2023 Open Enrollment: 10 Tips for HR Professionals

Posted by Lisa Oyler on Sep. 29, 2022

It’s time to knock it out of the park.

Put on a full-court press.

Send in a ringer.

It’s time to get excited about open enrollment season.

The words “open enrollment” probably won’t cause sleepless nights or cold sweats for the average employee. Only an HR professional truly understands all that “open enrollment” entails.

Using a sports metaphor, open enrollment isn’t just about what happens during the game. It’s really about all the training and preparation that happens before and after the game.

As HR professionals, we’ll never be as well-known as the LaBron’s or Sarena’s of the sports world, but open enrollment can be likened to what these professional athletes must do to be successful.

Just like any team sport, HR professionals know the importance of being prepared in the pre-season; they know the pressures of a long regular season, and they also know that evaluating their progress during the off-season is just as important as what they do when everyone's eyes are on HR.

Each season also requires us to play a certain role. From talent scout to consultant, to personal trainer, to coach. Open enrollment is a year-round process aimed at ensuring each employee is adequately up to speed about their benefits package and all it offers them throughout the year, regardless of the season.

On top of carrying the responsibility of selecting the right benefits and plans for the company, many HR professionals shoulder the burden of advising their employees to make the best personal selections for both their core benefits, as well as the voluntary/lifestyle benefits you offer. Often that represents hundreds or even thousands of individual decisions, so it’s no surprise that many HR specialists dread the pressure that comes with open enrollment.

But it doesn’t have to be that stressful.

Instead of bearing all that weight alone, HR professionals can lessen their burden by choosing to serve as catalysts rather than a gatekeeper. By enabling employees to take ownership of their part of the process, it will not only make your life easier, but it will help them become better benefits consumers in the long term.

That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, and it will most definitely require preparation. But if done correctly, open enrollment can be a great opportunity to engage with employees and strengthen the employer/employee relationship.

10 Open Enrollment Tips for HR Professionals

The right groundwork and strategy could be just what you need to grease the wheels for a smooth open enrollment. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.

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Just when you think you’ve said it enough, there’s sure to be an employee that has no clue what “open enrollment” even means.  Just like employees’ roles within the organization vary, so do their personal communication styles and preferences. Avoid this by using various channels to get the word out. You could:

      • Send emails or mail communication pieces to their homes
      • Hold in-person information sessions
      • Send texts
      • Record and post short informative videos on internal social networks,
      • Create an open enrollment podcast for them to listen to

Think outside the box to reach employees in creative ways that’ll grab their attention.

2. Don't just communicate. Educate.

It’s not enough to tell employees they need to make their open enrollment selections. Employees need to understand what choices they’re making.

Only 6% of respondents in a recent United Healthcare survey could define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance, and out-of-pocket maximum.

Teach employees what these terms mean so they can make more informed decisions about the available plans. Plus, it’ll help them be smarter healthcare consumers since they’ll understand their own insurance plan so much better and enable them to make better choices throughout the year. Creating a lead-up email campaign with critical information such as benefit terms and differences between plan choices can be helpful.

3. Share real-life examples.

One of the best ways to teach employees how to use their benefits is by sharing realistic examples. We all learn best through stories. Create a "sample" employee with specific healthcare issues so they can better relate to the ways they can utilize their benefits.

Walk through scenarios showing how to find providers and where to obtain the most appropriate care for different situations they may face. This will also help keep costs down. Demonstrating how unnecessary emergency room visits and out-of-network procedures impact everyone’s rates can go a long way to help control next year’s premium increases.

4. Require active enrollment.

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One of the best ways to ensure employee involvement is to require that employees make a benefit selection each year. With passive enrollment, an employee’s selections simply roll over from the previous year, as long as they don’t make any changes. By requiring all employees to actively choose their benefits coverage, it will not only engage them better with the company but reinforce the value of their benefits.

Once you’ve done your job educating your employees, you get to step back and put the ball in their court. While you can offer helpful information, empower your employees to make an informed decision about which plan will end up being the best fit for their circumstances.

5. Establish clear timelines.

Choosing an appropriate amount of time for open enrollment can be crucial. Typically, organizations allow somewhere between two and four weeks for employees to make their desired selections. This gives workers who travel or are otherwise swamped with work, adequate time to understand the plans, familiarize themselves with any changes, and make their selections.

Communicating these timelines clearly and frequently can help ensure everyone is on the same page and that all employees submit their selections on time.

