"For many HR professionals, open enrollment can be a hectic time," says Lydia Ophaug, Ceridian senior product manager for Health & Welfare. "It's difficult enough for HR to prepare employees to make informed decisions about their benefit plans, but this year's enrollment season comes with additional challenges. HR must manage the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Increasing health care costs can equate to benefits changes that might be perceived as confusing or negative." 

Open enrollment: Six steps to a positive experience for you and your employees

"For many HR professionals, open enrollment can be a hectic time," says Lydia Ophaug, Ceridian senior product manager for Health & Welfare. "It's difficult enough for HR to prepare employees to make informed decisions about their benefit plans, but this year's enrollment season comes with additional challenges. HR must manage the requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Increasing health care costs can equate to benefits changes that might be perceived as confusing or negative."

Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist at Benz Communications, agrees. "Open enrollment does come with its challenges," she says. "HR professionals can't put all their other duties on hold while they manage the process, so there is certainly the potential for stress. But with proper preparation and a well-considered plan for employee communication, you can take control."

These two experts encourage you to review the following six steps. Take action to make open enrollment a positive experience -- for everyone involved.

  1. Consider your audience 
    Approximately 80 million Baby Boomers are working today -- but don't make the assumption that Boomers are your only audience. "There are also approximately 75 million Generation Y workers," Ophaug says. "And the way you deliver information to a Boomer might not be the same way you communicate with your Gen Y employees. Boomers like print, webinars, person-to-person. Gen Y is comfortable with electronic communications. They may actually prefer blogs or instant chat as a way to get support and information."
  2. Communicate in a purposeful manner 
    "In today's complex world, neither your company nor your employees can solve the problems related to health care costs," Benz says. "So keep the focus positive. Engage employees by presenting the tangible behaviors that impact their pocketbook. Discuss preventive care, wellness programs, enrolling in more cost-effective plans and using the prescription mail order program. Encourage employees to take advantage of flexible spending accounts (FSA) and health savings accounts (HSA)."
  3. Focus on the personal 
    Employees pay more attention when they understand how their benefit plans affect them personally. Be sure that you're putting your employees' needs at the center of your messaging by providing real-life examples that explain the differences between plans. For example, employees with family coverage will appreciate a clear explanation of how the family deductible works. Highly compensated individuals will be interested in the investing options of an HSA and how to shelter the maximum amount from taxes.
  4. Jettison the jargon 
    Keep enrollment communications simple and direct. Employees don't understand the benefits jargon that is such a natural part of the HR vocabulary. Use real life, everyday language, define terms and repeat concepts. "As benefit plans become more complex," Benz says, "It is important to use different formats to say the same things. Print is great, but so are blogs and simple graphic presentations. Clear, caring communication goes a long way to allay suspicion and overcome fears."
  5. Communicate frequently 
    Your employees are quite accustomed to staying connected with mobile applications and social networks. Ensure that your organization reaches out and stays in touch about benefits in similar ways. Put channels into place that can help you communicate frequently all year long. Social media tools such as blogs are perfect for the task -- and can be implemented with little risk and low cost. "A benefits blog can actually minimize HR effort," Benz says. "Instead of answering the same enrollment question 24 times, you can post the question on your blog and answer it once."
  6. Plan ahead 
    The rising cost of health care is very much in the news and is at the forefront of your employees' minds during open enrollment. "Plan ahead to keep the process as painless as possible for your HR colleagues," Ophaug says. "Take advantage of the resources that help you manage enrollment strategically. Ceridian offers a free Open Enrollment Best Practices Checklist that can make the process easier and frees up more time to listen and respond to employee concerns during the enrollment period. Good planning and clear, transparent communication are key to a positive experience for everyone involved."

Ceridian can provide you with a comprehensive and cost-effective employee benefits administration solution that fits your organization's specific needs.