Open Enrollment Guide & Resources

How to communicate with and help employees to choose workplace benefits

Companies are preparing to kick off open enrollment for their employees to choose their workplace benefits. Health, vision, dental, life insurance ... even pet insurance may be up for grabs. 

How can HR professionals best communicate with employees about their choices, when many workers are unfamiliar with the language and concepts of benefits offerings? What's the best way to help employees through open enrollment season?

Take a look at our primer below for ways to start the conversation, and at our glossary of common (and commonly misunderstood) terms. Our news articles offer lots of tips on educating employees and helping them make great choices.

What is open enrollment for benefits?

In the U.S., open enrollment season is a period of time when employees may elect or change the benefit options available through their employer, such as health, dental and life insurance, and ancillary or voluntary benefits ranging from legal services to pet insurance. Some benefits are fully paid by the employer, some are employee-paid through salary deferral or a section 125 cafeteria plan, and for some the cost is shared. 

When do most companies have open enrollment?

Most companies schedule open enrollment to end a few weeks before enrollment forms must be submitted to benefit providers. For calendar-year benefit plans starting Jan. 1, open enrollment often takes place in November.

How long does open enrollment have to be?

Open enrollment is not required to be a certain length of time. Most employers have an open enrollment period of at least two to four weeks.

 

Open Enrollment Resources 

  • Need help defining health benefit terms to employees? Check out and share the health benefit terms glossary here on SHRM.org. You can also download a PDF version to print and share with employees.
  • These 10 questions for employees choosing next year's health plans are a great way to encourage employees to consider health and relationship changes before making their open enrollment selections.
  • How to explain high-deductible plans to employees. More companies are making high-deductible health plans an option (or, increasingly, the sole choice) for employer-sponsored health coverage. Here is a quick guide on how to help employees understand the costs and benefits.
  • How much life insurance is enough? This guide will help get employees on the right track when determining how much life insurance is right for them.

2018 Open Enrollment Webcasts

How Modern Organizations Are Educating Their Employees About Open Enrollment
Presenters:
Mary Barna and Jennifer Wear
Sponsored by: League
Date of presentation: October 2018

How Top Organizations Use Renewal to Modernize Their Benefits
Presenters:
Kristina Buzin and Lars Heemskerk
Sponsored by: League
Date of presentation: October 2018

7 Last-Minute Ideas to Grab Employees’ Attention This Open Enrollment
Presenter: Pat Niday
Sponsor: ALEX by Jellyvision
Date of presentation: September 2018

Strategic Benefits: What HR Experts Need to Know
Presenters: Cassie Whitlock, Jagdish Chugani and Stacy Solorio
Sponsored by: BambooHR
Date of presentation: August 2018

2019 Inflation-Adjusted Limits & Thresholds

For 2019, 401(k) Contribution Limit for Employees Rises to $19,000
Employee 401(k) contributions for 2019 will top off at $19,000—a $500 increase from 2018—while the "all sources" maximum contribution (employer and employee combined) rises to $56,000, up $1,000, the IRS announced on Nov. 1.

2019 Payroll Taxes Will Hit Higher Incomes
Starting Jan. 1, the maximum earnings that will be subject to the Social Security payroll tax will increase to $132,900. Before the new year, employers should adjust their payroll systems to account for the higher taxable wage cap and notify affected employees that more of their paycheck will be subject to withholding.

2019 HSA Limits Rise, IRS Says
Next year, allowable HSA contributions for participants with self-only health coverage will rise by $50. For HSAs linked to family coverage, the 2019 contribution limit will rise by $100 above the family cap set for 2018.

ACA's Affordability Threshold Rises in 2019
Employers should not overlook the Affordable Care Act's annual inflation-adjusted shift in cost-sharing limits for group health plan coverage, as they could face steep penalties for failing to provide affordable coverage under the ACA's shared-responsibility provisions.

What's New for 2019 Benefits

Employees Seek Personalized Perks During Open Enrollment
Employees' desire for benefits tailored to their own needs is changing the mix of offerings this open-enrollment season and leading HR managers to customize their benefits communications.

Online Platforms Transform Open Enrollment
Technology is transforming the annual open-enrollment season as sophisticated online platforms with integrated decision-support tools and multimedia educational resources help employees to select the best plans for their needs.

For Open Enrollment, Communications Get Social
Almost every employee now carries a smartphone, which allows HR benefits managers to make social media posts and text messaging part of their open enrollment toolkit. Here are tips for the upcoming open enrollment season.

Mandatory Health Plan Notices
For the many employers in the throes of open enrollment planning, we’ve compiled model health plan notices from federal government agencies. We also provide, where possible, a related reading item for each notice.

For 2019, Employers Adjust Health Benefits as Costs Near $15,000 per Employee
With the cost of employer-sponsored health care benefits expected to approach $15,000 per employee next year, employers continue to make changes to their plans. New survey findings reveal the most common medical and drug benefit trends for 2019 and beyond.


