout the year when employees are more likely to pay attention. For example, employees should be more interested in a company discount program that includes partnerships with hotel chains as they are planning their spring and summer vacations.

See also: Discount purchase programs struggle amid sea of voluntary offerings

Establish clear expectations with your vendors

Beginning several months in advance of enrollment, or as early as practically possible, schedule time with your key vendors to confirm requirements, deadlines and data needs. Ensure that all parties understand their responsibilities and that your company has a designated person responsible for providing regular updates and managing deadlines. Ask your vendors to provide a project plan, which you can incorporate into your comprehensive enrollment plan and ensure that all coverages are in place by the effective date.

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Engage your HRIS and payroll teams in the planning process

Increasingly, the technical aspects of open enrollment are just as important as the benefits plans being offered. Therefore, it is essential that you engage your HRIS, payroll and IT teams in the planning process with your vendors. Setting up an early meeting with your HRIS managers and vendors will allow time to review potential changes, assess the feasibility of deadlines, address potential challenges and confirm the overall understanding of the project.

Encourage employees to login to the enrollment portal in advance

The focus of open enrollment should be on plan communication, education and selection. While employees should concentrate on choosing the best plans for themselves and their families, far too often they end up spending most of their time trying to figure out how to use the enrollment technology.

See also: Redefining benefits administration in a post-ACA era

If possible, provide an incentive or contest to encourage employees to login prior to open enrollment. In addition, pre-enrollment communication should include details about how to access and use the portal. Communication materials should include:
· Web address or intranet location
· Step-by-step log-in instructions
· Password default and retrieval information
· Screenshots and online tutorials

By its nature, open enrollment is a busy time, with HR teams stretched in multiple directions. However, with careful planning and appropriate allocation of resources, you can and should take steps now to minimize open enrollment season stress later.