Preparing for Open Enrollment: 4 Things HR Leaders Should Know

Preparing for Open Enrollment (OE) is no easy task for many businesses. The process is burdensome, time-consuming, and stressful for HR leaders. The workflows are extremely detailed, and if a step is skipped or performed incorrectly, it can create a mess that takes hours to solve.

Every HR leader instinctively knows timing is everything when it comes to OE. If you’re found to be noncompliant with employee benefits, your company will be at risk of incurring hefty penalties and fees by the government.

If you’re operating your benefits administration operations with manual workflows or with limited technology, your company may have issues doing the following:

  • Communicating critical details and important dates surrounding OE
  • Managing all employee selections, ensuring they are recorded internally and sent off to the appropriate providers on-time
  • Connecting employee selection data to payroll and other applicable areas of business
  • Navigating ACA healthcare compliance

Whether you represent a small or large business, the open enrollment process runs smoothly when everyone is prepared for it. Let’s discuss some strategies that will help you be ready for OE this upcoming season.

Preparing Your Workforce for Open Enrollment

As an HR leader, you know that the OE process isn’t something your operational team should whip together at the last minute. It takes careful planning, communication, and support to get everyone to successfully enroll with their benefit plans on time. Your entire leadership team should treat this process as a marathon, not a sprint. 

Here are four steps to take to prepare for open enrollment:

The best way to prepare for OE is to get ready as early as possible.
The best way to prepare for OE is to get ready as early as possible.

1. Prepare for OE Early

Discussions surrounding OE need to be early and often. Months before active enrollment, you will need to define with leadership what you can do to streamline the OE process for your workforce. It’s equally important to communicate with employees in advance the types of changes they can expect in the next enrollment season to reduce any foreseen pain points.

Consider holding exploratory discussions with executives to improve your OE strategy. Be prepared to present what areas to overhaul and what resources you’ll need. During these critical conversations, set a realistic budget and decide what updates are needed to the employee benefits package.

Consider these subjects to discuss for streamlining the OE process:

  • Process improvements
  • Change management improvements
  • Services provided
  • Support administered
  • HCM technology utilization
  • Incentives for completing selections

When these vast improvements to your open enrollment process are attained, you’ll be able to ensure that your workforce knows the details and impact of the benefits selections they make. The array of tools can help you efficiently manage, secure and transfer high-compliance data to appropriate stakeholders, meeting the deadlines and critical expectations of the C-suite.

To help you meet enrollment goals, it’s worth looking into rewards and recognition SaaS platforms to give your employees extra perks. Certain programs give your company the opportunity to use corporate reward incentives for those who complete their selections early in the OE season. Reward options range from gift cards to company-branded merchandise.

2. Enhance Communication and Build Awareness

Have a sound communications strategy as OE approaches. This will aid you in informing your workforce of any changes to their plans, specific details of available benefits, hard dates on when selections need to be made, and more.  

You won't spread the word about open enrollment with a series of bland emails.
You won’t spread the word about open enrollment with a series of bland emails.

You likely won’t reach your audience by sending a handful of bland emails. Send focused messages with all your modes of communication, including setting up mass or face-to-face meetings to get your message out.

To guarantee success, consider taking the same approach to raising awareness that your marketing team would take. In fact, you can even enlist your marketing team to create dynamic, eye-catching visuals for internal communications. This could include everything from flyers and personalized emails for your employees to easy-to-follow and interactive enrollment selection guides.

Alternative Communication Tools for HR Leaders

If the case can be made for cutting-edge HR technology, utilizing automated employee self-service (ESS) tools and benefits administration software can be a huge asset. From small businesses to enterprise teams, administrators will benefit from the features these tools offer. For example, they can easily support administrators’ abilities to track and remind employees to make selections in real-time. 

Use a variety of communication tools to communicate your upcoming open enrollment.
Use a variety of communication tools to communicate your upcoming open enrollment.

These automated tools also help companies meet compliance expectations. If your workforce is not on the same page with you as OE comes and goes, your business will be at risk for fines and penalties for being noncompliant with U.S. labor laws. Additionally, members of your workforce could be at risk for non-coverage, putting them and their dependents in difficult financial situations when sickness or injury hit.

Some more communication ideas you can use to help support your OE efforts might include:

  • Brochures
  • Infographics
  • One-pagers
  • Blog posts
  • Emails
  • Video
  • Meetings
  • Webinars

Capture your employees’ attention as much as possible with repetition. It helps to use incentives to incite urgency to help you meet expectations faster within the OE season.

