Here's how to make open enrollment more productive and less stressful.

3 ways to improve the open enrollment process at your company

Open enrollment is supposed to be a time when employees can easily learn more about their benefits options and make educated decisions about their coverage. However, research shows that the open enrollment period is usually not as productive or satisfying for employees as it's intended to be. Just consider these survey findings:

  • Fifty-nine percent of workers say they don't understand at least some things about their overall benefits policies, according to the 2016 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey.
  • Forty-one percent of employees believe the open enrollment processes at their companies are "extremely confusing," according to a survey by benefits IT firm Jellyvision. 
  • Forty-nine percent of workers say making health insurance decisions is always "very stressful," the Jellyvision survey also revealed. 

These stats may not inspire much confidence in human resources professionals. However, you can make open enrollment more productive and less stressful, which benefits both employees and employers. Here are three ways to improve open enrollment at your company:

1. Find out what employees want
Take the guesswork our of your open enrollment efforts and instead go straight to the source. Ask what your employees want to see in and get from the process. Do they prefer emails about benefits information rather than announcements on the intranet? Maybe this year they're especially concerned about their health insurance and want clear, concise materials and workshops that explain their options. If you have any data about last year's open enrollment, review it. You can also create polls about open enrollment preferences and send them to employees for quick feedback. By learning what people want, you can design a more successful open enrollment strategy.

"Create polls about open enrollment preferences and send them to employees for quick feedback."

2. Establish employee benefits 'champions'
Having representatives from insurance companies visit your office can be helpful, but many employees ask each other for advice and insight when it comes to selecting their benefits. The Society for Human Resource Management recommends designating employee benefits champions who workers can comfortably go to for information. It cites the examples of HR services company Paycor, which established "influencers" at its multiple offices to assist with the open enrollment process. 

"These are people other employees go to for advice, with work-related questions, and for friendly or pick-me-up conversations," said Bekki O'Brien, benefits analyst at Paycor, in an interview with the SHRM. 

Influencers already have a track record of being go-to resources for fellow employees, and they can be valuable allies during open enrollment. Paycor even took the program one step further by then designing its benefits communication strategies with individual influencers in each of its offices in mind. 

3. Use a mix of online and face-to-face communication 
The most effective communication approach is to share information about benefits both online and face to face. According to the Aflac survey, 50 percent of employees want their benefits enrollment process to more closely resemble Amazon.com in terms of being able to shop around and easily compare options side by side. Use an HR technology platform, intranet or payroll portal that allows employees to easily explore their benefits options on their computers or smartphones. 

However, online isn't everything, and 49 percent of employees who didn't have the chance to speak with someone face to face or over the phone said they would if they had the opportunity, according to Aflac. Town hall-style meetings, workshops, one-on-one meetings, webinars and lunches are all engaging ways to share benefits materials and give employees the chance to raise their questions. 

With these tips, you can revitalize the open enrollment process at your company.