Benefits managers, start your engines. For many of you, annual open enrollment is less than 12 weeks away. 

3 trends in benefits open enrollment for 2013

Benefits managers, start your engines. For many of you, annual open enrollment is less than 12 weeks away.

"We're all adjusting to the new requirements of health care reform, so many companies are focused on compliance and cost containment," said Heather Moran, Health & Welfare solutions consultant for Ceridian. "Achieving both of these goals begins with your open enrollment."

View Ceridian's open enrollment timeline tip sheet. 

In a recent Ceridian webinar, Best Practices for a Successful Benefits Enrollment, Moran identified three trends in employee benefits administration today:

  • Communicate and educate
  • Show employees the value
  • Streamline enrollment online
Communicate and educate

"We are seeing changes in the way organizations are choosing to relay benefits plan information to their employees," Moran said. Employers are learning that a varied communications approach is best as they take into consideration the diverse needs of a multi-generational workforce.

For example, a Baby Boomer may be more likely to bring home a printed enrollment guide and look it over with their spouse, while members of the Gen-X and Millennial generations may prefer to receive benefits information electronically and share it the same way. 

The Multi-generational Workforce

"Benefits managers are beginning to explore a number of new communication strategies to engage younger employees: emails, text message alerts, and even social media, such as blogs and videos," Moran said. Employers are also beginning to communicate about benefits all year, so that the information is not so overwhelming at open enrollment time. The year-round approach also reminds employees to use their benefits to improve their health, which lowers costs in the long run.

When preparing benefits communications, it's also important to use easy-to-understand language, define new or confusing terminology, and show employees what's in it for them — especially since many consumers are confused about health care reform. "Health care reform is an opportunity for you to highlight added coverage employees might not realize they have now, such as dependent coverage up to age 26, and certain preventive services covered 100 percent," Moran said.

Show employees the value

Speaking of "what's in it for them," many companies are choosing to demonstrate the value of employee benefits by providing Total Compensation Statements. "Employees may underestimate the employer's contributions to their benefits. These statements showcase how much employers contribute to things like health care and 401(k) plans," Moran said. 

Similarly, as increases in health care costs continue to outpace inflation, a shift is occurring to consumer-directed health care (CDHC) to help employers contain costs. CDHC plans allow employees to contribute pretax income into a tax-advantaged account to help offset greater out-of-pocket costs, such as higher health insurance deductibles.

Some of Ceridian's clients have learned that it can be tricky to get employees on board with CDHC benefits because the choices are new and confusing. "As part of your communications plan, it's important to educate employees about how to use and get the most value from the programs offered," Moran said.

In order to get employees to understand and use their benefits to their fullest advantage, employers are using tactics such as live educational meetings during open enrollment, risk assessments and health coaching programs, as well as testimonials from employees showing how they have achieved health goals using company-provided benefits. 

Streamline enrollment online

In the webinar, Moran pointed out that the average cost for an HR staff member to manually enroll an employee in benefits is $109.48, compared to just $21.79 for online, self-service enrollment. "That's a savings of 80 percent," Moran said. Plus, Web-enabled enrollment reduces call volumes to HR and saves time for benefits staff by eliminating duplicate data entry, which also improves data accuracy and employee satisfaction.

A self-service online system provides an enhanced experience for employees, allowing them to better understand their options and make more informed benefits choices for their families. Advantages include:

  • Secure access from work or home
  • Plan choices tailored to eligibility
  • Ability to access important forms online
  • Interactive decision-support tools
  • Personalized confirmation statements

"A great way to educate employees is to incorporate decision-support tools such as dynamic plan comparisons, calculators and a knowledgebase in your online enrollment system," Moran said. Employers can choose to add their own content to the knowledgebase, such as enrollment guides, tip sheets and checklists.

Finally, Moran said, it's important that any online benefits content be housed outside of a company's firewalls so that it may be accessed by employees and their families at home.