When the open enrollment period for benefits comes around, many employees simply ignore it. Here are four best practices to help them get the right plan.

When the open enrollment period for benefits comes around each year, many employees simply ignore it, automatically re-enrolling in their previous year's plan. HR leaders, though, know that's not the best option: Plans change every year, life circumstances shift often and the options may include new benefits that weren't available previously.

To make sure they're getting the best benefits for their situation, employees need to take time to examine all their options so they can make educated decisions. If your employees aren't doing that, it may be time to rethink how you approach open enrollment. Consider the following best practices.

Start Communicating Early

Reading through the details of benefits plans and options — along with asking questions and getting answers — takes time. Employees need more than a few days or even a few weeks to do it well. So start presenting information about open enrollment well before the period begins to get it on employees' radars. From there, send out regular communications until open enrollment ends. Leverage different methods like emails, flyers and in-person meetings.

Focus on Employees' Needs

Your communications to employees should focus on what they stand to lose or gain. For instance, there's a price increase or if current providers won't be included in the network next year, be upfront. Let them know that selecting a new plan could help them save money or keep their current providers, if this is applicable.

Remind employees that if they've experienced a life change, they may need to change their current benefit options to ensure that their new spouse or child will be adequately covered. Or they may need to remove individuals, such as an adult child, who no longer require coverage.

Make Additional Information Readily Available

Some employees are more likely than others to have questions as they sift through benefits information, so make sure someone is available to provide answers. That could be a representative from HR who is well-versed in the plans available, or you could bring in a benefits provider to respond to questions in person or by phone. Employees need plenty of information to ensure that they're making the right choice.

Simplify Open Enrollment by Including All Types of Benefits at One Time

Late fall has become the traditional time of year for many employers to offer enrollment for health benefits coverage, tying in with the open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act health plans. But whenever you offer health plan enrollment for your employees, consider adding enrollment for all other benefits at the same time, including 401(k) plans, flexible spending accounts, gym memberships or any other benefits that require enrollment. That way, employees know they can put in the time once a year to make selections and they likely won't have to worry about it again for 12 months.

If you want to encourage employees to take the enrollment period seriously, start with these best practices. You'll get their attention, provide the information they need and help them get the plans that best suit them. And remember that the extra work you put into these efforts now will pay off later when employees are happy with your organization's offerings.

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Tags: Compensation and Benefits Benefits Administration Insurance Research & Insights Articles HR