 

Revisiting the Basics... 

Open Enrollment: Choosing Active vs. Passive Benefits Election
Requiring employees to proactively elect to enroll in benefit plans for the coming year can prod them to reconsider the appropriateness of their selections, but it requires HR to engage directly with employees to ensure that no one inadvertently misses their opportunity to receive coverage

Open Enrollment: Developing Your Game Plan
Set goals for this year's open enrollment season and devise a strategy for meeting your objectives. Tailor your communications campaign to support these aims.

Open Enrollment: Targeted Communications Address Differing Needs
In drafting open enrollment communications, consider whether you're reaching people with information that's relative to them, taking into consideration where they are in their lives and what their particular needs are.

Open Enrollment: Using Social Media and Decision-Support Tools
HR benefit managers are turning to social media to get the open enrollment message out, holding twitter charts and sending text messages linked to videos. But many employers remain hesitant about using new media for benefits communications.

Open Enrollment: Voluntary Benefits Emphasize Choice
Voluntary benefits can help to address possible financial gaps for employees, especially for those enrolled in high-deductible health plans. While these choices enhance the benefits package, they also raise issues that employers and employees should keep in mind.

Ready for Prime Time? Using Video in Benefits Communication
A compelling video can go a long way toward getting employees to respond to benefits-related communication. While video has long been a part of employee benefits communication, recent developments are taking it to a new level.

How to Humanize Benefits Communications with Technology
Whether they use apps, videos, portals, microsites or automated e-mails, benefits administrators can reach employees with key messages across multiple channels. But many employees seek more of a human touch in how they learn and make decisions about benefit options.

6 Simple Ways to Improve Open Enrollment
Smart HR leaders are continually looking for new and different ways to engage workers during open enrollment. To that end, here are some tried-and-true tips to make the most of this crucial time.

Stay Competitive with Benefits or Risk Employee Flight
Does your company offer the benefits that most employees want? If not, you may be wasting money and finding it hard to hire and retain valued employees.

Know What You Need to Select a Benefits Provider
As vendor choices grow and benefits technology evolves, it's more important than ever that benefits leaders know what they need to know when selecting benefits administration partners.

How to Explain Benefits to Employees Who Don't Care
Employee benefits are vital to workers' health and financial security, so why do so many employees wait until the last hours of open enrollment to crack open their benefit brochures and then march into HR and declare, "Just tell me what I should do"? (Watch the video clip.)

Open Enrollment and Year-Round Compliance: How to Avoid a DOL Audit
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Affordable Care Act each impose a range of reporting obligations on employee health and welfare plans, with steep penalties for noncompliance. Taken together, these complex requirements put employees at high risk for not surviving a Department of Labor (DOL) audit unscathed.

Employees, Stressed by Benefits Decisions, Want More Help
Employees are dazed and confused by the health-benefits selection process, a new survey report reveals. While two-thirds of workers were confident in their ability to make informed benefits choices, nearly as many would welcome benefits advice from a third-party advisor or an online program.

Use Voluntary Benefits to Attract and Keep Part-Time Workers
Part-time employees typically are not eligible for their company's core benefits offerings and oftentimes can feel left out. Offering part-timers access to employee-paid voluntary benefits can help to keep them onboard.

As Open Enrollment Ends, Capture What You've Learned
Reviewing what went smoothly and what tripped you up can ensure an easier, more effective open enrollment process when next fall inevitably rolls around.


...and More Practice Tips

At Open Enrollment, HR Departments of One Step Up
Enrollment season puts extra pressures on departments of one, but these HR pros are up to the challenge. Their success carries lessons for HR teams of all sizes.

Open Enrollment Tips for the Coming Season
The fall open enrollment season is a time that some HR professionals dread as an administrative nightmare while others see an opportunity to personally engage with employees, and to help them make choices that will safeguard their health and financial well-being. Here are some suggestions for avoiding the former and achieving the latter.

How to Explain High-Deductible Plans
More companies are making high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) an option—or, increasingly, the sole choice—for employer-sponsored health coverage. So it's important to provide clear communication that helps employees understand how HDHPs operate and whether the plans are right for them.

Address HSA Misconceptions During Open Enrollment
Open enrollment is an opportunity to help employees understand the value of a health savings account (HSA), but many employers make common mistakes that undermine their communication efforts. For instance, don’t apologize for offering a high-deductible plan with an HSA, but focus on the long-term health-savings advantages.

Dental Benefits Are Often Misunderstood, Underused
Lack of knowledge about their dental coverage can cause employees to skip regular checkups and routine cleanings, leading to more expensive and invasive treatments later on.

Distribute the Revised Summary of Benefits and Coverage at Open Enrollment
A revised Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) template for comparing health plan options and an expanded uniform glossary must be distributed during the fall open enrollment season.                  



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