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How to Keep Employees Engaged During Open Enrollment Season

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October is nearly over, which means open enrollment is around the corner for most organizations. Open enrollment can be a hectic time of year, especially if your organization has a lot of benefit changes to navigate. For a smooth benefits season, it’s crucial for your HR team to actively communicate with employees to ensure they have the information they need to properly enroll and meet deadlines.

I’ve been working in the field of employee benefits for many years, and to this day, one of the oldest, most painful truths is that employees just aren’t interested in reading about their benefits. It’s not unusual for less than 50% of recipients to even open communications related to benefits, which can feel defeating for HR teams. Unfortunately, there’s not a one-solution-fits-all approach to helping boost communication open rates, but I wanted to share three things that may increase readership among your employees.

Think About Message

In marketing, calls to action (CTAs) are used widely within communications. CTAs emphasize what actions you’re trying to get the reader of your communication to take. It’s important to plan and define what CTA you want to use in your open enrollment communications so that your employees have clear next steps.

Do employees need to make an election for every plan? Are you rolling out new benefits in some but not all plans that need to be reviewed? Can employees just do nothing and have their enrollment carry forward?

Employees are most frustrated when it isn’t clear what they need to do. Make sure your communication focuses on what actions you want your employees to take (and that a clear deadline is shared).

Think About Style

It’s important to think about which communication styles work best for your organization. There’s no singular right answer. Email, in-person meetings and mailings to the employee’s home are probably the most common options, but here are some other alternatives you may consider:

  • Come up with a theme or brand for the open enrollment season to provide consistency for your employees. A special theme or brand promotes recognition and helps set communications apart from other internal messages.
  • Schedule staff meetings or huddles as a way to get in front of people for a quick five- to ten-minute open enrollment push.
  • If you have group chat tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack, consider open enrollment channels to serve as a centralized location to field employee questions and share information.
  • Explore what other technology your organization uses that could display enrollment reminders, such time clocks or your payroll system.
  • Don’t exclude text messages for quick-hit communication.

Every organization’s communication preferences are different, but it’s key to take the necessary time to lay out your communication plan prior to open enrollment so that you know which tactics you’re going to use when.

Also, if you haven’t tracked feedback in the past, consider adding a short survey during your open enrollment season regarding employees’ communication preferences so that you’re better prepared for next year.

Think About Timing

Open enrollment hits during a busy time of year for many companies. You’re leading up to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, which is likely one of the highest points of traffic for the entire year if you’re a retail business. Or for other industries, you might just be making a push to have a strong financial year-end.

Plenty of companies also have year-end reviews and pay changes to sort through, which takes a manager’s time and attention away from reinforcing the importance of open enrollment. Whatever the situation, consider what other activities might be happening in your business when you schedule your open enrollment, as well as the communication leading up to it. Employees are more likely to gloss over key pieces of information if they’re overwhelmed with other matters.

Here are some tips on timing:

  • There is no magic time to send out email communications to your team. In general, research shows us that typically the afternoon, around 3:00 p.m., is a good place to start. This is when the workday is winding down and people might have some time to kill, yet they’re still active in front of their computers.
  • After your initial request goes out, start segmenting your email distribution list by removing employees who have finished enrollment. This saves employees from getting annoyed by repeat emails for a task they’ve already completed and gives you a better idea of how many people you still need information from. Another benefit to segmenting your list is the opportunity to connect with stragglers to see what was causing them not to engage in enrollment. From there, you can make improvements for next season.
  • Consider offering incentives to employees so that they complete the process quicker. In my previous experience, my HR team used an employee experience platform where employees could earn recognition and points for rewards. Another potential option could be holding a drawing for a prize, like an additional day of PTO.

Open enrollment is one of the most stressful times of year for HR teams, and while having benefits is incredibly important to employees, the process of getting enrolled in them isn’t. As you go through open enrollment, be mindful of the messaging and communication tactics you use to keep your employees engaged, and be sure to monitor feedback so that you can improve for future years.

At Creative Planning Business Services, we help clients streamline their open enrollment processes through our innovative human capital management software called K-Pay. Connect with our team today to learn more about K-Pay and how our team can make a difference for your open enrollment.

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.

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