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3 Open Enrollment Tips for SMB Employers

Group of employees standing in office.

Quick look: Times flies, and open enrollment season is approaching once again. As the Great Reshuffle continues, the stakes are high for employers looking to retain and attract talent. Here are three open enrollment tips to help small- and medium-sized businesses succeed.

While every month is critical for businesses, open enrollment season is especially important for employers and their staff. With over 155 million Americans relying on employer-sponsored health insurance, open enrollment can be a hectic time of year for businesses that don’t have a clear plan and for employees preparing for impending plan changes.

Prepping for open enrollment well before fall arrives is key to having a successful season. Let’s explore three open enrollment tips that can improve the experience and ensure the process goes smoothly.

1. Develop an open enrollment strategy

A clear and concise strategy should back any substantial business initiative, and open enrollment shouldn’t be treated any differently. Having a strategy in place will help employers stay on track, be organized, and ensure nothing is overlooked.

When creating your open enrollment strategy, there are a few important questions to ask:

  • Do you have a specific goal for open enrollment? For example, your goal could be to increase plan participation or improve employee engagement.
  • How will you achieve that goal? Determine what successful completion of your goal looks like and work your way backward to develop a project roadmap for how you will get there. Make sure you know what tasks need to be completed to make it to the finish line.
  • Do you have support from senior leadership? No companywide strategy can succeed without support from the top, and it’s critical to partner with senior leadership in developing and executing the open enrollment strategy. Their buy-in will demonstrate an organizational commitment to the strategic direction.
  • Is your benefits package robust and competitive? The benefits that today’s talent desire is changing. In addition to bread-and-butter benefits like health insurance and a 401(K) retirement plan, do you offer highly sought-after voluntary benefits like student loan repayment, pet insurance, and family-forming support?
  • Is your technology up to date? Do you have a seamless, mobile-friendly way for employees to enroll in and review their benefit elections?

Open enrollment strategies can lead to success – but they take time and resources to develop. Some organizations may need to create or revisit their plan but are stretched thin. In this case, it may be worth offloading the project to the benefits experts at a professional employer organization (PEO).

2. Clear up communication

Communication is the pillar of success for many things, including open enrollment. During open enrollment season, employers should regularly communicate with staff to ensure that all benefit information is provided and any questions are promptly addressed.

Providing necessary details, including important dates and upcoming changes, should be among the first communications sent to employees, and frequent reminders should also be sent afterward. Business leaders should develop a comprehensive communication plan that includes targeted distribution dates and deadlines, and that considers the following:


It’s important to remember that open enrollment doesn’t just affect employees but their family members as well. Be sure to keep this in mind when producing communications.


How do you plan on notifying staff of important information? Will certain employee segments require different communications depending on plan changes or updates? Regarding messaging cadence, business leaders should consider sending several shorter messages instead of one or two lengthy messages that may feel overwhelming to workers. Explaining plan details in layman’s terms can also improve comprehension.

Upcoming changes

Imminent plan changes may cause concern for some employees, and it’s crucial that business leaders fully understand these changes so that they can communicate them and minimize employees’ stress.

Corporate objectives

As discussed in tip #1, your organization may have goals that tie into open enrollment. If so, be sure to prioritize those when developing messaging. For example, suppose your company wants to increase participation in a certain program. In that case, your communication plan should include correspondence about that program’s features, and you should determine the best way to track success.

3. Focus on education

Ensuring that employees can make the elections that are right for them and their families should be a goal for all employers, and educating staff on their benefit options is a must.

Aflac’s 2021-2022 WorkForces Report found that just 59% of employees feel they fully understand health care costs, and a survey from Voya discovered that 35% of workers don’t fully understand their benefits.

To combat this knowledge gap, employers should hold an informational enrollment meeting to discuss available benefit options. Workers will likely have questions, especially if there are any plan changes, additions, or reductions, so it’s wise to include extra time at the end of the meeting for a question-and-answer session. Those who have additional questions or would like to discuss their needs privately should be offered the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a member of the human resources (HR) team or a benefits expert from your PEO.

Nearly half of workers don’t understand their benefits, and this is where providing plan comparisons can make an impact. To create these comparisons, HR leaders should first examine their employee demographic data, using a tool like ExtensisHR’s DEI Dashboard, to determine the most prevalent groups. Next, employers should compile the benefits offerings that make the most sense for each demographic based on utilization and cost-effectiveness. Demonstrating plan options in a personalized way can prove to be successful in helping staff select the plan best suited for their needs.

Benefits and beyond

Open enrollment season is the chance to boost employee engagement and plan participation – and a PEO can help every step of the way.

PEOs, like ExtensisHR, do more than just provide open enrollment tips; they specialize in assisting small- and medium-sized employers with a myriad of benefits administration and management services like:

  • Benefits planning, servicing, and consulting
  • COBRA compliance and administration
  • Full ERISA compliance and fiduciary services
  • ACA compliance
  • And more

In addition to providing access to Fortune 500-level benefit packages designed for today’s multigenerational workforce, some PEOs offer technology to simplify the open enrollment process. For instance, ExtensisHR’s DEI Dashboard helps businesses understand which plans may be most fitting for their key demographics, and its Work Anywhere® platform puts the power of benefits enrollment and management in the palms of employees’ hands.

Looking for more open enrollment tips and planning advice? Contact the experts at ExtensisHR today.

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