Podcast-Eligible: New Host, New Open Enrollment Strategies

We're finally back - and with a new co-host! Sean and his new partner Brad tackle what to look out for this open enrollment season and what all FSA/HSA users should know before they contribute this season! We also have a sit down with personal finance writer Zina Kumok, who provides firsthand tips for HSA users.

Also, we add a roundup of our favorite product picks and the usual banter you've come to expect from Podcast Eligible.

This episode's product picks

Caring Mill Back to School Bundle

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And as always, for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Fridays (with Benefits) - Is talking benefits really THAT bad for employees?

We're right on the verge of open enrollment season, and as much as we may love helping working professionals out with their benefits, we're increasingly learning that talking benefits ranks pretty low for enjoyable activities for most people. We're talking really low.

One in Three U.S. Employees Would Rather Talk About Their Weight Than Their Employer-Offered Benefits - MetLife, Business Wire

According to a new survey sponsored by MetLife that analyzed the actions and prevailing thinking of working professionals around open enrollment, despite how important these decisions are for workers' health and finances, there is little excitement to be had around this time of year. In fact, nearly half dread the open enrollment process as much as asking their boss for a raise, and an astounding 33% would rather talk about their weight than their employee benefits.

Some other metrics that came out of the survey should be enough to keep human resources reps up at night. One in five workers only spend a few minutes on their benefits offerings before making a decision for the year, while respondents said that activities that were preferred slightly higher than the open enrollment process including renewing a passport or driver's license. But any way you slice it, it's not a good report for employee enthusiasm around benefits decisions.

How to improve employee morale this open enrollment

At, open enrollment is one of our favorite times of the year so we have no idea how to relate to these responses, but this isn't our first benefits rodeo. It can take some extra effort on the employer's/HR department's part to really get people on board. Here are a few suggestions from SHRM:

Don't spring it on them!

Advanced communication is key for helping employees get into the swing of things for open enrollment. And no, that doesn't mean boring boardroom meetings. Give workers supplements that they can review on their own time that allows them to compare plans and options so they can find the appropriate level of coverage for themselves and their dependents.

Focus on people

Whether your workforce trends toward younger workers with less experience in benefits election or well-established workers who may be more set in their ways, a "one-size-fits-all" communication strategy doesn't work for anyone. Make HR available early and often during the open enrollment process so workers can talk over their benefits options and have an informed opinion when it's time to choose a plan.

Cost savings

What can really get employees excited for open enrollment is finding out how much money they can save over the course of the year. Specifically, calculators for FSA or HSA users are extremely helpful in giving employees a view into how much their contributions will affect their yearly tax savings and estimating how much they'll spend on health care expenses in the coming year. If you know there's a chance you can save hundreds with a different plan, that's a better way to look at open enrollment.

Eligible essentials

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Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Fridays (with Benefits) - Better benefits through data

Data is everywhere. This isn't exactly "news." Mostly about how Big Data is affecting large industries. But we haven't heard much about how localized data can help smaller companies leverage the same types of insights, scaled to their specific needs.

This week, we look at an article that highlights an HR professional who leveraged her own love of data analysis to better craft employee benefit plans at her company. What might be the most interesting is how much of the data she uses is qualitative, addressing the targeted needs of people.

How one HR pro uses data to increase benefit utilization - Nick Otto, Employee Benefit News

Misty Guinn, the director of benefits and wellness at Benefitfocus, calls herself a "data nerd." Yet, HR hasn't traditionally been a line of work that relied heavily on deeper metrics -- even at a company that provides benefits services to other organizations.

And what struck her the most was how it seemed that her company's employees knew more about other people's benefits than their own. So, she tore down the existing model and built a new internal benefits education plan that treated the company's own workers like the customers they serve.

The result? An Employee Benefit News' 2019 Judges' Choice Benny Award.

Guinn's new approach was people-focused, aiming to ensure an entire wellness strategy -- physical, mental, emotional, financial and purpose-driven needs. These plans and options were crafted by analyzing the data at hand.

We won't get too deep into the specifics, but the data was telling, giving Guinn the insights necessary to rework entire communications plans, increasing engagement before, during and after open enrollment. She knew that employees were often confused by the wealth of benefits options in front of them, never making the most of what was offered.

Even more telling, by analyzing her company's enrollment data, Guinn saw ways to optimize benefits offerings by life accomplishments and milestones -- having children, buying homes, paying for college, etc. Not only did she make it easier for employees to understand their options, but also continued education and communication through these life-changing events.

Even for employees who aren't undergoing these changes, Guinn's data allowed her to create a thematic approach to internal communications, centering her outreach on awareness months, national observances and the like.

With these overhauls, Benefitfocus saw a 72% adoption rate into its high deductible health plans during the 2019 open enrollment period, above the national average of 25 to 30%. Additionally, there was a 27% increase in employee contributions to health savings accounts.

Yeah, this is the type of data we like to hear. Check out the rest of the article to hear more about how Guinn and Benefitfocus leveraged data to transform benefits into a personal journey.

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Fridays (with Benefits) - Summer is actually a perfect time for benefits planning

It's hard to believe, but we're about a week away from September. Back-to-school is in full swing, and Labor Day barbecue menus are already being planned. And that means open enrollment discussions are going to happen sooner rather than later.

But, as we learned in this guest post in HR Technologist, it's possible these conversations should have already started. It seems that late summer -- July, August and September -- is the best time of year to start prepping employees for benefits selection. Let's see what's up.

HR Shopping: Why Summer is Benefits Season - Rachel Lyubovitzky, EverythingBenefits (posted on HR Technologist)

According to EverythingBenefits' platform data, summer is the busiest time of year for benefits providers and exchanges, with 70-75% of businesses entering the process at this time. The question is, "why?"

