5 Cost-Effective Strategies for Better Benefits Enrollment

Creating a benefits enrollment process that is clear, concise and tailored to your business will simplify the process for employers and their workforce.
5 Cost-Effective Strategies for Better Benefits Enrollment
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Senior Vice President, Growth Markets and Enrollment Center at Colonial Life
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Annual benefits enrollment is much more than a task to check off. It's a vital opportunity for employers to help their employees make important, informed decisions that could have life-long consequences.

Related: Open Enrollment: An Important Moment for America's Self-Employed

However, very few of us would call the open enrollment process "fun." According to a recent benefits communication survey of over 2,000 adults by Harris Poll for Jellyvision, nearly 50 percent of employees find making decisions about benefits very stressful. And open enrollment doesn't only cause angst among employees. Those two little words can make even the most experienced employers break into a sweat, too.

Open enrollment can be a challenging process, especially for smaller businesses concerned about their bottom line and staff retention -- but it doesn't have to be. With preparation, clear communication and a carefully tailored approach, open enrollment is manageable and gives business leaders a chance to shine.

Here are five strategies you can implement to create the best possible benefits enrollment.

1. Pair high-tech with high-touch.

Using the right technology can reduce manual errors, streamline communication and drive better participation. Human resource management systems can help manage time spent on routine HR tasks such as correcting manual errors and monitoring data, freeing up time for higher-quality support services to employees. Technology tools can also track the number of employees enrolling in particular benefits, so you can monitor the status and success of offerings in real time.

Related: 5 Ways to Improve Employee Care During an Uncertain Time

However, beware of letting technology take over your benefits enrollment and ignoring the importance of good, old-fashioned human interaction. According to a recent Health Advocate study "Striking a Healthy Balance: What Employees Really Want Out of Workplace Benefits Communication," 73 percent of employees said they preferred to receive health cost and administrative information directly from a person by phone, and 56 percent preferred an in-person conversation.

Pairing technology with human assistance -- such as small group meetings, individual counseling sessions, call centers and online chats -- creates a tailored, personal enrollment experience that builds trust.

2. Ask people to pause and act.

In some cases, automatic enrollment might be the best option for a business, as automation of benefits selection and administration can help make the process more accurate and less time-consuming.

However, without the complement of strong benefits education, auto enroll can lead to poor understanding. A recent study from UnitedHealthcare showed only 7 percent of respondents could define the four basic health coverage concepts: plan premium, deductible, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum.

Encouraging active enrollment that requires an employee response for some benefits is a good way to combat such issues. But, to encourage action, you must keep open enrollment on employees' minds. Start by asking your workforce which benefit topics they'd like to learn more about this year and how they'd prefer to receive this information.

Related: 3 Ways Corporate Heavyweights Are Improving Employee Retention by Prioritizing Maternity Healthcare

Send out regular reminders about the benefits information your workers requested using different platforms. Keeping benefits on the radar throughout the year can help to lift the fog of confusion surrounding different types of insurance plans and help employees make better benefits choices.

You also need to remind employees of what will happen if they don't enroll. If you're using an active enrollment strategy, explain to employees if they don't enroll, they'll lose coverage. Many people assume their benefits automatically roll over. If that's not the case, it's important to communicate it.

3. Tailor communications to different demographics.

You'll need to identify what methods and channels you will use to communicate benefits information to employees effectively. Customizing communications for different employee demographics is a good way to maximize connection with your messages.

While older generations may be more receptive to print and email, millennials and even younger workers in Generation Z get a lot of their information from mobile devices. Wearables, apps, social media and online support are all typical tools and modes of communication for younger workers.

And consider using video. Research from Quicksprout has shown video can raise the understanding of products by as much as 74 percent. Meanwhile, a report by HighQ says adding the word "video" to your email subject line can boost open rates by 19 percent and increase click-throughs by 65 percent.

However, electronic communication must be done well to be effective. In a recent Pew Research Center study, people under the age of 35 said they feel "the need for instant gratification." They're less willing to wait for websites to load, videos to buffer and to wait for responses to queries.

Related: It Turns Out, Millennials Are Happiest With Their Health Benefits

4. Set short-term and long-term goals.

Preparing for your open enrollment goes beyond coordinating communications and resources. Behavior change takes time, so when setting goals and objectives for your enrollment strategy, plan not just for your next open enrollment but your next several enrollments.

It's important to define both short-term and long-term goals in the planning process. This will help you develop a multi-year approach where programs are implemented in phases, with each year building upon the previous year's outcomes and experiences.

A multi-year strategy allows all parties involved -- employers, employees, brokers and benefits carriers -- to map the best course of action for workplace benefits, engagement goals and employee communications. Best of all, it means you're equipped for what comes every year.

Related: 3 Things to Know About Buying Health Insurance

5. Expect more from your benefits partners.

Your benefit partners are there to help make your open enrollment a success, so take advantage of their knowledge and resources. Communicate with them early and often so you're on the same schedule and have the same goals for your employees going into this period.

Communication support from partners should be an included value-add, not an additional cost. To successfully support the high-tech, high-touch approach I mentioned earlier, partners should be proactive about asking for additional information from you so they can customize communication and enrollment materials for your workforce.

Involving your benefits partners in your open enrollment not only ensures you're following each other's best practices and requirements, but partners can also give you tips and resources to make enrolling in their products easier for your employees -- and for you.

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