Failure to involve internal stakeholders can lead to file errors that result in incorrect paychecks, miscalculated payments, and more

The summer of 2020 presented some significant, new challenges for employers. Most rose to the occasion and, in general, today’s work-from-home employees are productive and delivering on company goals. Now comes the next challenge: open enrollment. But this one isn’t new. Aside from the need to thoughtfully consider your employee communications strategy, the steps for delivering a successful open enrollment are no different than they were a year ago. But for many, a year ago feels like a lifetime ago, so let’s review some tips to help you prepare for this year’s open enrollment (OE).

Test your platform. Even if you’ve been on the same platform for a couple of years, there is always something different, e.g., new plans, rate changes, etc. Block out time right now on your calendar for testing—including for test cases that mimic your C-suite and VIPs. If you’re well-organized, a day or two should suffice. Don’t assume you can “squeeze it in” between other priorities (you can’t). Failure to thoroughly test your platform will result in problems during OE (or shortly after that) that will create headaches much bigger than the one associated with carving a day or two out of your schedule now. Your service provider can give you some suggestions on the best ways to test.

 Allow yourself (and your service provider) sufficient time to do OE right. A rushed open enrollment set-up and testing period is a recipe for disaster. Technology providers typically have a standard timeframe for implementation and set-up. There’s a reason for this—they know what’s required for a smooth OE. If circumstances don’t allow for that, e.g., if COVID-19 was the impetus for moving off the paper to an online enrollment platform and you got a late start, give your provider a break if/when there are glitches and also give them adequate time to clean them up. (For those still on paper, there’s a whole different set of tips, but we recommend you start planning now to move to an online platform for next year’s OE.)

Create a timeline and involve internal stakeholders. A successful OE consists of a lot of moving parts. Many of those parts are managed outside of the HR department, e.g., payroll (deduction files) and finance (carrier bills). Engage these stakeholders early in your planning process and timeline development. Remember, they may have their projects underway at the same time as OE. Failure to involve internal stakeholders can lead to file errors that result in incorrect paychecks, miscalculated payments, and more. Once your timeline is developed with stakeholder input, share it so everyone’s on the same page.

Expect challenges and maintain perspective. Problems could surface even during the best-planned open enrollment. Whatever the challenge, keep things in perspective. OE is about providing your employees access to healthcare and other benefits when they need it. Unless the issue affects the ability of employees to get coverage or financially impacts billing and payroll deductions, it is not an emergency. Most problems can be rectified relatively quickly, but a calm reaction on your part will go a long way towards making that happen. The fourth quarter is the most popular time for open enrollment, so everyone in the enrollment ecosystem (e.g., employers, tech providers, carriers, benefits advisors) has a lot on their plate, and resources are stretched thin. Be patient.

Give employee communications some extra thought. Consider all available channels to communicate with employees about their benefits and use them—especially if you cannot hold in-person meetings. New plans or significant program changes may require some extra communications. Also, employees may have heightened interest in plan options due to COVID, i.e., level of coverage should they test positive. Highlight this information within the broader messaging or develop a Q&A specific to COVID-related coverage. Your tech provider or benefits advisor may be able to help. Develop and share your communications plan with your tech provider to avoid customer support problems. For example, don’t send an email to all employees with the tech provider’s phone number encouraging them to “call today,” but fail to give the provider a heads up. Tech providers don’t have unlimited capacity, but they will do their best to support your communications plan if you give them advance notice.

Adhering to these five tips will go a long way to reducing the likelihood of problems with open enrollment and the associated headaches. OE is a stressful time for HR (and for other stakeholders). There’s a lot going on, so everyone’s working a little more challenging. This year may be incredibly stressful, so don’t forget to acknowledge your success and enjoy your reward when it’s over.