3. Post-Open Enrollment Tasks Should Not Be Ignored

At this point, everyone is enrolled and happy to be covered in their benefits. You thought OE was over, right?


There’s much more to do. You need to communicate with your workforce on several key pain points to reduce overwhelming your HR team with redundant requests. Common questions you can answer include:

  • How to access and review benefits selections
  • How to make updates to plans as life changes happen
  • How to check medical and prescription coverage
  • How to download any technology needed to access plans (when applicable)
Use data when reporting on your open enrollment metrics.
Use data when reporting on your open enrollment metrics.

Reporting Open Enrollment Data

You should also consider the reporting implications. After OE “ends” and everyone is enrolled, you can review all the data you’ve compiled to make more improvements for next year. For example, maybe your employees still struggle to remember key submission deadlines. is still an issue. Based on the data, you might elect to begin OE communication earlier for the next season.

Finally, you should set automated emails on OE-related subjects throughout the year to employees to keep it top-of-mind. If your employees are more aware of OE throughout the year, it will only make the process easier for the next period.

Including New Hires in Open Enrollment

New hires might have limited options in available benefits following their probation period. Both HR leadership and new employees need to understand that onboarding benefits elections are for the current plan year and open enrollment elections are for the following plan year.

When open enrollment season rolls around, HR leaders should communicate all available benefits options to new hires. Check in with newer employees to ensure that they are well aware of all their new options and whatever plan changes occurred since their hire date.

Look for the red flags in your open enrollment data to catch errors early.
Look for the red flags in your open enrollment data to catch errors early.

Detecting Red Flags in Selections

Checking for red flags should be at the forefront of every HR leader’s agenda. Say an employee selected a family medical plan upon hire, but dental, vision, or life was not available until the next open enrollment season. If they select employee-only on accident, it can cause a confusing mess later on when they expected spousal or dependent coverage. While it is possible the spouse or dependents have more comprehensive alternative coverage, it doesn’t hurt to check in with your employee to be sure.

4. Use HCM Technology to Support Open Enrollment

All the processes we have discussed so far are detailed and structured. If you’re relying on manual workflows to administer your open enrollment processes, then you are leaving your company at risk to incur fines and penalties due to simple human error and being noncompliant.

HCM technology is key to helping you make open enrollment as smooth as possible.
HCM technology is key to helping you make open enrollment as smooth as possible.

Integrated HR automated solutions to support your OE initiatives can help you increase communication, enhance transparency, and ensure compliance. An automated benefits management module, combined with ESS tools and payroll, can create a seamless OE experience for both HR administrators overseeing operations. It mutually benefits the employees that are journeying through it.

HCM Technology Options

In your role as an HR leader, the processes can seem repetitive or overlap. Automated HR communication and data collection can streamline the menial tasks, saving you time and mistakes. Administrators can do many functions with HCM technology, like:

  • Send automatic communications
  • Track enrollment progress
  • Evaluate employee-by-employee
  • Generate reporting
  • Navigate ACA compliance 

With self-service tools like an employee portal, your workforce can access and review plan details before enrollment with step-by-step help. They can review and make “life changes” to them 24/7 on any device after enrollment.

Cloud-Based Providers for HR Teams

If you partner with a cloud-based provider, you can take that technology and scale it easily as your requirements change. The time may come where you might want to integrate talent management modules to your HR Management tools. These could be applicant tracking systems (ATS) and onboarding functions.

With cloud-based automated modules, building a bridge to better HR is possible. Imagine creating a seamless recruiting to onboarding experience with the support of integrated self-service and benefits administration tools for new hires. Utilizing a seamless onboarding experience is essential in retaining these employees for a year or longer. If the tedious paperwork and benefit selections are done before the new employee arrives, you can start training right away on their first day.

Of all the takeaways provided, the largest and most impactful for your HR team is knowing your options that will streamline open enrollment. These options will reduce the stress of OE, which is the bridge you’ve been looking for as an HR leader.

Ryan McCarty serves as the Director of Human Resources for Arcoro. He is responsible for all internal recruitment, employee onboarding, performance evaluations, learning management, benefits administration and company culture/employee engagement. Ryan is a SHRM-Certified Professional and is a member of the Emerging Professionals Group in the CI-SHRM Chapter.

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