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Easing stress during open enrollment

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Posted October 11, 2011 by Bryan Brenner at 07:28AM. Comments (26)

Open Enrollment. Those two words are at once frightful and insightful. It’s a time when you’re able to make decisions with clients and do the work you love to do, but it’s also filled with late nights, long meetings, and at times, intense frustration.

Research has shown that the open enrollment period also is a time of added stress for employers seeking to protect their financial health while offering a cost-effective and robust health plan for their employees. Given the static economy, employees are worried about rising insurance premiums and the effect on their livelihood.

It’s a double-edged sword.

The weight of that employer and employee strain rests squarely on the shoulders of benefit consultants and brokers charged with finding a health care and welfare benefit platform that pleases both parties – a stressful task indeed.

As a way to ensure a smooth open enrollment process, it’s crucial to have a strategy in place. Here are eight ways to ease the stress level during this hectic time:

1. Plan Early

It goes without saying, but by having a plan for renewal schedules, ID card delivery, and decision dates, you can stay ahead of the curve. Even if you’re just planning a week ahead, it’s better than taking things as they come at you.

2. Create Transparency

If you can, map out important dates in a common place – maybe it’s an Intranet, or maybe it’s as simple as a poster board. Are the deadlines being met? Is everyone doing their part? Transparency builds accountability and a sense of teamwork.

3. Delegate

If there are functions of your role you can get help with and gain bandwidth, do so. Ask yourself what it is that you do that only you can do – and go down from there.

4. Hold People Accountable…

It’s not easy to ask people the hard questions – especially internally. If deadlines are frequently being missed by a team member, stop and ask what’s going on. You might find out that things are different or more difficult than you thought.

5. …But Be Realistic

Things will happen that get in your way. Miscommunication is most likely the case. Be prepared to be flexible and adapt to the situation.

6. Keep Your Attitude in Check

Your attitude, positive or negative, will influence those around you. If you’re having a bad day, do what you can to be a good sport for those around you. You’ve heard the expression “fake it ‘til you make it” – it holds true here too.

7. Recognize Success

If a member of your team has done something well – tell people about it. Try not to be so busy that you neglect the excellent work that those around you are getting done.

8. Debrief

It’s all too easy to bid good riddance to Open Enrollment season and move on to your next project. But take some time and reflect on what went well – and more importantly – what didn’t. Asking your clients the same thing will allow you to improve things for next year.

So there you have it. A few tips to keep everyone on an even keel so that when you make presentations to employers and employees, the stress doesn’t show.

When the open enrollment period is over, you’ll feel better about your performance and confident that your clients have at their fingertips the best strategy available.

Brenner is chief executive of FirstPerson, a consulting firm based in Indianapolis that creates customized employee health care and welfare benefit programs.

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