Open Enrollment Should Be a Marathon, Not Sprint

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Conducting a successful open enrollment process has become even more critical with the topic of health care making daily appearances in the news and even on late night TV. Whether they're watching Jimmy Kimmel Live! or reading the news, chances are your employees are nervous about who is covering what when it comes to their health care. As the conversation continues to swirl, it's more important than ever that your organization's strategy is focused on engaging employees throughout the process. These five best practices for an engaging open enrollment will help you do that.

1. Make It a Marathon

This may sound counterintuitive — not all of us want to participate in a 26.5-mile marathon. But in the case of open enrollment, you don't want to be left in the position where you — or your employees — are sprinting to the enrollment line. A successful open enrollment requires a strategy, leadership buy-in and ongoing communication. If you try to rush those critical components, your process may suffer.

2. Make It Accessible

If you want people to enroll in benefits, you need to provide information for every audience. The mechanic on the shop floor may not have easy access to a computer. Similarly, a corporate employee with a desk job may resist the requirement to enroll on a mobile device. Assess your audience and make sure your enrollment methods (in-person sessions, mobile apps, paper forms or web pages) are accessible to everyone. No matter the delivery method, make sure the information is written in a way that will speak to the various audience you are attempting to connect with and that the various avenues that are available deliver the message in the way the employer intends.

3. Make It Relevant

A successful open enrollment requires that the health care benefits you offer meet workforce needs. Younger employees may be interested in plans with high-deductibles, female employees who plan to get pregnant in the coming year will want maternity coverage, and, employees with young children will be interested in what is or isn't covered for well-child exams, prescriptions and visits to urgent care. The options you deliver in open enrollment need to cover as many needs as possible for your diverse employee audience.

4. Make It Concise

To engage employees during open enrollment, keep it simple. Summarize the key points, outline their options and offer links to resources that provide additional details for those who need them. If reading open enrollment information requires too much scrolling, you may lose your readers.

5. Make It a Magnet

As you plan, prepare and promote open enrollment, remember benefits done well serve as a recruiting and retention magnet. The plans you offer are not only a way to engage current employees, they're a way to entice the people you need to hire. So when you're feeling wiped out from the marathon you started running 10 months ago, use the magnet to keep you motivated to deliver the best possible coverage options that meet the needs of your workforce.

As open enrollment season continues to move forward in conjunction with congressional debates on the current health care crisis, HR leaders are left with many questions regarding regulations, costs and what benefits they offer. It's important to keep track of any changes and effective dates. In the meantime, the ACA remains the law and the Society for Human Resource Management recommends that "employers should plan to continue complying with its wide-ranging coverage mandates and all employee tracking and reporting requirements."

Organizations have many options regarding the way they conduct the open enrollment process. The key consideration is around how to engage employees so the healthcare investment you make delivers a return. Open enrollment provides an opportunity to highlight important, valuable health care benefits that meet employee needs, but it also serves as a way to recruit and retain talent that appreciates the benefits your organization makes available. HR leaders that make the most of the open enrollment process will find that the marathon is worth it.

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