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The HR Professional Open Enrollment Survival Kit

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again — and no, we’re not talking about the holiday season. It’s open enrollment!

At Hireology, we’re fans of practicing what we preach in general, but even more so when we know we can help businesses like yours tackle topics that can impact retention. The premise is simple: when you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you.

Open enrollment can be a scary time for employees. Between the jargon that these folks need to muddle through, the quick turnarounds on deadlines to make important healthcare decisions, and the busy holiday season, there’s plenty of room for error here. Part of your HR department’s role, then, should be to alleviate this stress in whatever ways they can. 

Hireology’s Vice President of People Terry Adams stated, “The first step to making open enrollment a little less daunting [to employees] is to provide valuable information and education. Hireology’s People team is very involved with explaining the various plans, whether a traditional HMO Plan or navigating an HSA for the first time. We want people to make informed decisions based upon where they are on their life’s journey.”

That’s not to say that this is an easy task for your personnel to approach. As Terry later noted, “Often we have to rely on the carriers to give us the rates for the following year. This can be delivered anywhere from October to December. As such, we are proactively working with our broker and ensuring that we have everything ready to go on our end so we can drop in the rates once received.” 

To put it simply: the time crunch isn’t only on your employees to sign up — time is ticking for your team to get the information out as quickly and accurately as possible. Having an open enrollment survival kit in place can help ease some of the strain this year and others to come. Read on to learn more about how tactics that Hireology has put into place can help your staff make it through this open enrollment period with their sanity in check.

What is open enrollment?

First things first: open enrollment is the period of time between November 1 and January 15 where people can enroll in a health insurance plan of their choice for the next year through the Affordable Care Act. There are a couple of different ways that folks can gain access to healthcare coverage: through an employer-based plan or on the marketplace.

It is important to note that plans through employers may (and often do) have different deadlines for open enrollment periods than the open marketplace, but it will still be between November 1 and January 1 of the following year. Knowing these facts set the foundation for creating an open enrollment survival kit for your HR department to survive this hectic time. 

How can I create an open enrollment survival kit for my company?

Open enrollment questions come in surges, no matter how brief your open enrollment period may be at your work. The basis to create an effective open enrollment survival kit for your company boils down simply to being prepared. You know that employees will have questions — but that you should have the answers. If you don’t, they’re only a phone call away to your broker. 

To start your open enrollment survival kit, you’ll first need to gather your resources. This means digging up last year’s PDFs and doing independent research on trending topics in the healthcare market, like HSAs, the marketplace, etc. Other information you should have handy includes instructions on how to reset passwords to access these plans, types of dependents that can be added to their plans, what events qualify for changes to coverage outside of open enrollment, and more. Most open enrollment questions are predictable, so by thinking ahead you can easily have the resources you need to quickly answer employees.

The next step is to make this information easy to understand. If you (or your team) weren’t in HR, would you grasp concepts like deductibles and premiums? It’s not rocket science, but it can get complicated very quickly. When you’re drafting presentations and informational materials that will be dispersed to your employees, ask yourself, “Would a high school graduate understand this easily?” If the answer is no, make your explanations simpler. 

Once you have accurate information and are ready to begin the open enrollment period at your company, the finer points of your open enrollment survival kit come into play. We’ve listed six key components below that can make or break your open enrollment period to help you create an easy to navigate process for your employees, no matter whether they’re well-acquainted with health insurance or gaining coverage on their own for the first time.

Make your expertise accessible

Your open enrollment survival kit should encompass a way to make expertise around health insurance easily accessible. At Hireology, we do this by offering multiple sessions throughout the open enrollment period for employees to attend when works best for them and their work schedule. While our employees have the leeway to attend whichever session works best for them, hosting several scheduled sessions allows your employees to digest this information and follow up with any relevant open enrollment questions they may have. If you can arrange it, try to have your broker host a session or two so they can dig in deep on the open enrollment questions that may have your team stumped (or asking them for clarification anyway).

Also consider having your HR team offer office hours to your employees, just like the good old college days. These hours should offer a comfortable and relaxed setting for your employees to ask their open enrollment questions in an ideally one-on-one environment.

Use multiple voices in messaging

The more people on your staff who can help relay information about your coverage options, the better. Since this sign up period happens during the busy holiday season, you can almost guarantee that a member of your staff will have open enrollment questions on a day you’re not in the office. Having multiple voices in this messaging can help switch up the tone based on the person reminding your staff to select their options, so the message doesn’t become too repetitive. 

Our company has found that using a cascade approach has really helped answer open enrollment questions when our People team isn’t available. In this approach, you funnel information from the top down. People on your team that can help your HR team answer open enrollment questions include:

  • Owner/Operators
  • Managers
  • Shift leads

Overcommunication isn’t a risk

When it comes to planning your open enrollment survival kit, overcommunication isn’t a risk. Your team might get tired of receiving the same open enrollment emails — but these reminders are for their benefit. To make sure that your staff stay on top of your business’s open enrollment deadline, consider alternative methods of communication. 

For example, at Hireology, we utilize time during our company-wide weekly huddle to share these deadlines, along with sending internal email campaigns and using Slack to send company-wide notifications. What works for your business, however, might look different. A simple group text might work for smaller companies, while mass emails would likely work better for businesses with multiple locations. 

Keep an eye on deadlines

Your open enrollment survival kit should include important timeframes that both you and your employees need to be aware of during this time. Holidays throw everything for a loop and can make this time period even more stressful than it already is. As such, you should have a plan in place to plan around the holidays that sets the pace for communicating upcoming deadlines. 

Take this into consideration: Hireology’s People team typically gives our employees space to investigate their available options after announcing the first week of open enrollment. They’ll still hold office hours and sessions for the staff to attend on their own, but internal messaging slowly ramps up until the final week, where they’ll send three reminders in five business days that the deadline is rapidly approaching. 

Use HR technology to your advantage

The last tool in your open enrollment survival kit is the HR technology your team already uses. Most HRIS platforms (if not all) can generate reports of employees who have completed their open enrollment and those that have not. Your team can then use these lists to send targeted messages to lingerers to get them to sign up and reap the benefits of healthcare coverage through your employer group!

Lighten the mood with levity

As we mentioned earlier, open enrollment can be a scary time but you can lighten the mood with a bit of humor. Did you notice how we peppered in some open enrollment memes throughout this piece? Even if you didn’t think they were as funny as we did, they likely made this information more digestible — and helped keep your attention. You don’t have to include silly graphics or jokes to keep your audience engaged, but think of ways that will help your employees stay interested in this important topic. 

I made my open enrollment survival kit — now what?

Double check that there are several opportunities for your audience to ask your HR team any open enrollment questions they may have. Having more than one method (and time) to address these important questions ensures that your staff feel like you care about them making the right choice for them and their families. When your people are taken care of, they’ll take care of you — and your business.

Keeping people is only half of the solution to staying staffed enough to provide a great experience for the customer. For information on how you can increase your applicant flow by offering what job seekers are really looking for, check out our latest guide on flexibility.

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