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Millenium Benefits Consulting offers a different perspective on what is normally one of the biggest headaches in an employer’s year.  Take a quick look to see if it helps…

Yikes – Open Enrollment is just around the corner!

Yep, it’s true – for plans renewing on January 1, 2013 – open enrollment is right around the corner.  Most employers and employees alike dread the open enrollment season.  The thought of change, increasing costs, deadlines, and too much information just makes a tense environment for everyone.

So let’s take a fresh look at the open enrollment season.  We think the key is in planning, executing, and communicating.  Set your standards high, but manageable.  We dare say that open enrollment can be a positive experience.

Based on our experience with employers and employees, here are a few things to consider.

What is your open enrollment plan?

Make an open enrollment plan.  While the term “goal setting” is perhaps overused, there is merit in determining the overall goal of open enrollment and communicating that goal with your employees.  The first step is a biggie, and might take some time, but it’s important.

Your open enrollment goals will include elements such as:

  • How will employees enroll – electronic, traditional forms, other?
  • How long will enrollment last?
  • What will our communication plan to employees include?
  • How will information be communicated – enrollment meetings, webinar, or something else?

How can you prepare in advance?

Consider creating a detailed open enrollment calendar.  Map out a timeline that takes you through every step.  Start with the decision date on which you will expect to have the final benefits package decision.  From there, determine the open enrollment dates and key dates for transferring information to your carriers, through to your effective date for new/revised benefits.

Get help if you need it.  The open enrollment season requires plenty of hands-on work.  Perhaps you need some additional manpower during the process.  So consider outsourcing, temporary agencies, or a benefit-consulting firm to help carry the load.  Also remember to engage your technology resources to cut down on your workload.  Many self-service systems allow employees to view, research, and elect benefits from anywhere at anytime and may limit the amount of handholding your department has to provide.

What is your communications strategy?

Establish a communication strategy.  Now more than ever, benefits are an important piece of an employee’s compensation package.  The company and each employee both spend significant on their benefits, so use open enrollment as a time to communicate the importance of benefits, including the company’s commitment to providing top-shelf benefits and the employee’s responsibility to make choices.

Consider these questions when determining your communications strategy:

  • Who is your audience?  Do you have multiple groups within your employee population that might need different communications (e.g., employees at a retail location versus your corporate office)?
  • How will employees best receive the information?  Email, mailer, YouTube link?
  • When will you communicate?  How frequent is too frequent for reminders?  How will you communicate “last-call”?
  • Many employees are apprehensive and uncertain about how healthcare reform will affect their coverage.  Your communications strategy should seek to allay these fears with clear, easy-to-understand instructions.

Why spend so much time and effort on open enrollment?

Again, remind your employees of the company’s investment in them through benefits.  Everyone knows how expensive healthcare and benefits coverage can be, but it’s important keep your folks mindful how much money the company spends on their behalf.

Our experience points to three keys to open enrollment success:

  • Keep communications simple.  Repeat themes or messages and use everyday language.  Think “easy to digest talking points.”
  • Use technology, but don’t forget the power of face-time.  Make yourself and your HR department available to personally speak with and answer employees’ questions.
  • Provide specific open enrollment instructions.  Use number steps or a checklist so that there is no question what is required of your employees for enrollment/re-enrollment.