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Taking Open Enrollment From Rough Waters To Smooth Sailing

As a business owner or human resources executive, you’ve run the numbers, compared the plans, and made your final choices about benefits for the coming year. But now it’s time for open enrollment. It takes substantial effort to successfully launch these benefits changes and get all of your employees on board. You need to be organized, compliant, and continually aware of how time-sensitive this process is.

Plus, you need to overcome employee reluctance. Studies show that most employees are confused by open enrollment and dread the pressure of this time-sensitive decision-making process. As a result, some will drag their feet, procrastinate, or even resist or ignore it.

The key to open enrollment success? Clear communication, every step of the way!

Communicate Changes

Are there any plan changes from what your employees had last year? If so, arrange for your benefits provider to come in and hold meetings so everyone can learn about the changes and how they are affected by them. Ask the provider to supply handouts that detail the changes, or at least a paper with the website address where all the details are clearly laid out.

Communicate the Process

Do you have a system that enables benefits enrollment self-service—a website or technology that lets employees enroll in and make changes to their benefits? If so, make sure employees know how to use it properly. Inform employees of what information they need to have on hand when they start the process and how long it will likely take them so they can prepared accordingly. If possible, walk them through the process so they become familiar with the system, and have a resource available to handle any questions.

Note that self-service options play a big role in simplifying open enrollment. Not only does it empower employees but also saves HR time and the company money. According to, it costs $109.48 to manually enroll an employee in benefits versus only $21.79 when the employee self-enrolls online.

Communicate the Deadline

Make sure you communicate that this is the one time of the year that employees can make changes to their plans, barring qualifying life events. Ensure that everyone knows the deadline. What happens if employees do nothing? Will their plan rollover as it is or will they lose coverage? Make sure this is clearly communicated, not only in the benefits meetings but also in follow-up emails.

Communicate Repeatedly

Schedule weekly emails and post reminders around the office where they will be seen, such as in the break room, near the restrooms, or in the elevators. As the deadline approaches, ramp up those reminders and be sure to send out a “Last Day!” notice.

Communicate about Completion

If you’re able to track who has or has not completed their open enrollment process, follow up with the people who are procrastinating. Some employees will need more hand-holding than others; others simply don’t want to make a decision because the whole process feels overwhelming. Whether it’s due to negligence, procrastination, or avoidance, you will probably have a small group who will delay their enrollment as long as possible. Offer to assist where you can, but make sure everyone realizes the ramifications of making no decision or delaying too long.

5 Tips from the Axios Insurance Advisors team

Hosting employee meetings:  First, your benefits advisors are likely willing to support and present the benefits package you offer.  Make sure to set these meetings early, in the late 3rd quarter, as insurance agencies get extremely busy in Q4.  Be first in line.  We’ve found that group presentations, followed by ten minute 1-on-1 (scheduled) meetings with your insurance advisor, promotes transparency and expedites OE, exponentially.

Make it a Game:  Let’s face it, from your employee’s perspective, benefits meetings are boring and confusing.  Think of creating a game show atmosphere, with focused “prizes” for education around your plan changes, or medical consumerism topics.  Your team will retain more, and feel more engaged.  We like Price is Right, and Family Feud.  Survey says!

Revisit the Value:  As HR and benefits professionals, we get wrapped up in the “how” to get through OE. It’s a daunting task. However, we shouldn’t lose focus on the “why” we offer benefits to our employees.  It is a retention and attraction tool.  So, are you taking time to present your benefit package in a positive light?  Are you comparing your offering to your competing employers?  Do your employees understand how great your offer really is?  If not, revisit your value proposition.  It’s highly likely you only talk about this once per year.

Timing of OE:  Studies have shown that an OE window should not exceed three weeks, and we recommend no more than two.  If you choose one week, or two, schedule the start on a Friday, and end on a Monday at 12:00 midnight.  This “bookends” your OE with two weekends, allowing for families to discuss their options without the stress of work/school night.  Block that final Monday.  You’ll still be chasing down the stragglers!

“Cloud” Open Enrollment:  If you’re still using paper, “because my employees can’t handle technology” you’re wasting time and money.   It’s 2018, and your team can handle a digital interface.  However, we have seen success combining paper benefits packets, with final enrollment through a cloud platform.  Your employee’s perceived value of the benefit plan is at stake.  So making OE easy and clear is important.  A cloud based enrollment allows your employee to see how their decisions affect their payroll deductions in real-time.  That’s what they care about.  We also find that adding 15 – 60 second videos to explain each decision will help reiterate the topics you covered at the OE meetings.



September 20, 2018




Article Cost HR Professionals Under 50 Employees

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