A People Operations Look at Open Enrollment

Here’s how a people operations approach can help streamline open enrollment season, and make it more secure and enjoyable for your employees.

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Here's what you need to know:

  • People Ops teams can find ways to make open enrollment a better, more secure, and more enjoyable process for employees
  • Automating open enrollment will allow you to more easily transfer information than doing manual data entry and sifting through stacks of hardcopy papers
  • Adopting People Ops principles will also allow more opportunity to conduct open enrollment in people-centric ways

Like all things, the nature of work shifts over time. A focus on technology has been shifting to a focus on people and the ability to nurture and unleash their greatest potential for some time now — but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated it.

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that we’re all people struggling with many of the same or similar challenges. We’ve also learned that a functional and healthy work environment has to take the people aspect into serious account.

Enter the emergence of People Operations, which features department roles focused exclusively on making work exciting, engaging, and rewarding for all team members. This isn’t your traditional HR role that deals largely with processes and compliance — this is a people-first role.

While People Ops will look different across the board — at companies big and small and highly technical to traditionally analog — every People Ops department will have to deal with the same major event every year: open enrollment operations.

Here’s how focusing on people over process can make open enrollment at your small business the best it can be for the employees who dedicate their time to working for you and your company.

Enter the emergence of People Operations, which features department roles focused exclusively on making work exciting, engaging, and rewarding for all team members.

What is open enrollment?

Open enrollment is the annual period for employees to make selections for healthcare coverage for themselves and their family members. Open enrollment periods differ with every company and state, but they typically run sometime during November 1 and January 15 the following year. During open enrollment, employees can review available options and enroll in plans for healthcare coverages and spending accounts.

Some of the health benefits employers can offer are:

What is People Operations?

People Operations is a business function that encourages employees to be even more successful and productive at work. This begins with the moment you hire them — all the way until they leave your company. People Ops falls under the HR umbrella, but is different in that it shifts attention from tactical administrative work to people and productivity.

Laszlo Bock, former Senior VP of Google’s own People Operations, originally coined the “people operations” term. In his WORK RULES! book, he discusses why he renamed Google’s Human Resources department to People Operations, transforming what had long been considered a strictly “administrative and bureaucratic” department into one with “some actual ability to get things done.”

How does People Operations impact open enrollment?

The open enrollment process has been making leaps and bounds in the automation department for years. This can be great process-wise, since it can save tons of hours for often overworked HR staff by automating and streamlining data entry. However, it can leave a lot to be desired by employees.

Selecting a health insurance plan that you’ll be locked into for the coming year, unless you have a qualifying life event that allows you to change it, is a major decision to make — and one that can be confusing and maybe even frustrating when you’re alone with nothing more than a computer screen to guide you.

This is where People Ops comes in. While automatic processes are great for straightforward stuff like entering personal and family information, when it comes to deciding on the details of a plan it can be tough to navigate the process without help. The job of a People Ops role or department is to find ways to make this process a better, more secure, and more enjoyable one for employees going through it.

How to automate open enrollment operations

When it comes to automating your open enrollment workflow, you can go at it a couple of ways.

First, if it makes sense for your company, you can invest in creating your own automation system. You can hire developers and make a sophisticated web portal, or you can set up a spreadsheet that everyone fills out. Either way will allow you to more easily transfer information than sifting through stacks of hardcopy paper for each employee.

Sounds like too much work? Luckily there are all kinds of ready made automated open enrollment platforms and services that you can simply buy and run. It’s all up to you!

The thing to remember, though, is that you’re responsible for meeting all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mandates.

The thing to remember, though, is that you’re responsible for meeting all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) mandates. Most open enrollment platforms on the market are designed to meet these important requirements, but it’s a good thing to ask any rep you talk to just to double check that they’re compliant and understand what remedies they offer if their platform results in a lack of compliance and perhaps even a fine of some sort.

Naturally, if you build your own automated process, it’s crucial to make sure that you’re meeting all Affordable Care Act requirements, chiefly that you’re required to provide the following to all of your employees:

  • An easy-to-understand summary of health benefits and coverage
  • Coverage examples that show how any given health insurance plan would work, and
  • A glossary of terms (think defining important terms like “deductible” and “co-payment”)

How HR can help employees during open enrollment

Since automating open enrollment will free HR resources up from doing a bunch of tedious data entry work, that means that they’ll be free to support OE in other, more people-centric ways.

Some examples of a People Ops approach to providing open enrollment notice to employees are:

  • Making an open enrollment announcement 40-50 days before
  • Hosting office hours or “Lunch and Learns” for answering questions and navigating open enrollment issues together
  • Producing open enrollment guides that are easy to read and understand

If the idea of People Ops is a relatively new one at your company, consider sourcing ideas from your employees themselves. They’re the ones who understand what their needs are and where they’re not being met better than anyone else!

A People Ops approach

It can always be daunting to keep up with new human resources trends. A People Ops approach can be a confusing one for some people, but chances are you’re already doing People Ops work in some capacity or another. Ever sent out an employee engagement survey? That’s People Ops. Consider employee satisfaction part of your job? That’s a People Ops approach.

When it comes to open enrollment, taking a People Ops approach simply means figuring out ways to tackle it that make the process as useful as possible while minimizing stress, confusion, and frustration — the things that are counter to the People Ops ethos of just generally making work better for the humans at your company who perform it.

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