By leveraging technology and research, HR can demystify the open enrollment process.
By John Hull
Benefits enrollment happens around the same time every year. But even with the same tune being sung, the same instructions being given, and the same procedures being followed, many employees never feel comfortable or familiar with the process. According to the 2017 Aflac WorkForces Report, when respondents were asked about their understanding of overall policies, deductibles, copayments, and providers in their network, only 24 percent of employees surveyed could say that they understood everything.
This lack of confidence can lead to holes in employees’ coverage. The same Aflac survey revealed that employees’ lack of comprehension is a costly problem. More than half of respondents—55 percent—said they waste up to $750 per year by making mistakes during open enrollment. The common theme is clear: Employees need more information, more guidance, and more confidence in their benefits decisions. And there are a few ways HR leaders and managers can educate and empower employees to make the best decisions about their benefits:
- Put a benefits communications plan in place. Many employees feel left in the dark about benefits or are confused about what specific things they should consider during their enrollment period. To set employees up for success, consider creating a benefits communications plan. This plan should ensure that employees receive a regular cadence of information throughout the year, leading up to enrollment. Information should be easy-to-understand, bite-sized pieces designed not to overwhelm them.
- Enlist the experts. When it comes to benefits communications, some organizations may find it difficult to allocate the time, expertise, and other resources needed to educate employees. Consider collaborating with an advisor to provide employees with the most extensive, up-to-date information about their benefits packages. A benefits advisor can work one-on-one with employees to break down the details of their plans and offer tips on how employees can better customize plans to t their specific needs. Most employees simply auto-enroll in the same benefits every year without considering their options. Working with advisors ahead of enrollment can help ensure that employees aren’t overwhelmed with their options and can to effectively navigate the benefits landscape.
- Use benefits technology. Today’s workforce relies on a variety of channels to receive information, and information about benefits isn’t any different. Insurance providers use online resources to streamline the benefits experience for employees. Organizations can use these digital channels to send their employees reminders and benefits information throughout the year to keep them on track. Research shows that employees expect their benefits experience to mirror that of an online shopping experience. The 2017 Aflac WorkForces Report found that 44 percent of employees said they’d prefer the process of choosing benefits to be more like Amazon’s website, which allows for easy product comparisons. Leveraging these digital tools can allow for an efficient enrollment process for employees.
- Target different audiences. With employees ranging from Gen Z to baby boomers, it can be challenging to cater to the needs of every single employee. This is especially true for employees enrolling in benefits for the first time. The Aflac WorkForces Report First- Time Enrollees Survey found that 51 percent of young workers will choose their healthcare benefits for the first time this enrollment season. When thinking about healthcare benefits, nearly one-quarter of young adults surveyed associate them with independence (22 percent), yet only 19 percent feel con dent about selecting them, and just 31 percent say they feel prepared. Their biggest concern about choosing their own health insurance plan is cost (44 percent), followed by understanding how health insurance works (36 percent).
Keeping this in mind, organizations can elevate their benefit communications to meet the needs of employees who require more robust education for their first time enrolling. Similar to how they leverage technology, employers can ensure they aren’t alienating any of the workforce by diversifying the channels through which benefits information is disseminated.
Benefits enrollment doesn’t have to be a stressful time for employees, and employers have many options to help improve the overall enrollment process. By planning ahead, organizations can create a robust communications plan; leverage experts and resources to ultimately meet the needs of today’s workforce; and help employees cut through the clutter and navigate the benefits landscape.
John Hull is vice president of Total Rewards at Aflac.