Originally posted on https://ebn.benefitnews.com.

‘Tis the open enrollment season in the benefits world. For many benefit managers, that means stress, panic and very long days (and nights). But there are ways to make this time of year less frantic and more productive.

1. Don’t go it alone.

HR cannot run open enrollment in a vacuum. So lean on consultants and communication pros to craft your messaging. Turn to senior leaders for top-down messaging on why changes are happening. Bring in your benefit vendors to explain the impact of changes and walk employees through the enrollment process. Like many things, open enrollment takes a village, so use yours.

2. Get your data ducks in a row.

Few things can set off a fire drill like systems crashing and just plain misbehaving – especially with online enrollment. Get ahead of the game by partnering with IT to determine how people will enroll, how data will be handled and how it needs to flow between departments (like HR and payroll). Map out contingency plans and decide who will be on point if things go awry.

3. Get real and get personal.

Be straight-up with employees about what’s changing, why and what they need to do. No spin. No sugar. If you’re making significant plan changes this year, use personas to help people understand how this will affect them. And provide decision guides that walk them through all the variables (particularly deductibles, co-payments, HSA contributions, covered services and provider network details) so they can make the best choice for themselves and their families.

4. Make it a conversation. Then listen hard.

We all put a ton of blood, sweat and tears into benefit planning and open enrollment communications – so much so, that it can become a bit of a one-way street. Keep in mind that this is a time when employees are sitting up straight and paying attention. Ask for their feedback. How do they feel about what’s changing? The benefits overall? Why? What could be done differently? Whether you’re talking with employees at a town hall, engaging with them over social media or asking for their honest responses to a survey, really listen to what they have to say, thoughtfully respond and act on their feedback as much as you can.

5. Start planning for next year now.

We know – right now, it’s all you can do to stay focused on the enrollment at hand. But it’s less daunting than it sounds: what we’re suggesting is that you take employee feedback and lessons learned from this enrollment period and start compiling them for next year. That might be possible benefit changes, new benefits to add or ways to communicate differently. You know what they say about the early bird … and in this case, the sooner you nail down what 12 months from now looks like, the more proactive (and effective) you’ll be when it comes to next year’s systems and communications.

6. Make it a challenge!

Why not make open enrollment fun – and an opportunity to earn points and prizes? Launch an Open Enrollment Challenge and reward employees for taking various actions, like attending an open enrollment info session, updating beneficiary details and enrolling by a certain date. Or plan an Open Enrollment Walk, where people can head out for a stroll with HR and colleagues, giving them an opportunity to ask benefit questions along the way (and make time afterward too).

7. Take care of you.

Although you may feel like you just don’t have time to take a break, right now you need it more than ever. Along with those enrollment meetings, town halls, social media replies and survey reviews, block time for yourself on the calendar. Go for a run, head out for a relaxing healthy lunch, read a great book, meditate, take a yoga class – whatever makes you happy and keeps you sane.