Summer vacation: A great time to prep for open enrollment
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Summer vacation: A great time to prep for open enrollment

Summer vacation: A great time to prep for open enrollment (Photo: Shutterstock)

Sunny beaches and vacation may be the main thing on our minds as summer heats up, but plan sponsors and HR professionals should add one more item to the list: Open enrollment. This critical time will be here before you know it, which makes it important to help your employee population better understand the choices they will have to make in terms of benefits elections.

You can make enrollment a more engaging experience for your people—and a more successful season for your programs—by getting them prepared and ready with a game plan, now. These four steps can give you a clear path to increase engagement, answer questions, and set up for a smoother open enrollment season.

Step 1: Engage early and often

Most companies offer open enrollment in the fall—which is right around the corner. Channels of communication should already be open to introduce your employees to their choices and help them understand the context of what will work best for their individual financial situation.

It’s not enough to simply show employees what’s on tap: To effectively prepare your population, they will need to be able to connect the dots between where they are today, what your company offers, and how workplace benefits can help them move the needle on their goals.

To kickstart this process, encourage employees to begin assessing their needs now. For any internal communication campaign, consider more targeted or digital contact—like SMS, chat, recorded presentations, conference calls, virtual meetings, or even direct mail. Incentives like savings or participation competitions can also be a great tool for driving employee engagement.

Step 2: Beat summer doldrums with personalized engagement

A recent survey from consultancy firm PwC found that 87% of employees want help with their personal finances. Employees are also seeking a broader scope of choices, from student loan paydown to retirement. Personalized financial planning is a great first step to help employees get a deeper sense of their situation as well as advice on benefits elections.

You may declare a week of financial wellness check-ups to help employees quantify where they are now compared to where they want to be—or compared to benchmark recommendations. This level of personalized attention can go a long way in terms of engagement, education, and long-term satisfaction.

Many companies also offer financial coaching, financial planning, or other forms of financial advice—if not through a financial wellness provider, perhaps through a retirement plan provider, employee assistance program, or even a credit counselling service. A coach can help employees make balanced and realistic benefits decisions that keep their personal financial challenges in perspective.

Step 3: Also offer solid guidance on universal themes

That said, there are certain key guidelines that apply to us all. Help your employees examine their retirement savings, emergency savings, debt, and income when planning their benefits elections:

  • What type of lifestyle do they want to live in retirement, and how much will it take to get there? Retirement calculators can provide general rules of thumb.
  • Emergency savings should tuck away three to six months’ worth of income. This doesn’t happen overnight, so connect employees with support on the journey towards achieving this goal.
  • Conquering debt means not only the balance owed on all credit cards, mortgages, or student loans, but the interest rates as well. It’s key to start with the most expensive debt first.
  • Lastly, make sure employees don’t forget to count all their income sources—paychecks, side hustles, inheritances, investments, etc.

Armed with all this data, you will have a strong platform from which to offer employees personalized guidance on how your workplace benefits—and their individual selection choices—can help.

Your provider may also offer assessments or education modules tailored to each employee’s unique situation. Don’t forget to talk to your vendor about content they may already have that you can use to help boost your employees’ involvement.

Step 4: Introduce your star lineup

To help employees get from A to Z you’ll need clear, concise, and effective communication that introduces the full range of the choices and services you offer—and the why behind them.

Did you change providers, incorporate any new services, lower cost barriers, or increase contributions? How can employees plug in? Highlight what you’ve laid out for employees and let them know why it is useful for them—this is how they’ll be able to connect the work they’ve done on understanding their needs to the work you’ve done on creating a thoughtful benefits package.

In fact, a study from Alight shows that 44% more participants enroll in a 401(k) plan and existing participants double their contribution when employers incorporate key aspects of their retirement plan and financial wellness into open enrollment communications. Again, if you can personalize the message and offer tailored education based on individual employee responses, all the better.

Thriving employees = thriving companies

Open enrollment is the most important opportunity plan sponsors have to improve the financial and overall well-being of the workforce. By making it as easy as possible for your population to identify, understand, and earmark the choices that match their needs, you will have enrollment season off to a great start before it’s even begun.

Financial wellness is truly a lifelong journey—which is why it’s important to get ahead of the clock and help your population understand the power of their benefits choices as soon as possible. Your programs were created for your people: Bringing the two together is the best possible way to align goals and values with success.

Krystal Barker Buissereth, CFA is Managing Director, Head of Financial Wellness at Morgan Stanley at Work.

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