Important Steps to Take Before Launching Your Annual Benefits Enrollment
Paper shuffling, bewildered looks, and frantic note-taking. It’s another open enrollment season — the annual 30-day period during which workers choose their benefits for the coming year
For calendar-year benefit plans that begin Jan. 1, open enrollment often takes place in November. However, enrollment this year won’t be business as usual. The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have made things more complicated.
To add to enrollment challenges, this year more than ever, it’s imperative employers communicate with employees about their choices for benefits. Whether the benefits are health, dental, life insurance or ancillary benefits, employees must understand what benefits are available so they can best take advantage of them. They also need to know which benefits are fully paid for by the employer, which ones are employee-paid through salary deferral, and which ones are shared costs.
There is no requirement that open enrollment be held for a certain length of time, although most employers have an open enrollment period of at least two to four weeks. To determine the timeline that works best for you, work backwards from the date that the information must be completed for the carriers and then work forward to deliver the communications program. Remember to send reminders to employees about the deadline for making their selections.
Before you start your open enrollment, give serious thought to how you will conduct open enrollment, taking into account social distancing. Typically, employers and carrier representatives hold enrollment meetings to discuss changes and options. If you decide you cannot safely hold a group meeting — either all at once or in stages — consider hosting a virtual enrollment meeting via a group video call.
Many small businesses still enroll employees through the traditional paper process. If that is your situation, talk to your broker and insurance carrier about going digital this year. If your carrier doesn’t have a system in place, it may be too late to implement a digital system this year, but you can start planning ahead now.
As always, there are procedures you can put in place to ensure that you have a successful enrollment period. Here are a few ideas recommended by benefit experts:
- Do your homework: It’s easiest to just offer the benefits you’ve always offered. Instead, review the demographics of your workforce and target benefits to their needs. For instance, young families have different needs than older workers who are nearing retirement age.
- Use different communication delivery systems: Don’t just rely on an email or one meeting. Your employees get information in a variety of ways. Try to use more than one of the following:
- Webinars or video calls
- In-person company meetings
- Direct mail to their home
- Social media
- Intranet posts
- Online decision tools
- E-mails and instant messaging
- Live hotline for questions and concerns
- Desktop dashboards or pop-up “Did you know?” benefits messages
- Explain why the benefit package was chosen: Employees need to know why a certain package was chosen, and they want to know if there were changes to their benefits, such as increased health plan premiums or deductibles. You also can highlight the value of your benefits programs, promote wellness and encourage retirement savings.
- Inform managers and supervisors prior to the campaign launch: The more your company’s supervisors know about the plan and deadlines, the more they can encourage their team members to enroll.