Each year, organizations across the United States engage in open enrollment, a critical aspect of benefits administration. This process involves careful planning, collaboration with brokers, and meticulous analysis of health plans to manage costs and provisions. However, amidst the focus on expenses, it’s essential not to overlook the potential of open enrollment to communicate the organization’s value to its employees. Benefits are more than just a budgetary concern; they are a vital factor in attracting, retaining, and engaging talent.

This comprehensive guide aims to provide a holistic approach to open enrollment, emphasizing the integration of benefits into an organization’s total rewards program. By aligning open enrollment decisions with your employees’ needs and preferences, you can optimize the return on investment while showcasing your commitment to their well-being and satisfaction.



Why do organizations offer benefits programs?

One of the often-overlooked considerations when establishing total rewards is taking the time to consider why you offer them in the first place. While this is somewhat straightforward, it is helpful to evaluate which components are most important to your organization and keep these thoughts in mind to guide your decisions and ensure you offer the right perks for your employees.

Attract and retain high-quality employees

Onboarding and training new employees is expensive and time-consuming, often resulting in decreased productivity. Offering attractive benefits creates a level of stickiness that minimizes costly turnaround.

Both applicants and existing employees expect organizations to offer good benefits. In a market where qualified candidates can afford to be discriminating about where they choose to work, offering competitive rewards helps maintain your current workforce and facilitates attracting more desirable applicants.

Get creative with the perks you offer. Tailor them to the types of employees you wish to attract and retain. You may even gain an advantage over employers who offer larger salaries with unique or more robust benefit offerings than your competitors.

Demonstrate respect for employees and promote work-life balance

Offering quality benefits and retirement savings reinforces that you value your employees beyond their skills and contribution to the company. Benefits that promote well-being, good health, career development, and financial stability go a long way toward fostering loyalty, keeping employees engaged, and promoting your organization as an employer of choice.

Offer educational opportunities throughout the year that highlight your benefits to reinforce your interest in employee well-being. Highlight free wellness perks or health club benefits, set up seasonal competitions that take advantage of health plan incentives or services, or bring in financial advisors to assist with retirement planning. The dividends in retention, loyalty, and job satisfaction are well worth the effort.

Healthier productive workforce 

Health benefits with affordable deductibles, co-pays, robust services, and wellness programs provide health resources that employees are more likely to use. This facilitates a healthier workforce with fewer unscheduled absences, reducing overall stress on the entire team. Planned absences can typically be accommodated with minimal impact on the workplace, while unplanned absences significantly disrupt productivity by creating additional stress for coworkers, upending schedules, and decreasing employee morale.

Balance healthcare premiums and the cost for employees to use the services with your workforce wages. It is of little value to go to all the expense and effort to offer benefits that your workforce cannot afford to use.

Employee job satisfaction

While many factors outside of total rewards contribute to job satisfaction, well-paid employees that are offered robust benefits and total rewards packages that suit them tend to have greater fulfillment and contentment in their role.

Are you limited on the healthcare plans you can offer? Consider other perks tailored to your demographic, like health club memberships, flexible schedules, company or community discounts, etc. These lifestyle benefits can be constant reminders of your value and, therefore, highly visible drivers of loyalty and job satisfaction.


Employers with well-regarded reputations gain an advantage over competitors because people want to work for them. Several factors influence your organization’s clout; however, a creative and competitive total rewards program goes a long way toward increasing the appeal of your organization. This appeal increases esteem, strength in the market, and pull when posting open positions.

Consider how you want to be regarded in the market and offer perks beyond your healthcare plan that align with that perception.

Tax advantages to employer and employees

Let’s not forget that there are financial advantages to some perks and benefits both for the employer and the employee. Many perks can be written off by employers and can be provided without requiring tax deductions for the employee. Retirement plan deductions, HSAs, and FLEX accounts enable employees to use pretax dollars, reducing their taxable income and providing a greater return on investment for their allocations. Workplace coffee, meal, and snack bars provide tax-free benefits to employees and promote job satisfaction. These tax advantages offer a win/win for everyone and are often very affordable additions to your total rewards program.


Set the foundation

Understand the overall goal:

At its most basic level, open enrollment aims to empower employees to make informed decisions about their benefits and effectively manage their total compensation package. During this critical period, employees have the opportunity to assess and select the benefits that align with their personal and professional needs. Open enrollment not only serves as a means for employees to access essential health coverage but also as a platform to explore additional offerings such as wellness programs, retirement plans, and various financial incentives. By ensuring employees understand their benefits options and providing them the tools to make optimal choices, organizations strive to enhance employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty, contributing to a more productive and motivated workforce.

Engage employees:

Open enrollment is often stressful for employees; aim to alleviate concerns. Simplify complex information and avoid jargon to keep the open enrollment experience approachable. Break down essential offerings and ensure employees comprehend vital information necessary for making informed choices. Keeping the content easily understandable ensures employee engagement throughout the process, ultimately facilitating a successful and effective open enrollment period.

Step 1: Pre-planning and evaluation

3 months before open enrollment

This phase involves reflecting on past experiences, gathering valuable employee feedback, assessing participation trends, and preparing for potential changes. Here’s a detailed outline of the critical steps to help you lay a strong foundation for a seamless open enrollment process.

  • Review previous year: Reflect on the previous open enrollment to identify successes and areas for improvement.
  • Employee feedback: Gather employee feedback on last year’s benefits offerings through surveys or other channels.
  • Assess employee participation: Analyze participation rates and challenges faced during the previous open enrollment.
  • Workforce assessment: Evaluate your workforce demographics and consider the most efficient method to facilitate open enrollment, such as utilizing electronic systems.
  • Assess benefits utilization: Determine how current benefits are being used and identify benefits with the lowest employee participation rates.
  • Consider remote employees: Evaluate the potential need to adapt benefits for remote workers.
  • Prepare for changes: Determine whether any changes are needed based on feedback, participation rates, and workforce assessment.
  • Evaluate your broker: Conduct a thorough vendor assessment to determine whether benefits vendors are meeting the employer’s needs.

