Prep for Open Enrollment

by Stephanie Waldrop

For many, open enrollment is a dreaded time of year. With more than 20 years of open enrollment seasons under my belt, I have experienced my fair share of employers calling me in crisis because they just received their insurance renewals and do not have a good plan of action. The problem with this approach is that it leaves little time to properly plan for success. This year may be the most important open enrollment season many employers have faced. The war for talent is raging and employers are fighting more than ever to attract and retain quality employees. 

The most competitive and progressive employers develop a game plan well in advance for their short-term and long-term benefit goals and they develop a budget that will ensure that they achieve them. If employers don’t know their Employee Benefits Playbook, how will they execute during the upcoming renewal season? Waiting until they receive their renewals to start the planning process will only ensure they are scrambling to make decisions quickly. The following tips will help employers ensure they are not caught flat footed during the upcoming renewal and open enrollment cycle.

Employers should:

  1. Survey their employees to determine satisfaction levels and perceptions of their current benefits offerings. This is also a great way to learn about any new programs or benefit offerings that are important to the employees. 
  2. Review benchmarking data to better understand how their current benefit offerings compare to the competition. The best benchmarking reports will provide comparisons by employer size, industry and region. 
  3. Meet with their broker/consultant and learn about any new trends or programs available in the marketplace and recommended considerations for their benefit program structure. A pre-renewal strategy session to review short- and long-term goals is invaluable. It’s a great way to learn about new options/possibilities but also ensure that if they do market their current coverages, or even new ones, they receive the best possible options to align their goals with reality. 
  4. Agree upon a timeline that sets them up for success and keeps everyone working toward the same goal, and ensure it is clear who is running point for each step along the way. Open Enrollment requires HR, the broker/consultant and the executive team to work together and execute independently at different times. An open communication and clear framework for success will make accomplishing goals much more likely. If the process gets off track, it will be much easier to pinpoint how to avoid the same mistake in the future. 
  5. Make sure they plan ample time to educate their employees about all of the benefits being offered to them. There is a direct correlation between an employee’s understanding of the benefits their employer offers them and their satisfaction with the benefits offered. It’s important to not miss out on the opportunity to be sure the employees understand their benefits and have an opportunity to ask personalized questions to help make the best decisions for themselves and their family during open enrollment. 

How far out an employer begins the process really does depend on the size of the employee population. Generally, an employee survey, benchmarking and meeting with the broker/consultant for a pre-renewal strategy session can easily take place six to seven months prior to renewal. For an employer with fewer than 100 employees, meeting four to five months prior to renewal provides ample time. Determining what a successful renewal timeline will look like for a given company’s renewal and open enrollment process will help minimize the surprises and allow more time for employee education. 

Stephanie Waldrop is CEO and principal consultant at Phoenix-based insurance brokerage company Employee Benefits International. 

Editor’s note: We are reprising this article by Stephanie Waldrop, which ran in the August 2021 edition of In Business Magazine as “Prep Now for Open Enrollment – 5 Steps to Ensure Success,” to complement the information provided in this guide. 

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