Open enrollment: It sounds inviting enough. “Open” implies the freedom of choice, the ability for each employee to personalize their benefits package for their individual needs. And yet, for many employees — perhaps the majority — open enrollment isn’t inviting at all.
Open enrollment is a loathsome annual tradition to these employees, a period of stress and confusion only slightly more tolerable than renewing a driver’s license or passport.
Those last facts come from a MetLife survey that also found about half of American employees dread open enrollment as much as asking for a raise.
For HR teams, this can be a hard truth to face. You dedicate months to researching benefits options, grilling vendors, carefully designing a comprehensive package, and planning a communications strategy, and how do employees respond? Sadly, the word “hate” comes to mind.
Employees hate open enrollment.
But why? No one expects open enrollment to be fun, but why can’t it at least be an opportunity for employees to recognize the value of your company’s generous benefits offerings?
If you are feeling serious hate vibes from your employees each fall, we have good news: Open enrollment doesn’t have to be a drag — for you or employees.
Here are the most common reasons employees hate open enrollment, along with some tips on transforming an annual ordeal into a pleasant and beneficial experience:
1. Open Enrollment Makes Employees Feel Dumb
To you, benefits are second nature. HDHP, HSA, PPO? You can rattle off the jargon with the best of them. But think about it from your employees’ perspective. Health insurance and retirement savings plans are rife with concepts and terminology that are not always self-explanatory.
Younger employees, especially those with little experience with healthcare and other benefits, may find most open enrollment material impenetrable. If your total exposure to the healthcare system amounts to an annual checkup, even terms like “deductible” or “premium” may be unclear.
As a result, researching benefits can feel like attending a graduate-level seminar as a freshman. Less experienced employees — and quite a few experienced ones — can quickly feel so far out of their depth that they give up and choose options more or less at random.
How to help: The information gap between what you know about benefits as an HR professional and what many employees understand might seem vast, but you can help bridge it by:
- Creating and distributing a one-page glossary explaining common benefits lingo using everyday language.
- Using short explainer videos to demystify complex topics.
- Offering a benefits decision support tool that translates benefit options into terms all employees will understand: money spent and money saved.
2. Employees Suffer from ‘Analysis Paralysis’
When you think about it, being asked to choose benefits is kind of like being asked to predict the future. Will you or a family member get seriously ill next year? Will you get into an accident? How much money will you need to retire, and when? Who among us is qualified to answer these questions?
It’s no wonder so many employees come down with a case of “analysis paralysis” during open enrollment. It can often feel like there are so many factors to consider that making the “right” choices is impossible. So, instead of making changes, many employees simply continue with their current plans.
How to help: You can help break your employees’ analysis paralysis by:
- Using charts and graphics to offer side-by-side comparisons of plan options, focusing on the concrete differences between them.
- Providing a benefits decision support tool that applies advanced analytical techniques to real-world data to forecast employees’ healthcare needs and spending over the coming year.
3. No One Has the Time to Research Benefits
One of the most aggravating statistics for an HR professional is that nearly three-quarters of employees spend less than an hour reviewing their benefits during open enrollment. About 40% dedicate less than half an hour to researching benefits.
As if that weren’t frustrating enough, the people who need to spend more time reviewing their options are rushing through open enrollment instead.
“Nearly 90 percent of employees who reported not understanding their benefits ‘at all’ said they plan to spend less than an hour on enrollment this year,” reports SHRM.
“These are critical life decisions,” you want to scream. “Why don’t employees give them the time they deserve?!”
Have you considered that maybe they don’t have the time to spare? The typical modern worker is constantly being pulled in multiple directions, overwhelmed by competing projects, looming deadlines, nonstop emails, and seemingly endless meetings. And that’s before accounting for the demands of their personal and family lives.
In the face of all this, researching benefits — while undoubtedly important — can seem like one task too many, especially when the information provided is perceived as intimidatingly dense.
How to help: You can make researching benefits less demanding on your employees’ time by both streamlining the process and helping them carve out hours for this crucial undertaking. Time-saving strategies include:
- Encouraging supervisors to work with their direct reports to set aside work time to review and choose benefits.
- Whittling your benefits communication (especially emails) down to the essential points, using bullets, breakout boxes, and graphics to emphasize the most important information.
- Rather than confining it to open enrollment, sharing benefits information throughout the year so employees have more time to consume and think about it.
- Deploying a decision support tool that can cut the time required to understand and choose benefits down to five minutes.
4. Too Many Emails; Too Much Paper
If all this hatred of open enrollment makes you despondent, take heart. There’s at least one thing employees hate more: email. The world’s workers receive 120 or more emails daily and have had enough.
According to a 2021 survey:
- 89% of office workers say sorting through unread messages is one of the worst aspects of remote work.
- Nearly 40% of office workers say “email fatigue” is driving them to consider quitting.
Unfortunately, much — if not all — of the communications employees receive during open enrollment come via email. And often, whatever’s not emailed comes in the form of printed guides, brochures, and documents, which are easily misplaced or overlooked amid a mountain of work-related paperwork.
From an employee perspective, the upshot is a one-two punch of communication methods they despise with a topic they dread.
How to help: Don’t get us wrong. There’s still a time and place for email. Love it or hate it, email is sometimes simply the most effective way to share written information. But to reach email-fatigued employees, try expanding your outreach strategy to include other channels, such as:
- Mass-texting employees. (Text messaging open rates average 98%, compared to 20% for email.)
- Centralizing all benefits information and enrollment documents within an easy-to-access online benefits portal or microsite.
- Sharing short, explanatory videos. (Video is particularly popular with younger employees, most of whom would rather watch than read content.)
From Hating Open Enrollment to Welcoming It
Maybe “hate” is too strong a word to describe how the typical employee feels about open enrollment. Nevertheless, for the reasons listed in this article, antipathy toward open enrollment is common. But by following the tips we offered, you can counteract some of the more irritating elements of open enrollment, ensuring that employees remember not the complexity and confusion but the ease of choosing benefits that fulfill their needs.