What is a Typical Open Enrollment Period? 10 Stats for Your Plan to Consider

Open enrollment may be the biggest challenge of human resources (HR) and benefits offices across the U.S., and it’s coming soon! The headaches are countless: workers not reading their communication materials, the efforts of communicating to workers at multiple locations and a general lack of time and resources.

In a recent survey, the International Foundation sought to provide useful benchmarking data relevant to this hectic time. Trends in Benefit Open Enrollment and Communication: 2020 Survey Report took a deep dive into open enrollment, covering the use of budgets, timing and duration, top challenges faced, effective strategies, targeted groups and more.

While no two open enrollment periods are ever the same, we hope these stats can help make your process a bit more smooth.

What is a Typical Open Enrollment Period? 10 Stats for Your Plan to Consider

Presence of Open Enrollment

More than nine in ten (95%) responding organizations have an open enrollment period. Open enrollment periods are more likely among corporate/single employer (99%) and public employer plans (98%), compared with multiemployer funds (64%).

Use of Budgets

About half (49%) of responding organizations have a specific budget for open enrollment communication. More than 12% of those organizations with a budget noted that their budget has increased from the previous year, while 10% noted a decrease. Seven in ten (70%) had no change in budget from their previous open enrollment period.

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Open Enrollment Timing

More than three in four (77%) responding organizations begin their open enrollment periods in either October (34%) or November (43%). The remaining 23% of responding organizations’ enrollment-period starts are distributed relatively evenly across the remaining ten months.

Open Enrollment Duration

More than one-half (52%) of responding organizations have an open enrollment period that lasts two weeks. Three- (24%) and four-week (17%) open enrollment periods are also common.

Methods for Submitting Updates

About three in four (75%) respondents have their workers make open enrollment changes online/virtually, while 12% give their workers the choice between making changes online/virtually or using hard copy documents. Most organizations using virtual open enrollment have been doing so for several years. About two in five (39%) have offered this option for six or more years.

Top Communication Challenges Faced

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HR and benefits departments face a wide variety of challenges in their open enrollment communication. Challenges include participants not opening/reading communication materials (76%), communicating to deskless/nonwired participants (44%), participants who do not access open enrollment resources (37%) and communicating benefit information to participants at multiple locations (26%).

Communication Channels Used

The most commonly used open enrollment communication channels (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) include email (79%), internal websites (74%), on-site meetings (60%), print materials mailed to homes (53%) and posters/signage in common areas (49%).

Communication Strategies Used

In addition to the channels used, respondents were asked about specific strategies used for open enrollment. The most common include automated email marketing campaigns (34%); personalized communication channels (32%); leveraging word of mouth via stewards, champions or peers (30%); and engaging spouses/dependents with communications (25%).

Targeted Groups

Respondents target a number of specific worker groups in their communication efforts. Targeted groups include deskless/nonwired workers (34%) and workers at satellite offices or stores (32%) as well as workers categorized by employment status (e.g., part-time, full-time, active, retired) (35%), age (21%) and life stage (e.g., new parents, preretirement) (18%).

Effectiveness of Open Enrollment Efforts

Despite the myriad challenges faced during open enrollment periods, organizations overwhelmingly rate their efforts as effective. More than nine in ten (92%) rate their efforts as either very (27%) or somewhat (65%) effective. The challenges are many, but you are doing great! Keep up the good work.

Learn More

The new International Foundation report, Trends in Benefit Open Enrollment and Communication, discusses best practices for year-round benefit communication and communication related specifically to open enrollment as well as how organizations are adjusting their communication efforts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. International Foundation members can download the full report at www.ifebp.org/communicatingbenefits.

Trends in Benefit Open Enrollment and Communication 2020 Survey Report

Justin Held, CEBS
Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation 

The latest from Word on Benefits:

Justin Held, CEBS

Senior Research Analyst at the International Foundation

Favorite Foundation Service: Foundation Research Surveys


Benefits Related Topics That Interest Him Most: Behavioral economics, socially responsible investing, apprenticeship training


Personal Insight: Justin loves everything baseball, visiting and checking off ballparks as he travels. In this free time, he enjoys hiking at national parks, cycling and reading about U.S. history.

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