Originally published on 7/7/21, Updated on 5/22/23
It may seem like a strange metaphor, but open enrollment is a lot like swimming in open water. You’re not confined to lanes in a pool. Suddenly, you have the ability to swim in any direction, wherever you want. It can be an exhilarating feeling, but it can also be scary and overwhelming. And often, when we meet a challenge like that (trying to make the best-informed healthcare decisions), we tend to avoid it or check out.
So while our HR community might find it exciting to have a sea of options, employees may disengage or worse, choose blindly and move on. In fact, 52% of employees agree that choosing a health plan is stressful, and nearly half (46%) are doubtful they’ve selected a medical benefits plan that delivers coverage at the lowest cost. In addition, 91% of employees choose the same health plan each year—yikes!
The good news is that folks want to prioritize their finances. Studies show that six in 10 Americans agree that living through the pandemic has made younger generations smarter and more informed about their financial well-being. The bad news is that this equates to more stress, as the average millennial worries about money six times per day.
However, HR teams (that’s you!) can help get their team members more engaged in open enrollment! This season is a golden opportunity to provide employee guidance, support their health and financial wellness, quell some of those financial worries, and help them make more informed healthcare decisions.
What will it take? Not a whole lot. With a combination of the right messaging via the right channels and open enrollment software, you’ll be well on your way to helping employees check-in and choose the right plans!
85% of employees better understand their benefits after using ALEX Benefits Counselor.
1. Reframe how you talk about open enrollment
The words you use matter. Help employees understand that open enrollment is an opportunity (and not a scary one). It shouldn’t feel like a chore, untangling the web of employee benefits. Instead, convince them it’s a time to better understand available or new benefits and plan for the year ahead.
Take advantage of your money-savvy employees and position open enrollment as a built-in annual financial checkup to evaluate options and ultimately save money.
Change the language you use.
"Choose your benefits"
"Make smart financial decisions"
In fact, you can create an entire open enrollment campaign using positive messaging and employee empowerment to make informed healthcare decisions. Provide employee guidance on how to save and invest money (e.g., contributing to a health saving account instead of their bank account, maxing out their 401K matching, or going to urgent care instead of the emergency room.
The beauty is that you don’t have to communicate these tips all by yourself! Jellyvision Custom Solutions can provide tailored emails, texts, and printed materials that boost benefits awareness, understanding, and interactions.
2. Use open enrollment as an opportunity to promote employee well-being
All of our data and reports continue to reinforce the fact that mental health is paramount. Leaders agree it’s one of their main 2022 HR priorities. And while it’s encouraging to see human resources folks increase their focus on this area, recent research shows there are still some gaps in benefits understanding when it comes to mental health. For example:
- 2/3 of employers offer an EAP, but only 1/3 of employees know an EAP is available to them
- 85% of HR folks say they advocate for their employees to seek mental health support, but 24% of employees don’t feel supported
So this open enrollment, double down on introducing the mental health resources available to employees. It’s not just about EAPs, either. For example, do you offer tuition assistance? Paid family leave? All of these benefits can go a long way in decreasing stress, reducing anxiety, and helping employees manage their personal lives in a healthier way.
If there’s still time, think about adding a few new wellness benefits, too. Our customers, internal data, and community members continually emphasize the importance of expanding holistic wellness initiatives that improve work-life balance. (That’s another 2022 HR priority!)
3. Encourage active selections
We’ll say it again, 91% of employees choose the same health plan each year. Unfortunately, that’s not because they know it’s the best plan for them or they’re taking the time to think about their benefits selections every year. It’s because they’re disengaged from the open enrollment process, and more often than not, they’re intimidated by the research and brain power needed to figure it out.
The truth is, employees’ circumstances could have changed since last year, and moving to a different plan could help them save hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars. Moreover, plans change, the economy shifts, and different benefits are offered.
Employees need to spend some time really thinking through which benefits packages are right for them.
How do you convince stressed-out, busy team members to do this? Meet them where they are. For example, ALEX Connect is a mobile app that delivers personalized benefits information straight to an employee’s phone, plus they can access it 24/7.
4. Supply a personalized experience
A quarter of employees spend more than seven hours trying to understand their health plan on their own. Who has that kinda time?
This proves that your employees are not getting what they need despite your best efforts. That’s probably because each employee is different. They have different health, financial, and life circumstances. They also have different priorities and goals. That’s why you need to provide benefits guidance that shows employees which healthcare plans are best for them personally.
For instance, do they have multiple chronic conditions that require frequent visits to a doctor’s office? Are they on multiple medications? Do they anticipate an upcoming surgery? What about major life events like getting married or having a baby? If so, what type of coverage would make the most sense?
Outline the best- and worst-case cost scenarios for each plan you offer. Also encourage employees to think about how much cash they have on hand to pay for deductibles before they make their choice, especially if they’re leaning toward a high deductible health plan to save money on their monthly premium.
Offering one-on-one consultations with an HR manager or benefits advisor is one way you can provide employee guidance and help employees make informed healthcare decisions. But if you don’t have time for that (hint: you don’t), another option is to use open enrollment software that asks questions and delivers personalized recommendations. Turns out, using technology is really effective too: 85% of employees that use a tool like ALEX say they have a better understanding of their plan options.
5. Give employees time to decide
Nobody should feel rushed or pressured into a decision. Most open enrollment periods only last a week or two, which isn’t much time to make such big choices. Send employees all of your benefits materials in advance so that they can start thinking about which plans will be the best fit for them in the coming year.
Guess how much easier it is to digitally deliver your open enrollment information and employee guidance with the help of benefits engagement platforms? TONS!
Jellyvision Custom Solutions helps HR teams increase employee engagement with captivating, action-oriented messages.
6. Provide privacy when needed
Personal health and financial details can be sensitive topics. To ensure your team members are truly engaged, you need to provide multiple paths they can take to learn about their benefits during open enrollment. Some people will feel comfortable asking questions in person, while others won’t.
Functionality like ALEX Chat drives engagement and provides an unbiased third-party team member that can securely answer private and anonymous questions.
7. Increase visibility and access
Engagement is all about knowing how and when to reach your employees and vice versa (i.e., them knowing where to turn with questions).
This open enrollment—cover all your bases. Post signs in-office, send postcards, but also double down with digital reminders via email and text. Use your open enrollment software and all the features it has to offer! For example, ALEX Central provides a hub for HR folks to download and tailor multiple resources.