4 Ways to Make Open Enrollment Almost Painless Many employers are doing better at offering benefit options than they are helping employees decide which best meet their needs.

By Matt Straz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Few of us would call open enrollment "fun." The words alone cause some employers to break into a sweat and some employees to feel a headache coming on. We dread open enrollment because it's complicated, time-consuming and stressful.

It doesn't have to be.

With preparation, open communication, clear information and a streamlined process, open enrollment is manageable.

Here are some of the four biggest problems employers face with open enrollment, and how to solve them for a better experience for all:

1. Employees don't prepare for open enrollment.

Aflac's 2015 WorkForces Report revealed that an overwhelming 77 percent of employees spend an hour or less preparing for and selecting benefits. Nearly half (46 percent) spend less than 30 minutes.

One reason employees don't spend time preparing for open enrollment is is they are overwhelmed by the information and the many available options. They look at the paperwork and just give up, thinking they're not going to understand it no matter how long they spend on it.

The solution: Instead of handing employees stacks of information all at once a week before the enrollment period begins, give it to them in bite-size pieces throughout the year. Give employees access to open enrollment materials as soon as they become available and focus on reviewing one benefit at a time.

Go beyond delivering information to employees. Get them engaged in the process. Distribute a companywide survey to determine what employees want from their benefits. That helps you to customize to their needs and get them involved.

Related: 5 Looming Obamacare Obligations Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About

2. Employees aren't informed about their options.

In the same Aflac report, only 20 percent of employees surveyed said they had enough information to make informed decisions about their benefits. Just 13 percent of workers surveyed strongly or very strongly agreed that their employers had prepared them well for health care reform.

This lack of information concerning benefits options could be hurting more than the enrollment process. Among employees surveyed by Quantum Workplace this year, those who said they didn't have a clear understanding of the benefits provided by their employers were 20 percent less likely to be engaged than those who did have a clear understanding.

The solution: Provide employees with the tools and education they need to make informed decisions about their benefits.

Throughout the year, hold informational meetings, seminars, webinars or Skype sessions to discuss plan details, changes, enrollment deadlines and other information employees need to know before the period begins. Hold benefits fairs and other events that encourage family members to get involved and get informed before the enrollment period.

For complex benefits like health care, bring in a third-party expert to thoroughly educate employees on their options. Encourage employees to take control of their own benefits by providing them with online tools like benefits calculators and other resources.

Related: How This Company Is Helping Businesses Find Zen in Human Resource Paperwork

3. Employees don't know what to expect from the process.

Employees and employers aren't talking about open enrollment and, as a result, employees don't know what to expect from the process and they don't see it as a major priority.

In the Aflac study, 65 percent of respondents said their employers only communicated with them about benefits options two times or fewer in the past year. In two conversations, employees won't learn everything they need to know before the enrollment period begins -- and employers know it. Only 11 percent of employers surveyed in the Aflac study said they are extremely effective at communicating about benefits options.

The solution: Leading up to the enrollment period, keep communication open and remind employees of the season and deadlines as they approach. Send email announcements and reminders, invites to calendar events, posters around the office, and other creative reminders.

Related: 10 Benefits Employees Welcome and Every Company Can Afford

4. Employees are frustrated by the enrollment process.

Employees want the open enrollment period to be over before it begins -- they want to rip the Band-aid off and get it over with quickly.

That's why 90 percent of employees surveyed in the 2014 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey choose the same benefits year after year, even though a majority don't understand changes to their policies each year.

Employees don't want to worry about the enrollment process or spend a lot of time sorting through options and filling out paperwork.

The solution: Make open enrollment as quick and painless as possible for employees. Eliminate the time-consuming paperwork and switch to an automated enrollment method. Benefits enrollment software simplifies the process for both employees and employers and saves valuable time.

An automated system makes it easier for employees to learn about, review and manage their benefits in one place. With an automated system, employees can worry less about the process and focus more on choosing the best plan for them.

Related: 10 U.S. Companies With Radically Awesome Parental Leave Policies

Matt Straz

Founder and CEO of Namely

Matt Straz is the founder and CEO of Namely, the HR and payroll platform for the world's most exciting companies.

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