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5 Tips for Surviving Open Enrollment

It’s the season for football games, Thanksgiving, holiday shopping and open enrollment. And because of that last annual event, HR professionals often don’t get to enjoy the other three. Here are five tips for surviving open enrollment.

November 3, 2006
Related Topics: Benefit Design and Communication, Compensation
It’s the season for football games, Thanksgiving, holiday shopping and open enrollment. And because of that last annual event, HR professionals often don’t get to enjoy the other three. Here are five tips for surviving open enrollment from Daryl Ashley, senior vice president and general manager of Workscape, a company that provides outsourced solutions for compensation and benefits, and Lisa Bright, director of the company’s HR service center. Whether your internal HR staff is managing open enrollment or you have a vendor handling it, these pointers can help you streamline the process. They might also help in planning a better open enrollment in 2007.

Know your busiest call center day: After a weekend of being pent up with spouses who are asking lots of questions about company benefit plans, most employees hit the call center first thing on Monday. You need to plan accordingly. Have additional staff in place to anticipate this uptick in call volume. Also, it’s best not to have the last day of your enrollment on a Monday. Employees procrastinate about their enrollment--75 percent of all enrollments are done in the last three days. Don’t make an already crazy Monday during enrollment season even more hectic.

    Choose your enrollment deadlines with care: You’re not selling Ginsu knives on television, so a midnight deadline is never right. Make sure you’re giving employees reasonable business-related deadlines, such as a Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST. This approach will also give you the opportunity to "remind" them the day before and reduce the likelihood of a last-minute rush. Setting deadlines on a Friday, a holiday or at midnight will only further increase that Monday-morning call center rush. Harried employees will call in to explain they’ve missed the deadline because they couldn’t access provider numbers or query their current physician about plan participation.

    Understand the language needs of your workforce: It’s likely that there are more languages than just English being spoken in your employee population. That’s why it’s critical that your benefits enrollment information be employee-friendly and tailored to the specific needs of your workforce. That could mean creating benefits enrollment information in another language, or just ensuring that the English you use is clear and easily understood. Also, ensure that your call center or call takers can handle a variety of language requirements.

    Prepare the people who answer the phones: Regardless of self-service options, people still make phone calls during open enrollment. Can you afford to annoy a valuable high-potential employee or an expensive new hire by having someone read boilerplate benefits information to them? Benefits are a personal matter, after all. They should be dealt with in a personal way.

    In advance, coordinate all communications with either the call center or your own HR staffers so they can be knowledgeable and prepared to support mailings that go out to the employees. Set up and review a set of Q&As or frequently asked questions that cover what are likely to be the "hot" questions they’ll be asked (raised premiums, new plan offerings, etc.). If you are conducting classes or holding webinars to communicate open enrollment options to employees, make sure any outsourced call center staffers are copied so they can reinforce these messages. Better yet, have some of them attend these events, if possible.

    Remember, when employees call, their perception is that they are speaking to their employer. Your benefits administration vendor’s call center staff needs to be well versed on who you are, what you do and how you do it.

    Mine your data: There’s gold in this year’s enrollment information that will help you to properly plan for 2007. If your benefits enrollment system uses sophisticated preference modeling to assist employees in making their benefits choices, the aggregated results of the input become a rich source of knowledge for the benefits manager. This data will help you learn about employees’ desires and predispositions--by job title, region, etc.--as well as to understand where the employees see value from their benefits plans. Maximize this data by conducting decision-support analysis for 2007 planning.

    Even if you’re handling benefits enrollment in-house and don’t have high-powered data analysis tools, you still can look back at two or three years of data and spot the trends. What did your employees migrate to in that time? Did the HMO gain in popularity? Did employees sign up for plans that offered more choice? That’s powerful information for future action.

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