Just as most employers achieve smooth digital information-sharing and online support for open enrollment, along comes generative AI. Artificial intelligence offers employees support at a new level to make smart benefit choices while reducing the burden on HR staff — if the HR team can take advantage of the technology.
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Author: Edward F. Barry


Stress for HR teams typically peaks during open enrollment (OE) — and for good reason. Employees expect access to the open enrollment process from anywhere at any time during the enrollment period. In November 2023, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) cited a study by HR technology service provider isolved in which 64% of respondents said a poor open enrollment experience would cause them to seek new employment. The results underscore that even those not looking for a new job can become disengaged and dissatisfied with their employer.

Deciding whether and how best to use AI for benefits selection can present its own source of stress. However, the steps for delivering a successful and low-stress open enrollment have not changed. Here are five best practices to prepare for this year's OE.

1. Test your platform

Even if you've used the same platform for several years, offerings constantly evolve with new plans or voluntary benefits, different eligibility rules and rate changes. Block time on your calendar for testing, to include test cases that mimic your C-suite and VIPs.

Depending on the organization's size and the complexity of benefits, a full day to one week of testing should suffice. Don't assume you can squeeze this due diligence in between other priorities. Failure to test your platform thoroughly will reveal problems during OE or soon after, creating a much bigger headache than carving time out of your schedule now. Your service provider can suggest the best ways to test your technology. Read our article on avoiding the cost and pain of benefit administration errors.

2. Allow sufficient time with provider to do OE right

A rushed open enrollment set-up and testing period presents a recipe for disaster. Technology providers typically use a standard timeframe for implementation and set-up based on the requirements for a smooth OE. If circumstances don't allow you to adhere to their timeframe because you've recently moved to a new platform, changed carriers or made numerous plan changes, you may experience glitches.

Some providers offer an OE assistance package to facilitate loading new rates, eligibility groups and benefit classes. Regardless, give your provider adequate time to clean up the issues your testing uncovers. We've heard from providers industry-wide that lining up resources to support file feeds is one of the biggest pain points this year. Enter your work ticket at the first opportunity your provider allows to ensure adequate OE support and to reduce the risk of not having file feeds in time for your enrollment launch.

3. Create a timeline and involve internal stakeholders

A successful OE consists of many moving parts — some managed outside the HR department such as deduction files (payroll) and carrier bills (finance). Engage these stakeholders early in your planning process and timeline development. Remember, they may have their own projects underway at the same time as OE. Failure to involve internal stakeholders can lead to file errors that result in incorrect paychecks and miscalculated payments. Once you've developed your timeline with stakeholder input, share it so everyone's on the same page.

4. Expect challenges and maintain perspective

Problems surface even during the best-planned enrollment periods. Keep a balanced perspective. OE is about providing employees access to healthcare and other benefits when they need it. Unless the issue affects the ability of employees to get coverage or financially impacts billing and payroll deductions, a glitch is not an emergency.

Tech providers can rectify most problems relatively quickly, and your calm interaction will help make that happen. The fourth quarter is the most popular time for OE. Everyone in the enrollment ecosystem (employers, tech providers, carriers and benefit advisors) balances a full plate, so resources are stretched thin. Be patient.

5. Give extra thought to employee communications

Use all available channels to communicate with employees about their benefits, especially if you cannot hold in-person meetings. For example, the virtual benefits fair you rolled during the pandemic still has value. Consider whether you want to use push or text messaging. Will plan changes generate more employee questions than usual? Have you purchased enough call center minutes from your benefits enrollment platform provider? Or, if using a human capital management platform, do you need a call center to support your communications plan?

Ask your Gallagher benefits advisor to discuss options. Share your communications plan with your tech provider to avoid customer support problems. Providers don't have unlimited capacity but will do their best to support your communications plan if you give them advance notice.

Using AI to reduce stress during open enrollment

The following five tips will go a long way to reducing the likelihood of problems with open enrollment. This year may be particularly stressful for those considering using generative AI to enhance the OE experience. Consider the following to reduce stress:

  • Use ChatGPT or another generative AI tool to summarize key points for your employees to help them quickly digest options. Be sure a human carefully reviews the points for accuracy.
  • Similarly, use AI to draft your employee communications and create the desired tone of your messaging. Again, review for accuracy.
  • If you have call center data from previous OE periods, use AI to generate questions and answers based on the most frequently asked questions, or create a Q&A specific to a new offering.
  • Find out whether and how your call center uses AI. While the technology primarily benefits your tech provider, you may find real-time data analytics that provide valuable insight into employee choices.
  • After OE closes, AI can deliver insights on segmentation and analysis to help identify opportunities within your employee population, and help you plan for next year.

If thinking about AI creates stress, don't worry — you're not alone. There's no need to incorporate AI this year but consider investing time to learn and experiment in a safe environment. As they say, AI won't take your job, but the HR professional who knows how to use AI may. Listen to the first in a series of "conversations" between myself and my colleague Rebecca Starr, as we explore using AI in HR, starting with the basics.

If your organization needs support in planning and executing a successful open enrollment of your employee benefits program, Gallagher is here to help.

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Consulting and insurance brokerage services to be provided by Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. and/or its affiliate Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. is a licensed insurance agency that does business in California as "Gallagher Benefit Services of California Insurance Services" and in Massachusetts as "Gallagher Benefit Insurance Services." Neither Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., nor its affiliates provide accounting, legal or tax advice.