6. Hold Q&A sessions.

Chances are, one information session will not be enough. Depending on the size of your organization, it’s a good idea to hold an initial company-wide meeting where you hit the high points and roll out any changes. After that, schedule a handful of smaller, optional, follow-up sessions where employees can ask questions and learn more about the benefits. Have representatives from each plan on-site for specific coverage questions.

And make sure your door is always open. Some employees may want one-on-one advice or an opportunity to ask questions they aren’t comfortable bringing up in a group setting.  Invite spouses and family members to your open enrollment orientation sessions.  Make sure all attendees have the tools and resources they need to decide which plan makes the most sense for their situation.

Many plan advisers also allow employees the opportunity to set up individual appointments with them. This can be a great option for employees who seek a little extra guidance and understanding.

7. Be on their team.

Remember, this is an employee benefit. A primary purpose of providing health insurance is to add meaningful value to their lives. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel that way, especially when costs keep climbing year after year.

Listen to your employees to discover the things that matter most to them. Then try to prioritize those items when choosing which benefits your company will offer.

Frequently, employees don’t know all that goes into selecting employee benefits. They don’t see the hours upon hours you’ve spent comparing plans and negotiating rates on their behalf. If you don’t show them all the forethought that goes into making those decisions, no one will. And because they don’t sign the check for the company’s portion of their premium, they often don’t know just how much that is. Employees will gripe a little less when they know you have their back and truly want what’s best for them.

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8. Make it fun.

Let’s be honest, no one hears “health insurance” and immediately thinks “party!” It’s expensive and complicated.  And although we need it, we tend to get sick of talking about it. (Did I say that out loud?)

So, it’s up to HR to crank up the excitement surrounding open enrollment – and sell the value of all of their employee benefits.

You could provide lunch for the information sessions or give rewards when employees submit their selections by a certain date. Consider splurging on a couple of totally awesome prizes that really excite your employees. Give those away through drawings they can enter when they attend information sessions.

Basically, bribe them to care. It may sound ridiculous, but it’ll make things easier on everyone when employees have an incentive to engage in the process.

9. Make it easy.

Employee benefits and open enrollment maybe your world, but that isn’t the case for your employees. Many of them will need you to break things down into layman’s terms. Start with the basics then provide more detailed resources for specific questions. Don’t give them the firehose treatment when all they’re asking for is a sip of water.

Prepare simple summary snapshots, individual cost sheets, lists of in-network locations and how-to sheets that can be distributed on an as-needed basis. It’s also a great idea to have a central location, like an internal wiki, where employees can turn for these resources if you aren’t readily available.

10. Present a full package.

Though we tend to focus on health insurance during open enrollment, be careful not to let other benefits slip under the rug. Employees also need to make their selections for all their voluntary benefits. 

And don’t miss out on the opportunity to promote your other employee perks even if they don’t require re-enrollment.

One of the best ways to soften the effects of increasingly expensive health coverage is to offer other, less-pricey perks or lifestyle benefits that help employees save their hard-earned dollars. For example, employee discount programs can save employees hundreds or even thousands each year on everyday expenses and travel costs. (For a closer look at the impact the best employee discount programs can have, read a case study here: What Can Employee Discount Programs Do?)

Perks like these show employees you understand the big picture and are willing to invest in their overall health, well-being, and financial security.

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What Makes Open Enrollment "Successful"?

You can’t measure success without first defining it. So, start by asking yourself (and your team) what goals you want to achieve during this year’s open enrollment. How will any changes you’re making affect your corporate culture? What do you want your employees to take away? How can you use technology and other tools at your disposal to make this a better year than last year?

Then make a plan and stick with it.  And while you can expect a few hiccups, stay confident that with a solid strategy in place, more will go right than wrong.

Occasionally we subscribe to the crazy idea that stress equals output. But the truth is, that’s not the case at all. Stress actually hinders productivity in most cases. Just remember, open enrollment can be wildly successful without all the pressure you put on yourself.

For more tips to help you prepare for open enrollment, you may want to check out our article: What To Do When Employees Complain About Their Benefits Costs.


Topics: earning engagement, employee perks, Employee Benefits Costs, Employee Benefits, Employee Health Insurance, Health Insurance Prices, lifestyle benefits, open enrollment

Lisa Oyler

Written by Lisa Oyler

Lisa has over 25 years of human resources and training and development experience along with a passion to help others make a difference both personally and professionally in all that they do. Her specialties include: Employee Relations, Recruitment, Management Training, Coaching, Performance Management, Orientation, Customer Service Trends & Training and Strength Assessment.