Step 2: Data compilation and broker collaboration

3 months before open enrollment

This phase plays a pivotal role in establishing the groundwork for a well-informed process. It involves collaborating with your broker to gather essential employee data, engaging in discussions to evaluate and potentially update benefits plans, and aligning your offerings with market trends and the results of your employee feedback research. Here’s a breakdown of the crucial steps involved in this phase.

  • Competitive analysis: Review benchmarking studies to determine a competitive level of benefits.
  • Gather employee census: Collaborate with your broker to compile accurate employee census data, which assists in estimating healthcare
  • Broker Meeting: Meet with benefits brokers to discuss potential new benefits plans and gather market quotes.
  • Plan Evaluation: Assess the current benefits offerings to decide which plans will be retained or modified based on broker recommendations and market insights.

Step 3: Communication and preparations

2 months before open enrollment

As open enrollment draws closer, ensure a smooth and well-informed process. This phase involves strategic communication efforts, equipping employees with essential resources, and establishing a clear roadmap to guide employees through the upcoming open enrollment journey. Here’s a detailed outline of the key steps to effectively communicate and prepare for the upcoming enrollment period.

  • Early communication: Start informing employees about the upcoming open enrollment timeline, emphasizing its significance.
  • Create a communication plan: Develop a comprehensive plan outlining your communication strategies for various stages of open enrollment.
  • Provide resources: Ensure employees know where to access information and are aware of the benefits guide or overview that simplifies benefits offerings for easy understanding.
  • Embrace virtual engagement: Utilize webinars, videos and virtual meetings during the open enrollment process and leverage digital platforms and benefits websites to provide information.

Step 4: Kick-off and explanation

Start of open enrollment

As open enrollment commences, set the stage for employee engagement and informed decision-making. This pivotal phase involves launching the enrollment period with clear explanations, empowering resources, and adhering to regulatory requirements. Here’s a breakdown of the critical actions to successfully kick off open enrollment and guide employees through their benefits selections.

  • Launch communication: Initiate open enrollment with a company-wide meeting to explain the process and highlight benefits options.
  • Benefits guide: Distribute the benefits guide to help employees make informed decisions about their selections.
  • ACA compliance: If applicable, provide the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) as required by the ACA.
  • Cobra consideration: Extend the same benefits choice to COBRA qualified beneficiaries and allow them to select different benefits plans during open enrollment.

Step 5: Facilitate open enrollment

During open enrollment period

During the active open enrollment period, manage the intricate process of benefits selection. This phase ensures employees have ample time to make informed decisions, offers a grace period for final adjustments, and employs proactive strategies to promote active participation and clarity in benefits selections. Here’s a detailed look at the crucial tasks involved in effectively facilitating open enrollment for your workforce.

  • Enrollment period: Offer a period of around two weeks for employees to make their benefits selections.
  • Buffer period: Allocate an additional week or two between the enrollment end date and submission to carriers for any last-minute adjustments.
  • Individual reminders: Send personalized reminders to employees who have not made their selections.
  • Waiver requirement: Implement a practice requiring employees to waive benefits if not interested formally.

Step 6: Ongoing engagement and completion

During open enrollment period

As open enrollment draws to a close, focus on sustaining employee involvement and ensuring seamless benefits elections to optimize the open enrollment process. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of how to engage employees continuously and successfully conclude the benefits selection phase.

  • Continuous communication: Maintain consistent communication throughout the open enrollment period to keep employees engaged and informed.
  • Individual outreach: Reach out to employees who have not elected benefits to ensure they know their options.
  • Qualifying life events: Remind employees that open enrollment is their only chance to elect benefits unless they experience a qualifying life event.
  • Submission and completion: Collect and submit employees’ benefit elections to the carriers within the specified timeframe.
  • Verify employee elections: Once open enrollment is complete, conduct a reconciliation of benefit carrier invoices to ensure that the employees’ elections were accurately captured by the carriers.

Step 7: Beyond open enrollment

After open enrollment period

Shift your focus to maintaining a year-round benefits strategy that enhances employee awareness and engagement. This step emphasizes the importance of consistently highlighting benefits, demonstrating their practical use, and exploring creative communication avenues to keep employees informed and motivated. Additionally, it underscores the need for ongoing assessment and updates to benefits offerings to ensure they remain relevant and effective for future open enrollment cycles.

  • Highlight benefits throughout the year: Develop a plan to communicate benefits information all year long, with open enrollment being only one part of the strategy.
  • Showcase perks and how to use them: Open enrollment is highly focused on benefits selection, use meetings during the year to make employees aware of useful tools, lifestyle perks, and how to make the best use of the benefits and perks your organization provides.
  • Get creative: Consider different ways of communicating benefits during the year like webinars, coffee talks, catered lunches, guest speakers, health focused competitions, etc.
  • Assess and update: Continue to evaluate and reassess benefits offerings so you are prepared to make changes during the next open enrollment season.

By following this step-by-step guide and timeline, you can effectively manage the open enrollment process, ensuring that employees have ample opportunity to make informed decisions and receive the benefits that best suit their needs.

Open enrollment is a pivotal opportunity to showcase your organization’s commitment to employee well-being, attract top talent, and foster engagement. By aligning benefits decisions with your total rewards program, you can create a comprehensive package that meets employees’ needs while bolstering your organization’s reputation and competitiveness in the market. Remember, open enrollment is not just about numbers; it’s about communicating your organization’s value to your most valuable asset – your employees.


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