No one understands better than the person who administers benefits about the difficulty of open enrollment season. It was hard enough ambushing employees in the workplace to remind them that they need to submit their packets. Let’s not even talk about the headache of creating multiple schedules so that employees can take physical breaks from work and listen to benefits presentations. Now, administrators must figure out the best way to get the packet to the eligible employees in the first place.
But changing to a more virtual or paperless system may not be such a bad thing for some employers. It may be an easier way of getting the same message out at the same time. It may allow employees access to self-help tools and resources. It may even allow for an administrator to be able to take a breath between the end of the open enrollment period and the beginning of the actual plan year.
How can this work? By creating a system of organization, starting with employee communication:
With such diversity in the workplace, not all employees like to communicate in the same way. It is not a one size fits all. Depending upon the workforce demographic, information about open enrollment may need to be sent to remote workers via hardcopy to their address of record, work email or both. Such information should be sent about three or four weeks before open enrollment so that employees can start thinking about what they want to do.
Don’t automatically dismiss the concept of hardcopies to employees. This does not mean print and mail a copy of the benefits packet; instead consider sending out a postcard reminder. A short message on an old-fashioned piece of paper may get the attention of employees that usually scroll past the mass of company emails they receive daily. Ideally, the postcard will address the top three questions (what is it, when is it, what is being offered) in a way similar to this:
“Open enrollment is coming! (what it is) Employees will be able to enroll in benefits for the 2021 plan year by enrolling
online between November 1st and November 15th. (when it is) More information will be coming about the type of benefits
(what is being offered) but make sure you highlight these dates.”
For the cost of a postcard, the administrator has freed up time that would usually have been devoted to answering these very basic questions. Depending upon the size of the workplace, this could be quite the time-saver.
As for your email message, it should duplicate what you send in the postcard or just a similar short message.
Now that you have your employees’ attention, about two weeks ahead of open enrollment going live is a great time to introduce the benefits, briefly. At the same time, since a lot of the same information will be shared about benefits (but in greater detail) during the open enrollment process, a one-page PDF or cheat sheet is an excellent way of hitting the high points in advance. This one-pager is a great tool for those employees who honestly will not read through all the open enrollment information and instead reach out regularly to the administrator for a verbal summary of each benefit. Remember, our goal is to get open enrollment done and save the administrator's sanity.
A summary can simply identify:
It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. The most crucial element is that you drive employees to expect to complete their process online instead of in person. Therefore, employees need to become mentally prepared to be a bit more independent.
Will this technique work for all employees? No, not at all. But it can significantly help in driving most of the employees in the right direction.
In the world of perfect, an administrator will have had the time in advance to outline a bunch of, what they would identify as, common questions and provide summary answers for employees. Employees would then simply click on a link for Benefits FAQs and be quickly satisfied with their issues. Easy peasy, right?
Now, in the world of reality, most administrators do not have time to do this and rely upon the benefits documentation and open enrollment materials to answer questions. But this does not solve the problem of repeated questions.
If an administrator can create a contemporaneous document to track employee questions as they come in, and the administrator’s answers, this can foster a living Benefits FAQ. The administrator could then make the document available throughout the open enrollment process. Of course, this link would not have the employee’s identification but merely their question and the resulting answer. By providing this access to others, an administrator may be able to deal with multiple inquiries on the same issue at one time.
The Benefits FAQ can be created as a link on the open enrollment main page. It should be easy for an employee to see it (e.g., large font, blinking, bold, etc.), and there should be a note as to the last time it was updated. Such notation will encourage employee usage.
Despite all of these efforts, administrators may still be bombarded with questions. It was easier when everyone was in the office because if the door was closed, come back later. But that does not mean that things have to descend into a free-for-all.
Administrators can create virtual office hours devoted solely to answering questions and dealing with issues. Establishing set times, such as 10 to 2 each day of the open enrollment period, lets employees know that those hours are safe hours to reach out. But it also lets employees know that those hours are the hours when they can expect assistance. If they attempt to contact external to such times, they may have to wait as other things come first. This structure can help alleviate an employee’s anxiety about accessibility issues.
On a related note, especially for employees that have historically attended and depended upon the one-on-one meetings or other presentations, this can also be a set time in which benefits webinars will be presented. So, for example, the first day could be a recorded webinar providing an overview of health, dental, and vision benefits. Following the webinar, the administrator remains available to answer questions until the duration of their virtual office hours. The next day could be a recorded webinar focusing on ancillary benefits. Once all of the recorded webinars are completed, rerun them until the end of open enrollment.
This process should help employees feel as if the administrator is not only accessible but also attentive as they don’t have to run off to do something else. Also, it may help employees who have listened to the recording on their own but need some additional clarification.
Kat provides employer-focused guidance on compliance solutions with an emphasis on employee benefits.
Kat is a compliance and workplace solutions consultant for USI. In this position. She provides employer-focused guidance on compliance solutions with an emphasis on employee benefits. She helps to translate the complexity of employment compliance laws into an understandable solution for clients. Kat joined USI in 2019, prior to that she worked in the insurance industry providing compliance assistance to employers of all demographics. Kat began her employee benefits career working with the United States Department of Labor in the Chicago Regional Office as an investigator and coordinator of the Voluntary Fiduciary Compliance Program (VFCP).
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During the White House’s Summit on Working Families on June 24, 2014, President Obama indicated he was signing a presidential memorandum requiring every federal agency to address flexible work schedules and give employees the right to request such schedules. Absent what could be a dramatic increase in workplace flexibility for federal employees, it is undeniable that the demand for flexibility and work-life balance is on the rise.
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