How to Deliver a Great Open Enrollment When Resources Feel Tight

It sounds like a line from The Bachelor: “2024 will be our most dramatic open enrollment season yet.”

We might say it every year…but as organizations face daunting budget constraints, evolving employee needs, and the biggest healthcare cost increase in a decade, it might just be the truth. When resources are tight, delivering a successful open enrollment can feel like a near-impossible task.

But don’t worry—there’s hope! We were lucky enough to hear from several real-life HR and benefits experts during Engage 2024, and their message was clear: with the right amount of planning, strategy, and support from all angles, employers can still make this year’s open enrollment a successful one.

Here’s how to best support your employees, avoid HR burnout, and meet C-suite expectations if you’re on a tight budget this open enrollment. 

Start as early as possible

You know what they say…the early bird gets the worm!

Many of our speakers at Engage agreed that open enrollment is one continuous cycle. As soon as one year ends, you should be thinking about how to improve for the next one. That’s especially true if you’re making big benefits changes this year, and have more information than usual to communicate with your workforce.

Start planning as early as possible by defining your “why.” What are your main goals for this year’s open enrollment, and what actions are you hoping employees will take? If you’re looking to contain costs, are you hoping to drive people to new healthcare plans? Promote more cost-effective programs? Bring awareness to benefits that aren’t getting enough attention? Understanding what you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve it will drive every single strategy decision and communication tactic for the year ahead. 

And as one benefits leader reminded us, the power to start now is in your hands. Don’t be afraid to be proactive with your timeline, and start communicating early with your open enrollment stakeholders.

Are you letting your broker or insurance carrier drive your timelines? Or what can you do to proactively start planning?
Brett Wilson
Wellbeing & Rewards Leader, RSM

Know your employees’ needs

Making changes to benefits is hardly ever fun. And the truth is that you might have to make bigger cuts than usual this year, regardless of your employees’ feelings about it. But we know that as HR pros, your first priority is your workforce’s health and wellness—so there are still ways to take their needs into account. 

As you put together your benefits packages and open enrollment communication plans for the year ahead, survey your employees to understand which benefits are the most crucial to them, and which ones you might be able to reduce or eliminate. Even if you can’t accommodate every request, it’s helpful to know where your employees stand so that you can anticipate their reactions, communicate changes more effectively, and quell as many concerns as possible.

And as Emily Dobbins reminded us, you might not have total control over which benefits your organization can offer. But you do have control over how you spread the news if you’re making changes. 

It’s so important to understand how your employees want to receive communications—especially if you’ve been at your organization for a long time, and have had things on autopilot. Do they even like your emails? Are there other things they’d like to receive instead? Survey them to understand how they’d most like to learn about their benefits.
Emily Dobbins
Client Communications Manager, Woodruff Sawyer

Explain your reasoning

Making benefits changes or increasing employee healthcare premiums might be inevitable. But employees are just like you—they understand what’s going on in the world, and are feeling the effects of inflation just as much as you are. So if you’re evolving your benefits packages this year, a little transparency can go a long way in building trust with your workforce. Explain the reasoning behind the changes you’re making, and show them the math!

All across the country, most companies have had to raise their premiums. Ours were aligned with the national average, but it’s still something that we need to be proactive about sharing with our employees.
Lisa Habib
VP HR Digital Experience Strategy & Content Delivery, Truist

And it doesn’t all have to be bad news, either. Be sure to share the positive side where you can. For example, if you’re switching to a new healthcare provider or are increasing premiums, you might be able to share that employees will still have access to 99% of the same healthcare providers as they did before, or that they might not see any increases in their prescription costs.

Ask for more from your broker

An often underutilized resource during open enrollment and beyond? Your benefits broker. 

That might be surprising to hear, considering how often you likely talk to your broker partners during this busy time of year. But as Brandon Weber, CEO & Co-Founder at Nava Benefits, reminded us, brokers have a lot more to offer than we’re asking them for.

We’re redefining brokers to become an extension of the HR team—from focusing solely on the renewal process to a true partnership where brokers have capabilities and responsibilities at every step of the annual benefits year. It’s a really healthy thing.
Brandon Weber
CEO & Co-Founder, Nava Benefits

So don’t be afraid to ask your broker for more support, especially when your HR team is already overworked and burned out. Brandon offered three main areas where benefits consultants can offer more support:

Renewal strategies

  • Pre-renewal benchmarking at least six months in advance to help you understand benefits usage and engagement
  • Employee benefits surveys to collect more data about employee satisfaction
  • Support with building business cases for new benefits or package changes to present to the C-suite

Benefits administration

  • Set up and manage vendor integrations
  • Manage ongoing eligibility for employees and support onboarding and offboarding
  • Audit your carrier bills and fix errors (like mistaken charges for employees who are no longer with your company) 

Employee support

  • Help employees choose the right plans
  • Answer employee benefits questions year-round

Lean on technology

Last but not least, technology is the key to strong open enrollment communication on a tight budget. 

If you’re working with a lean team, use tools like ChatGPT to help you craft communications quickly. (Or, use our templates if you’re looking for ways to communicate benefits changes empathetically!) 

Automation is also your friend, and a little upfront work can go a long way. Plan all of your open enrollment communications at once, and schedule your emails, texts, and other messaging to be sent throughout the busy season. Even if you don’t have a formal internal marketing or CRM platform, most email clients like Gmail now have a scheduling feature.

And of course, the Jellyvision team is here to help, too! ALEX helps employees better understand their benefits options and choose the best-fit plans, saving you both time and money.

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