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Cinnamon Janzer is a journalist and content writer based in Minneapolis. She has been a valued writer for Workest since 2019.
Want to save time and headaches when it comes to managing benefits? Check out reasons why you should switch to using benefits software — plus tips on how to choose the right one.
Anyone who has ever participated in human resources processes knows they can be complex, confusing, and time consuming. This is perhaps especially true when it comes to small business benefits management.
From the Affordable Care Act’s Small Business Health Options Program, to going it alone and striking a deal with a private insurance provider — there’s just a lot to deal with. And that’s on top of all of the day-to-day HR processes that you have to take care of on the regular.
Plus, benefits management can be daunting because there’s a lot of laws to comply with that your small business can be on the hook for if not carried out correctly.
Taking all of that together, there’s a pretty strong case for using a software platform to automate your benefits administration. While it will be a bit of a lift to get up and running with automated benefits administration, it’ll almost surely save you tons of time in the long run.
Plus, here’s a step-by-step guide to what you can plan for and expect when migrating from a paper-based or DIY digital process to a fancy new automation software. Luckily, it might be a little more straightforward than you might think.
Before choosing a new healthcare plan or provider, do some analysis of your workers and their health needs.
In order for the automation set up process to go as smoothly as possible, the more planning and preparation you do, the better.
Especially if you’re using this opportunity to select a new healthcare plan or provider, doing an analysis of your employees’ needs can go a long way in making a selection that will make them happy.
You can gather feedback in whatever way makes the most sense for you and your business, from a company-wide survey through a Google Form to having managers capture the information from their individual teams in whatever way they deem best. The important thing is the outcome: gaining as much insight into the needs and desires of your employees when it comes to selecting a health plan that will work for them.
Once you have their preferences, it’s time to do some analysis of your workers. Do most of them have families or dependents? Or does your small business skew young, composed mostly of people who might want the most out of super flexible health savings account options rather than comprehensive family coverage?
Then, to the best that you can, do some modeling or at least thinking about hiring in the future:
Once you have a sense of the kind of plans and coverage you’ll want, the next step is to get all the administrative information you have ready for migration — all of the compliance paperwork you have and the like. If you have it in a digital form (like an Excel sheet for example), that will probably be more automating-friendly, but having physical paperwork at the ready will make the process less chaotic as well.
This happens to be a really great time to do a data cleanse of all of your workforce. Are there ex-spouses on workers’ plans that they forgot about and you’re still paying for? Do dependents need to be updated? Have there been personal data changes like a change of address? This is an excellent time to make the most of the administrative preparations you’ll have to do by getting the information you have as up to date as possible.
Benefits software plans often come with customer service lines or sometimes, depending on your subscription level, a dedicated customer support person.
Now that you have everything in place, the next step is to get your workforce signed up within the system.
This will likely require some setup and data verification on your end. Plus, when learning a new system people often have questions, so budget some time for questions from your team and for troubleshooting issues they might have.
Once everyone is onboarded into the system, the big thing to do is to get everyone enrolled in a plan. Since you’ll likely be using this sign up process as a special enrollment period (if you’re using private insurance, that is), it’s a great time to invest in benefits education for your employees.
It’s smart to educate your staff on everything, from what a deductible is and how it works (especially if you tend to hire a younger, Gen Z bunch who might be less experienced with benefits selection and enrollment) to how to use an HSA and the rules around the transfer of expiration of funds. The more educated your employees are on benefits, the more able they’ll be to select a plan that truly works for them and the less the chances are that they’ll be dissatisfied (and come to you with their grievances) later.
One of the best things about automated benefits enrollment is that it will very likely come with a customer service component of some kind as well. Got questions about the process? Unsure of how to pull something off in the new software you’re using? There should definitely be someone to help, from a customer service line to 24/7 chat or, perhaps, depending on your subscription level, a dedicated customer support person to address all of your needs.
This tends to be one of the best things for HR practitioners — by using an automated benefits administration, you’re no longer alone in navigating the benefits process.
Automatic processes will likely make it very easy for you to send informational documents all in one easy email to new hires.
Congratulations! By this point, the heaviest lift is over. You’ve selected your service, gotten the coverage your employees need, and have the software up and running.
Now it’s time to figure out when, where, and how this new automated benefits process is going to fit into all of the other HR processes it touches — everything from onboarding new employees to qualifying life events that necessitate plan changes to terminations.
First, start at the beginning. How are you going to capture all of your new hires? At what point in the onboarding process do you want to get them into the system, provide them with the necessary education materials, and help them navigate the interface in order to make their selections?
The good thing about automatic processes is that they will likely make it very easy for you to send informational documents all in one easy email to new hires. That way you can send the information to them, giving them enough time to explore plan options and talk them over with their family members before making their selection.
The thing to consider here is what your new automated process entails. Do you need to get them a company email first that needs to be set up before they can enroll? You’ll want to get all of those necessary pre-steps in order first as well as advise them of the documents and information they’ll need, if any, to get onboarded into the new digital system.
Then think through the same process for all of your processes that benefits entail, from life changes like when an employee gets a partner and adds a domestic partnership to their plan or when someone gets terminated and how you’ll address that and help with things like a transition to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act and the like.
At the end of the day, this entire step is all about integration. There are no hard and fast rules about what the right approach is in general. It’s all about what works for you and your process flow. Plus, if you have any questions on what best practices or recommendations are, you should have a point of contact to help advise you on all of those things as you make your choices!
The more you commit to a complete transition to an automated system, the better that system will be able to perform for you, your employees, and your business.
One convenient thing about automated benefits administration is that they tend to self-update as laws change in order to help their users remain in compliance as laws change on state and national levels. That does mean, though, that periodic updates will be necessary.
This can take the form of everything from small, frequent, automatic updates to larger updates and scheduled maintenance that might mean that the system will be unavailable for some period of time. Generally that won’t be much of an issue unless it coincides with your company’s open enrollment period, so work with your platform’s customer service team or representative as closely as you can to avoid these 2 events overlapping.
One benefit of automated benefits systems, though, is the communications ability. As changes happen or events take place, these systems make it easy to send out frequent communications to keep employees not only in the loop, but reminded about essential dates and events (think open enrollment), too.
It’s recommended to set your preferences and defaults to opt-out as much as you can. As you continue to use and maintain your system, this ensures that all employees will generally have to submit something — even if they make no changes — during enrollment events or periods. This way you’re much less likely to have someone slip through the cracks and miss the opportunity to make changes should they want to.
The key to the ongoing success of your platform, though, is continuing to run everything through it. It might be tempting from time to time to still run some of your old, manual processes the traditional way — especially when the learning curve is highest in the beginning — but the more you have centralized in one place and the more you commit to a complete transition to an automated system, the better that system will be able to perform for you.
Like almost all things small business, it’s all about finding what works for you. The process for getting automated will be different for each business organization and its unique needs, from the plans offered to the way the platform works and the number of users you can afford to support on it.
As always, the best thing you can do is understand your own small business’s particular needs and find a service that lets you best meet them. Once you’ve got the right fit, you can get onboarded before sitting back, relaxing, and letting the service do the work for you!