Because there's much bigger decisions to make, and more benefits options to choose from than ever before. We've come a long way from "medical/dental/vision" coverage being enough to lure and retain quality workers. So HR pros have to be extra diligent in educating, explaining and enrolling employees in the right packages.

Here are some of the things the author feels are most-pressing in the eyes of HR professionals:

Modern benefit types

When we say "modern" we're not just expecting an app or online portal. Instead, millennial and Gen-Z employees are looking for more tangible things to improve their quality of life. Things like college loan reimbursement, elder care and even PET insurance are all desirable… and now they're on the benefits buffet at open enrollment.

Regulatory changes

HR professionals are busy enough without having to deal with the onslaught of new and changing health care policies. And before they can help workers navigate the often turbulent benefits waters, they need to make sure benefits packages are compliant, both for the present and the future.

By starting this preparation earlier in the year, HR pros are able to stay on top of these changes, while factoring in the needs and desires of their companies' workforces.

The article goes on to explain how artificial intelligence (AI) can play a role in facilitating the role of HR administrator, so they spend less time learning benefits offerings, and more time addressing the human needs and concerns. That IS a big part of the job, after all.


Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Fridays (with Benefits) - Are you getting full value from your benefits?

It's hard to imagine anyone making benefits "mistakes." When open enrollment comes, you just choose the best possible plan for you and move on with your day, right? If only things were that easy…

As we've discussed several times in this column, choosing the right benefits plan can be more difficult than you think, and can even be costly to employees, especially if they're not properly trained on their options. In this week's headline, Bob Armour from BenefitsPRO gets into some communication problems that could be hurting employee benefits, and suggests concrete ways to fix them.

5 benefits mistakes that cost employees - Bob Armour, BenefitsPRO

It seems like once benefits are chosen, employees are largely left to their own devices from that point forward. One of the things that stood out about this piece is how the author goes beyond benefits selection, and points out ways that companies can expand employee education to include spending advice, retirement planning and even wellness program engagement.

We obviously can't cover all of the article's points (that's why we included the link!). But here are some key takeaways from Armour's piece:

It should be a two-way conversation

When it comes to first choosing benefits, Armour points out how jargon can intimidate employees before they even start the selection process. Instead, he suggests opening the discussion with definitions to level the playing field between the benefits professional and the employee.

After that, he mentions how selection works best when key messaging points are communicated appropriately for different employee groups. Not just by professional tiers, but also by life stages -- recent hires vs. long-tenured employees, single vs. married, etc.

While all employees will have equal opportunities (obviously), different groups will have different needs, and using the same communication strategies might not resonate across the board.

Employees need to learn how to use benefits, not just choose them

Whether it's budgeting strategies for HDHP enrollees, or making regular health care recommendations (e.g. telemedicine vs. office visits, urgent care centers vs. visiting the ER) employees can benefit from ongoing communications with their administrators.

The truth is, many benefits options go largely unused once open enrollment is over. Things like wellness rewards programs, retirement planning training, debt management advice, or other perks need to remain front and center for employees, or they may quickly be forgotten. By making benefits perks seem important -- maybe reminding them that payroll deductions are already paying for them -- employees are more likely to take advantage of things that can improve their overall wellness.

These are just a few of the many takeaways Armour included in the article. And what we appreciated most about the piece was that even though it's from a publication aimed at benefits professionals, employees stand to gain just as much from reading it, maybe taking a few tips into their own open enrollment conversations this fall.


Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Fridays (with Benefits) - Communication can make-or-break your open enrollment

Yes it's still the middle of July, but we in the benefits industry run on a different calendar, and this time of year we're in the thick of open enrollment planning. For FSA users, this is a critical time to calculate your yearly contribution and make any necessary changes to your account before re-enrolling. FSA users tend to be benefits pros, but what about everyone else? The key ingredient to a successful open enrollment is communication - early and often!

Employee engagement: Why it matters for workers enrolling in benefits - Evelina Nedlund, Employee Benefit News

This week, we're taking a closer look at an Employee Benefit News interview with Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, a non-profit business membership and research group organization, on the subject of open enrollment engagement. She had 3 interesting takeaways that every HR rep should stand up and take notice of:

Employees DO care about their benefits

While blank stares are common during most open enrollment presentations, research shows that employee benefits are massively important to workers. Benefits are part and parcel why your employees consider a place a great place to work, and they need to know how they can navigate them to get the maximum return from their hard work. It's not just another event on the calendar - it's pivotal for the entire employee base.

Employers need to take a larger role

Benefits administrators are key in communicating how benefits fit into a worker's overall financial picture, but employers have to do their part to open up these discussions to a larger audience. In addition to traditional benefits presentations, open forums where employees from all backgrounds can ask questions that go beyond the standard "what will my co-pay be?" shows that the company cares not only about work-life balance, but helping them achieve goals that extend outside of the office.

Student debt is a major issue to consider

Millennials make up the largest segment of today's workforce, but many are far more concerned with paying off their student loans than contributing to a retirement account. This is a wholly unique new trend for employers and benefit administrators to tackle, and one that will only become more relevant each year.

Financial wellness programs have become a common trend to help millennials better plan their finances and make the right choices for the future, but it shouldn't stop at one group. Workers at various life stages have all manner of important financial decisions to make, so offering these programs to multiple generations can give workers the tools and know-how they need to make smart financial decisions as they relate to their benefits choices.


Fridays (with Benefits) is a weekly roundup of the latest headlines about employee benefits -- from FSAs to fitness programs and everything workplace wellness. It appears every Friday, exclusively on the Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.