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Five Strategies for a Successful Open Enrollment 9/23/2016

Marsh & McLennan Agency (MMA)

Blye Gallagher, Senior Benefits Advisor

The open enrollment period for employee benefits can be a stressful time for the human resources staff and insurance brokers responsible for managing the process. From creating educational campaigns about benefit offerings to scheduling live presentations, getting the word out effectively in time for employees to meet enrollment deadlines is often a challenge.

A generation or two ago, companies would simply arrange for a presenter to give staffers an overview of available plans and distribute a paper employee benefits guide. Today, the multigenerational workforce includes a large influx of Millennials, pushing employers to explore different ways of communicating their benefit options to ensure employee engagement. At the same time, employees can feel overwhelmed or confused by the benefit options available to them, and pressured into making hasty decisions due to looming enrollment deadlines. Many employees leave money on the table by simply re-enrolling in the same benefit options as the previous year, rather than researching which selections are best-suited to their individual needs. In fact, more than one in five employees overspends on insurance benefits by as much as $750/year, according to the 2015 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey, because they don’t take the time to explore all of their options, or don’t understand which coverages are offered.

A successful open enrollment benefits both the business and its personnel by providing resources and insurance plans designed to help employees stay healthy and productive. Here are five strategies to ensure that your company’s next open enrollment process goes smoothly.

Offer More than Medical. Every employee has unique needs and priorities, driven in part by factors such as their age, risk tolerance, and marital status. Employers should not only offer a range of health insurance options to meet varying employee concerns, but also consider adding other products outside of standard medical plans. For example, Millennial workers might gravitate toward having a Flexible Spending Account or participating in a wellness program, while Baby Boomers may be more concerned with critical illness or long-term disability coverage. By providing a variety of benefits options, employers can demonstrate a strong commitment to their employees’ health and financial security.

Put Time on Your Side. Organizations should send out some sort of communication to employees—whether an email, text message, or flyers around the office—weeks before the meetings and open enrollment deadlines. Employees need to hear the same message communicated multiple times for it to hit their radar, and including information about employee benefits in monthly newsletters and email announcements throughout the year can help further bolster the efficacy of your campaign. Simply doing a big push for the eight weeks leading up to open enrollment and failing to educate employees about benefit options until the next year’s cycle not only puts undo pressure on company management to generate employee engagement, but also leaves employees in the dark about their coverages. In general, they won’t think about it until something happens, and then they’ll ask HR whether they have that benefit. A better strategy is to communicate with employees about their benefits year-round to leave ample time for decision-making. Giving workers ongoing access to provider directories, FAQs, and information about their benefit selections can also help them better understand the options they have available and see where their money is going.

Create a Marketing Campaign. Approaching the open enrollment period like a marketing initiative, with employees being the customers and prospects, can help shape the timing and messaging of your campaign. Consider how to explain to your target audience the benefits they will receive, from improving their health to protecting their family. Like any successful marketing campaign, the messaging should educate employees about all of the benefit options available to them, help them understand how to make the right choice, and get them excited about participating in the program. Language should be direct and simple, and creative infographics can explain complex ideas in a straightforward manner that will resonate with employees and help them quickly conceive the advantages of various benefits. Also, be sure to include a clear call to action in all communications once open enrollment has begun to let employees know how to participate and the final deadline for enrollment.

Bridge the Generation Gap. Just as individuals have different learning styles, members of each generation have preferred modes of communication. Older workers and those with more traditional leanings may favor live presentations and informational flyers or brochures. Employees in their 20s and 30s, on the other hand, grew up surrounded by technology and prefer electronic communications and the ability to access information while they’re on the go. In addition to written guides, employers can use webinars, email and text messages, Brainshark videos, and even mobile applications to educate and inform employees about benefits options and open enrollment deadlines. Addressing diverse communication styles by delivering key messaging through a variety of media will help ensure that the open enrollment campaign is more effective, and also keep information top of mind for employees.

Quantify the Results. The only way to know whether your open enrollment campaign is successful is by establishing measurable goals at the outset. In addition to putting a number on overall participation, consider setting benchmarks for specific components of your initiative, such as gaining a 20 percent increase in wellness plan enrollment, or a 50 percent click-through rate on a video link in an email. The more quantifiable goals that you can assign throughout the course of your campaign, the better you can fine-tune your messaging and delivery methods going forward, because you can see clearly which components fostered employee engagement.

Of course, numbers aren’t everything, and getting input from employees on the efficacy of your campaign is also key. Some employers opt for employee surveys to get feedback on how well they thought the open enrollment process went. If employees complain about people not showing up for meetings or still have unanswered questions about their benefits after the enrollment period is through, there may be room for improvement the next year.

In general, proper planning and a little creativity can go a long way toward ensuring that your open enrollment campaign goes smoothly for everyone involved. By communicating year-round with a steady flow of collateral, using a variety of delivery methods, and developing clear messaging for your campaign, your company can alleviate the pressures associated with the open enrollment process and keep employees happy, healthy and productive.

This document is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC shall have no obligation to update this publication and shall have no liability to you or any other party arising out of this publication or any matter contained herein. Any statements concerning actuarial, tax, accounting or legal matters are based solely on our experience as consultants and are not to be relied upon as actuarial, accounting, tax or legal advice, for which you should consult your own professional advisors. Any modeling analytics or projections are subject to inherent uncertainty and the analysis could be materially affective if any underlying assumptions, conditions, information or factors are inaccurate or incomplete or should change.

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