Before Open Enrollment Becomes a Memory, Do a Post Mortem

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Jan 27, 2020

With open enrollment recently behind us, we’re all breathing a sigh of relief. Benefits decisions are made, budgets locked in and the barrage of questions is over. It’s a sigh of relief that’s well-earned.

It can be tempting to want to shelve all that work and thinking until next year and get on with the other initiatives. Before you close the books on open enrollment, this is a good time to consider how to make the process smoother the next time around, and help make the best decisions for your employees, your team and the company’s bottom line.

Here are my suggestions.

Hold a post mortem meeting

On average, employers spend 400 hours annually managing health benefits, and that is likely to go up as the complexity increases. Having a good pulse on where you are spending time, money and expertise is critically important to managing one of the most expensive line items on your budget.

Rather than waiting until next open enrollment to deal with the challenges, opportunities and headaches that arose during last fall’s process, talk about it now, while it’s still fresh. Gather everyone who was involved in the decision-making or execution and talk about what went well and what didn’t. Take good notes about what partners were helpful; what type of work fell outside of people’s bandwidth, expertise or interests; and how employee communication landed well or could have been improved.

If you could do it all over again (which you will), consider what you would outsource, where you could feel more equipped to make a better decision, and what felt painful. Document what types of questions or complaints employees had and how much time was spent planning so you can budget your time next year, just like you budget your finances.

Gather feedback and weigh your benefits strategy

Benefits, and especially health benefits, are one of the top considerations for employee recruitment and retention, so ensuring your strategy reflects employee wants and needs is paramount.

Before the pressure of making benefits decisions mounts, consider how to best measure employee satisfaction about the experience as a whole, as well as the benefits themselves. Take a look at how they engaged with the benefits choices to better inform what you make available for next year. What percentage of employees enrolled? If multiple plans were available, what did employees gravitate to?

Research shows that employees appreciate having a say in their health benefits decisions. One way to do that is by asking for their feedback. Consider now how much say you want to give them in the benefits offering. That could be as simple as letting employees vote on a new benefit option for 2021, or going as far as shifting to a defined contribution approach where your company sets a budget for each employee and they shop for their own insurance benefits.

Set quarterly goals

Research and decisions don’t all have to be done at crunch time; in fact, they shouldn’t be! Consider setting quarterly goals for your team to pace the work better in 2020. The following template may be of value to your team:

  • Quarter 1: Host a post-mortem; determine where outsourcing fits in; run a report on employee benefits selections if applicable; send out an employee survey; set a budget for next year in regard to time spent on benefits administration and plan quarterly goals accordingly.
  • Quarter 2: Evaluate what new benefits are available in the market from digital experiences to wellness programs and including the vast number of voluntary benefits – and which insurance carriers are offering the most competitive packages; send out another employee survey letting individuals vote on new options. Start compiling a wish list of offerings to talk to a broker or consultant about and expand your network by talking to two or three different types of experts.
  • Quarter 3: Prepare questions for your broker or other partners; draft the budget for health and other benefits; meet with people who have creative solutions to offer, and decide the options. Compare prices and make decisions. Start preparing your open enrollment communications.
  • Quarter 4: Finalize the details and begin open enrollment.

One of the best things we can do for all aspects of our business, is to ask ourselves: What needs to be measured, evaluated, researched or tracked now, so that we can better plan for the future? Savvy HR executives will do well to push back against the temptation to “worry about the next open enrollment later” and start planning now for a smooth and strategic future.