There are countless online employee benefits enrollment systems out there today. While each is designed to make our lives easier (employees, employers, insurance carriers, payroll providers and benefits advisors), some don't quite live up to the hype.
While the initial transition from paper enrollment to any one of these online enrollment systems typically yields tremendous upside from an efficiency, speed and data integrity perspective, it's highly unusual for an enrollment system to be fully optimized for peak performance at first launch.
Tweaking and perfecting the system in the quest to maximize performance and outcomes should be an ongoing activity within your organization. Most agree that the goal of optimizing these systems is to make them as easy and intuitive as possible for your employees to use, while also guiding educated, informed and appropriate employee benefit decisions for your workforce.
Much of what’s considered “best practice” in online benefits enrollment has been adopted from best practices in eCommerce. After all, enrolling in benefits these days isn't that far off from purchasing something off Amazon, comparing cars at AutoTrader, or configuring a laptop at Dell.
While this list is by no means complete, here are some best practices you should consider adopting to optimize the configuration of your online benefits enrollment system for peak performance.
Capitalize on Nudge Theory
While "nudge theory" won Richard Thaler a Nobel prize in economics, the concept is quite simple. It’s a subtle policy shift that encourages people to make decisions that are in their broad self-interest.
Put into practice, it simply means using "opt-out" as the default option for certain benefit selections. This requires someone to actively deselect an option. Failure to do so results in auto-enrollment in that benefit. A great example of nudging is pre-selecting a 3% contribution into an employee's 401(k) vs. leaving the field blank. This simple change will have a massive impact on 401(k) participation.
Don’t take our word for it. When the United Kingdom switched from "opt-in" to "opt-out" as their default option for pension savings among government employees, active membership in their pension program jumped from 2.7 million to 7.7 million participants in five years.
Organ donation is another example where a nudge policy has proved invaluable. Following Spain's lead many years ago, several countries as well as several U.S states have switched to an opt-out policy for organ donation. With this shift in policy, Spain is now the world’s leader in organ donation.
Nudge theory has its critics, who argue that the policy is pushing someone towards something against their will, though the same can be said for leaving an option unselected. After all, who is to say that the vast majority of your employees don’t actually want to participate in your 401(k)?
Pay Attention To Sequencing
Intuitive design often boils down to the order in which you put information. Does the flow of your online benefit enrollment system make sense? Are people logically advancing from one enrollment page to another. Are efficiencies being gained by the order in which you've placed things? Are you putting the most important decisions upfront where someone's attention is greatest?
Think about the way you file your personal taxes. If you prepare them through an online system like TurboTax, you typically begin with federal taxes, then state, then local. It makes the most sense to do it this way because federal information is the most complex. Once complete, relevant entries then cascade through state and local tax forms. You’re filling out information one time, rather than three. This delivers efficiencies and also improves data integrity.
The same goes for your online enrollment system with your employee benefits administration software. You should solicit responses first in areas where the Information can be used in multiple places. This information should then be automatically populated into each relevant benefit enrollment area throughout the rest of the process.
Along the same lines, don’t save Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for the very end, when people are likely to be tired and ready to quit. It’s best to include them just after or in conjunction with the medical plan selection so you can illustrate how these tax-advantaged accounts work for each particular health plan selection.
Pre-populate Data From Prior Enrollments
If your online employee benefits enrollment system allows for it, make sure you allow employees to view their out-of-pocket expense totals from the previous plan year so they can more easily determine what they should contribute to their FSA or HSA in the coming year. At a minimum, try to show them the amount they contributed the year prior.
Suggest Bundles Where It Makes Sense
Where possible, consider offering plan bundles, which help guide the enrollee as to which products make sense to purchase together. For example, consider offering an accident, critical illness, and HDHP bundle since those products tend to work very well together.
Embed Help & Assistance Throughout The Experience
Your employees will inevitably have questions while using your online benefits enrollment system. It’s critical that you have resources to help them so they can keep moving through the process.
While it’s great (and a given) to create a central help area with helpful search and browse functionality, it’s far more effective to place necessary information directly in the critical path. In this way, employees can watch videos, look-up definitions, and learn what they need without having to navigate away from your online benefits enrollment system. Employees may also be more likely to engage with this type of content if they don’t have to navigate away from the page and risk losing any work they’ve already completed.
If this isn’t possible, at least configure your online benefits enrollment system to open additional browser tabs or pop-up interstitials when someone is seeking information. This is another effective way to provide peace of mind to the enrollee that they won’t lose their way, or their data.
A robust help section is also really important for spouses who may be the key decision makers when it comes to benefits enrollment. They’ll be enrolling from home, perhaps in the evening or on the weekends and won’t have the luxury of pausing to email or call you. They’ll need answers on the spot, not the following Monday.
Take Advantage of Customization to Eliminate Confusion
One of the best features of an online benefits enrollment systems is the customization and personalization it allows. In this way you can ensure that employees are only exposed to the benefits for which they’re eligible, and at the appropriate rates. In this way there aren't inequities visible to everyone which only serve to ruffle feathers.
If senior management receives a richer 401(k) match, a different employer contribution to premium, or a different PTO schedule, you can program your benefits enrollment system to only show what's relevant. The same for benefit differences at employee class, tenure and location, etc. The intent is not to be secretive, but rather, to cut down on confusion.
Obtain Commitments Now For Actions Later
It's also a good idea to obtain commitments/selections now for benefit options in which the employee may not qualify until sometime in the future. For example, if you have a 6-month or 1-year waiting period before you’ll start matching a portion of your employees' 401(k)s contributions, you could offer a delayed participation option in the event an employee wants to wait until then to begin contributing.
- Save & Return Functionality: Allow employees the opportunity to “save and return later” throughout the process. Benefits enrollment can be a lengthy process and quite often, the enrollee doesn’t have the required information to complete enrollment, such as the social security numbers of dependents. They might also need to do some comparisons between your health insurance offerings and their spouses, to make sure they’re choosing the best one for their families.
- Printer Friendly Pages: Make sure all your benefits pages are formatted to be printer-friendly. Benefits terminology and concepts are oftentimes dense, so some will want to print things out so they can share the information and consult with others, or simply to save for reference later on.
- Self-Serve Password Reset: Try your hardest to allow for self-serve password resets. Most of the time you can achieve this by simply adding a series of security questions to the password reset (or username reminder) protocol.
- Confirmation Emails: Upon completion of online benefits enrollment, automatically send enrollees a confirmation email, which also summarizes their benefit selections. Remind them in this document of the deadline to report and fix enrollment errors. This is also a good place to remind them of the rules surrounding changes in benefits and what constitutes a Qualifying Life Event (QLE).
Online Benefits Enrollment Systems Are Here To Stay
It wasn't that long ago that companies avoided using online benefits enrollment systems due to overwhelming cost, complexity and security concerns. Today's technically-savvy workforce and hyper-competitive systems environment has changed all that. In fact, nearly 75 percent of U.S. companies now utilize online-based benefits enrollment systems.
If you are still using a paper enrollment process, you owe it to yourself to explore automated options. They are much more affordable than you may think and will pay for themselves many times over once you take into account the administrative burdens they remove.
If you're already on an automated employee benefits enrollment system but don't know if your platform is optimized for peak performance, give us a call for a tune-up.You’ll be grateful you did!
What are you doing to optimize your online benefits enrollment system? Leave us a comment below or contact us. We’d love to hear what’s working for you!