HR Morning: Best ways for HR to communicate during open enrollment season

As employers look for ways to attract and retain employees in a competitive job market, healthcare benefits are quickly becoming an important factor in employees’ decisions to join or sometimes leave a company. If HR can do a great job to communicate during open enrollment season, they can keep employees engaged and happy.

A recent study showed that 23% of employees who left their roles in 2021 cited poor benefits options as a reason for searching for new opportunities. Of those who took a new job, 42% said their new employer provided better benefits.

With healthcare benefits becoming more of a competitive differentiator than ever, benefits teams may be evaluating not only which benefits they are offering, but how they can revamp open enrollment season more broadly.

Is self-service a risk?

To promote the prioritization of convenience and flexibility, more employers have switched to self-service enrollment approaches in recent years, in which employees enroll themselves into their healthcare plan of choice.

But, in an increasingly complex healthcare landscape, employers risk employees choosing plans that leave them over- or underinsured, which can cause problems as their healthcare needs change. Instead, employers should consider offering in-person, virtual, or telephonic one-on-one enrollment support to ensure employees choose the plan that makes sense for themselves and their families.

Although employers can still use self-service enrollment approaches, offering open communication with HR teams can help employees get the answers to any questions they may have during open enrollment periods.

There are four main reasons why this may be a helpful tool:

1. Want to capture all scenarios

It is challenging for online decision tools and calculators to capture every scenario.

Evaluating each health plan option is crucial since every employee’s healthcare situation is unique. Needs vary based on variables such as prescriptions for themselves or their dependents, chronic illnesses or family planning choices.

Decision tools, which can help employees determine a rough estimate of what they may pay for healthcare, cannot always take each individual scenario into account. This can also mean that employees may not get a fair or complete estimate and end up underinsured.

Instead, HR teams should teach employees about each plan an employer offers. They can help employees pick the right plan for their families based on each employee’s individual situation. This way, everyone can feel more confident that the plan they select is the correct one.

2. Provide answers in real time

It can be difficult for employees to get answers to their questions in real time.

As HR teams know, choosing a health plan can be a daunting task because of the confusion employees may feel when navigating the healthcare system. According to a recent study, only 30% of employees reported that they learned about health insurance terms and processes from a member of their employer’s HR team. Additionally, during open enrollment, only 28% of employers offered one-on-one conversations with HR to give employees the space they need to ask any questions regarding their healthcare. When employees look over benefits materials from their employer, they often have immediate questions—as well as others that occur to them later.

By offering these sessions, healthcare plan selection can become less confusing, and employers can empower employees to make better decisions about their healthcare needs. HR teams may even raise questions the employee hadn’t thought of, highlighting the importance of comprehensive benefits packages that suit every employee’s needs. By chatting with a knowledgeable person about each health plan in real time, employees get the answers they need to make informed decisions.

3. Other flexible options exist

In-person, virtual or telephonic enrollment can be just as flexible.

Offering different types of enrollment support, whether it be virtual, in-person or over the phone, to suit an individual employee’s needs can be helpful in limiting additional stress when selecting healthcare plans can be stressful enough. HR teams should encourage employees to choose an option at a time that works best for them. Offering online scheduling and providing enough timing options for appointments can help HR teams create the flexibility employees crave.

4. Personal touch wins every time

Employees overwhelmingly prefer a personal touch.

HR teams may feel that employees prefer to handle tasks themselves digitally, but that is not always the case. For something as important as choosing a health plan, employees prefer to talk about their options with someone knowledgeable.

For example, in a recent study, only 12% of employees stated that they preferred a self-service enrollment option. Although self-service enrollment tools can connect employees to a live person if they need assistance, employers should offer conversations as a first option—making sure the opportunity for in-person support is not a backup choice. By offering a personal touch, employers can build employee loyalty and appreciation.

By offering one-on-one enrollment support, HR teams can ensure consistent messaging, provide real-time opportunities for additional education and drive awareness of programs or plans the employee may not be aware of if they are participating in a self-service enrollment.

As employees continue to grapple with ongoing changes to their work and personal lives, third-party resources like benefits educators can discuss how ancillary plans work with standard coverages to meet employees’ needs. For example, if an employee has basic long-term disability coverage, an educator can talk about the pros and cons of “buying up” to more coverage. In this way, employers can help their workers make cost-effective choices regarding their healthcare plans and care for themselves and their families. An increasingly hybrid and geographically diverse employee base does not mean that HR teams need to move everything online.

A personal touch can help ensure current employees enjoy a successful open enrollment season and, in turn, attract talent on the hunt for great benefits. To ensure employees are getting accurate, timely and consistent information about how to choose and use their coverage, HR teams must take the lead in starting the conversation with their employees.

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Michael Byers, HR Expert Contributor

Michael Byers is President, Worksite Division, of CNO Financial, responsible for sales and operations of the company’s worksite business. He previously served as co-president, worksite division following CNO’s acquisition of DirectPath. Previously, Byers was chairman and chief executive officer of DirectPath. He was also chief executive officer and president for HighRoads. Byers also served as chief executive officer of Centive and held senior finance positions in the software industry, including at SQA Inc. and Object Design Inc. Byers earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.