Open enrollment is upon us once again and for brokers, this is a prime time to shine! Each year, open enrollment is an exciting chance for brokers to provide strategic counsel to clients on which benefits plans their employees will most likely use and love. However, let’s consider what open enrollment looks like for the people actually living it. More often than not, the process causes stress, confusion and apathy. 

In a 2016 study conducted by The Harris Poll, “What Your Employees Think About Your Benefits Communication,” half of employees surveyed found making health insurance decisions stressful, and 20 percent ended up regretting their choices. Further, 41 percent of employees reported that open enrollment is “extremely confusing,” while only about a third paid attention to all benefits materials. Some employees surveyed also described benefits communications as “disappointing,” “boring,” and “a waste.” Ouch.  

It’s not so easy for employers either. In July’s Open Enrollment Readiness Benchmark (OERB), sponsored by ADP, we found that while employers feel they are getting better at designing benefits, open enrollment preparation, management, and analysis remain weak overall. Only 20 percent of employers reported that they had developed a plan for benefits communications, and the average readiness score for tasks in the management phase of the benchmark, such as enrolling employees, meeting with brokers, and measuring enrollment engagement, was just 24 percent. 

Strategic brokers are advising their clients to get started early on open enrollment planning and to educate and engage with employees year round on the topic. Best practices can be broken into four phases: design, preparation, management and analysis. 

Here are four steps brokers can take to help clients better engage employees in the open enrollment process and create a booming benefits marketplace. 

Better data, better design 

To design good benefits, you need good data. Seems intuitive enough, right? The problem? It’s one thing to provide a client with data; it's another thing to know how to make it actionable. If a broker can't provide insight on market trends, she may not be able to help her client put a plan in place that helps attract and retain top talent. According to 2017 research by Glassdoor, 57 percent of job seekers report benefits as a top consideration for accepting a position and 84 percent of employees with high benefits satisfaction also report high job satisfaction

By embracing Big Data, benchmarking and analytics tools, brokers can help clients identify potential problem areas and help them make smarter buying decisions. This is especially important now that we’ve exited the era of “one size fits all” benefits plans. Today, companies can gather insights from internal and external data that may show millennials tend to select high deductible plans, whereas baby boomers select price-sensitive packages with greater flexibility. Armed with this information, companies can then see the specialists they want. By providing HR leaders who are making the benefits buying decisions with insights gained from data, you can help them save money and keep employees happy. 

Your goals = Your clients’ goals 

Once you’ve helped your clients design a benefits plan based on their employees’ needs, you should then help them establish an actionable way of measuring their plans’ success. This moves into the preparation portion of the open enrollment process. The OERB report shows that, overall, goal setting remains low among employers, at 39 percent. Without definable goals, employers don’t have a way to measure their success, nor a way to measure yours, as their strategic benefits counsel. By helping clients define their goals and objectives, as well as tactics and deliverables, they will be better able to determine measurable success which will be essential when planning for the following year. 

Surround sound of communications 

The best way to ensure your clients achieve their goals is to share ways for them to effectively communicate benefits options to their employee population. We all know that benefits mean nothing if employees aren’t using them! First, advise employers that communications should be easy to consume, understand and act on. Also, keep in mind that different employee age groups may prefer their information delivered differently. For example, a millennial may prefer short videos, infographics, texting and apps, while boomers may prefer more traditional methods, like emails, meetings, and informational packets. 

Lastly, make sure clients aren’t drowning employees in benefits materials come fall. In order to make the most of benefits communications, information should be pulsed out regularly throughout the year. Brokers can help employers establish a communication calendar under which benefits are periodically explained and promoted. 

Circle back and plan ahead 

While many think of open enrollment as just a few months out of the year, the truth is planning for next year’s benefits enrollment process begins as soon as this season ends. Therefore, brokers need to meet with clients shortly after the New Year to review what worked and what didn’t. Also, come to the table with relevant data to help guide your planning discussion and suggestions on how to improve the open enrollment process in 2018. 

If built, communicated, and deployed correctly, benefits can provide a real competitive edge for employers in this tightening labor market. By combining tools, technology and insights to help clients customize plans for different generations, brokers can seize the opportunity to add value that will help their clients engage and retain their most important asset: their people.