CRACKING OPEN ENROLLMENT WIDE OPEN WITH TECHNOLOGY

BY Barb Drames

Director, PEO Benefits
Paychex

December 2023/January 2024

 

Each year, open enrollment marks a time where communication is critical, security needs are high, and accuracy is of the utmost importance as businesses scramble to ensure their employees’ financial and physical well-being for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, for many small business leaders, it’s also a time that may be marked by significant stress, manual administration, long hours, and bureaucratic obstacles—and that’s all-in addition to their daily efforts to keep the business afloat.

Automation tools can provide some much-needed relief during open enrollment, empowering small business leaders to get it all done. However, many small business leaders seem unsure about the return on the investment of technology in this space. Despite widespread understanding about artificial intelligence (AI) and automation’s potential to support core business functions, organizational leaders seem unsure about these tools’ potential benefits to back-office operations.

The 2023 Paychex Pulse of HR report revealed that the small businesses surveyed were far more likely to handle HR functions manually than their larger counterparts. The Pulse of HR report also found that, despite leaders at small and large businesses sharing similar productivity and operational improvement goals, the number of leaders at companies with 5-19 employees saying they plan to digitize their HR efforts in the upcoming year trailed that of larger enterprises by 10%.

And that’s not the only gap the report uncovered. The report also showed that responding companies with fewer than 20 employees were significantly less likely to say they’ll use AI in the next 12 months (24%) than their larger counterparts (49%). It’s unclear from the survey whether this hesitation is related to budgets, values, a perception that it’s not needed, or something else.

THE BENEFITS OF OPTIMIZING ADMINISTRATION

Today’s automated HR tools can help leaders transform their open enrollment experiences and lessen the stress of this annual rush. That said, deciding what tools to use and how they might help your next open enrollment period run more smoothly certainly takes some time as the right combination of functionality is not one-size-fits-all. When designing your suite, you should consider how different offerings handle a few areas like security and compliance; transparency and communication; and reporting.

Security and Compliance
Benefits enrollment comes with inherent risks, and executing the process manually only exacerbates those risks. Manual administration can make it difficult for companies to keep Social Security numbers, home addresses, and other personal information secure, which can result in serious consequences like identity theft. Benefits administration software often includes secure storage for confidential employee information, as well as the ability for administrators to set criteria to allow employees to only see data relevant to them.

Not only does this help your employees protect their information, but it can help you rest easy knowing that your procedures comply with federal, state, and local regulations like those related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and more.

However, when it comes to data security, AI and other automated tools may open users up to further risk of breach, if not used correctly. It’s important that organizations research the credentials of AI vendors they are using and establish policies for employee use to mitigate risk.

Transparency and Communication
Transparency in open enrollment starts with communication. Digital HR tools can help you develop and maintain secure, self-service enrollment portals to encourage employees to take charge of the process, and many benefits administration platforms trace the entire process end-to-end so even if employees are managing some steps on their own, issues are easily spotted and resolved. These tools can also facilitate personalized mobile and email communication campaigns to ensure employees have everything they need to complete their enrollment, as well as chatbots to answer common questions.

Beyond traditional communication of benefits offerings, AI tools have opened up a world of gamification for benefit selection as well. Once plan options are confirmed by leaders, some tools allow employees to use educational, gamified modules to learn more about their best benefit options based on a variety of factors they plug into the system.

Though transparency and communication are always helpful, it’s especially valuable to businesses with remote workers who may not be able to meet with administrators in person. Investing in digital HR suites can help you ensure that your employees—no matter where they work—have everything they need to make the right choices for the upcoming year.

Reporting
When conducting manual processes, it’s easy for things to get lost in the shuffle. Integrated benefits administration tools often provide customized reports to take the guesswork out of tracking, reporting, and other administrative tasks.

These reports provide insights about usage, preferences, and more to inform leaders about how their employees are engaging with their benefits, what plans and perks they’re opting to use, and what hiccups might still exist in the administration process. Armed with these insights, leaders will be able to continue to refine and improve their compensation packages and benefits administration processes in the coming years.

INVESTING IN IMPROVEMENT

Getting through open enrollment and ensuring that all employee needs are met, and questions are answered requires a great deal of time and resources. For the millions of small businesses still tackling this challenge manually, this admin-heavy season may bring significant stress. AI-powered HR tools and advanced automation suites can offer various efficiencies to business leaders looking to upgrade their processes.

The key to choosing the right combination is understanding how the technologies work and how they might contribute to a more satisfying and efficient experience for you and your employees. While the right suite will differ based on each company’s needs, the return on the investment—an easier, more streamlined benefits process—will be well worth the time.

 

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