Read This Before Your Company’s Next Open Enrollment
I’ve been talking to employers about the advantages of private exchanges for over two years now. As a Liazon Account Executive, I’ve seen countless companies – from large manufacturing operations to service organizations with a dispersed sales force – reap their benefits in terms of controlled costs, streamlined administration, and satisfied employees. I’ve cultivated a few tips from my experiences that apply to any company culture looking to make a change for the better. In this case, I’ll reference the switch to integrating a private benefits exchange for your annual benefits Open Enrollment process as a case in point, but many of these principles can apply to any company-wide integration you may be considering.
1. Get buy-in from the top.
When implementing something new into a corporate culture, it’s essential to have top down buy-in for the concept. For private exchanges, that means corporate leadership should have a high-level understanding of the key elements behind the exchange concept and be comfortable with the solution you’ve chosen to implement. If your C-Suite executives don’t know how to explain the new process to their own teams, gaps may occur when this information is funneled down to employees. Make sure they understand all the key elements of your exchange integration and what they as a company get out of it, as well as their employees. (See this post, “5 Reasons Why Private Exchanges Make Sense for the Way We Live Today,” for a quick overview on the benefits of private exchanges for both employers and employees.)
2. Start early.
Starting the process early is key to ensuring a successful implementation. While this may sound obvious, it can’t be stressed enough because starting early allows you to determine what is viable from a systems perspective – after all you are integrating one system with another. There’s always going to be some “bumps in the road” when it comes to integrating new technology, as not all systems are 100% the same, but allowing enough time to develop creative solutions in advance ensures a seamless Open Enrollment process, which is what everyone wants. Starting late necessitates a truncated time table which leaves no wiggle room for the technology provider, the carriers, or the employer – and let’s face it, everyone needs wiggle room.
3. Communicate effectively.
It’s vital to create buzz among your employees surrounding the positives that come from implementing a private exchange. Disseminating enrollment flyers (hard copy and electronic), videos, communication materials, and educational collateral all help employees prepare for the changes they will see during Open Enrollment. This part is as crucial to the process as any other so it can’t be overlooked. Employees have to be comfortable with and accepting of the new changes, and it takes multiple touch points to make this happen, including:
It’s crucial to develop different types of strategies for managers to communicate information about Open Enrollment dates with their teams, including to those employees that may not have email. It’s also important to help management understand the importance of employees attending one of the Open Enrollment meetings, as employees have a better user experience when they attend in person. Management should also allow employees time to meet with their benefit advisors and technology providers.
Employees should perceive Open Enrollment as something to look forward to. A sneak peek into the concept of a private exchange gets employees excited to show up to Open Enrollment meetings and lets them know why this is a good thing for them. A preview or quick glimpse into what’s to come can help employees have a baseline understanding around the concept, before Open Enrollment meetings take place. This can be accomplished through the use of direct mail or an email campaign, posters around the office, an employee guide that lets them know what to expect and how to enroll – even videos, if available. (Ask your broker or technology provider if they have any materials you can leverage.)
4. Rethink Open Enrollment meetings.
Offer a choice of a few group informational sessions so employees can have the flexibility of attending in person. The content of these meetings?
— Start high level around the benefits provided this year versus last year.
— Discuss any new lines of coverage, including high deductible health plans and health savings accounts.
— Explain what defined contribution means to employees and the impact of having more choices in the private exchange. (See this blog post, “5 Ways Defined Contribution Helps Create Value for Employers and Employees.”)
— Dive into the concept of a private exchange and the importance of individual circumstances when determining the best plans for employees and their families.
— Finally, find ways to bring the enrollment process to life visually. Walking employees through the entire enrollment process before they have access to their own portal sets correct expectations and softens the learning curve.
5. Follow up, post-meetings.
Once the broader informational sessions have taken place, distribute follow up information with instructions on how to enroll and where and when onsite advisors will be available. Provide ongoing support at your location(s) to create a personalized approach to getting employees comfortable with their new benefits and their new technology. Onsite representation from HR, carriers, technology providers, and brokers/consultants is key to a successful Open Enrollment. The message to employees?
Computers will be set up and representatives from the company who developed the online portal we’re using for enrollment will be present to show you how it works and answer any questions you may have.
Having multiple computers accessible to enroll employees on the spot can be an asset for those employees that may not have computers, while also serving as a great way to demo the process for those that will enroll at home. Either way, having experts onsite to answer questions provides a sense of comfort and trust. Plus, you get to delight as employees engage and start asking questions about their benefits like never before!
So, you may not be starting Open Enrollment or initiating any other culture change at your organization for a few months, which means NOW is the time to start planning (see point #2 above!) If you do, you may be lucky enough to reap the rewards of a satisfying experience like this golf and beach resort operator who successfully made the switch to a private exchange:
Tyler Davis was named the “Liazon Rep of the Year” for 2015. His “MVP” status goes back as far as high school when he was recognized as the “Adidas Georgia Player of the Year” for soccer, and to his impressive record as reserve place kicker and wide receiver for Georgia Tech Football. We’re glad he made the decision to pursue a career in insurance rather than football and we bet his mother is too.