Well, here we are. Again. I can see July 4th in the rear view mirror and Labor Day straight ahead. And while I delight in the prospect of fall’s cool breezes and retrieving my suede boots from storage, I don’t always feel the same about one of the season’s staples: Open Enrollment.
Not to sound negative, I always appreciate a challenge. That’s why my job is so right for me. But everything in moderation. And you and I both know: Open Enrollment is about a lot of things, but moderation is NOT one of them—especially if your job is to educate employees about their benefits AND move them to action by X date. (No pressure.)
For our part, with our clients’ final decisions often coming in at the last minute, we essentially have four to 10 weeks to create full-scale campaigns for each of them. In the world of benefits communications, that’s like five seconds.
The good news is, we do more than just get through it every year. You should see our team’s work – it’s fantastic, says the proud parent who birthed none of it. I am amazed at what they’re able to do on a dime. Granted, it can get stressful, but hey, that’s what I’m here for: To help keep them grounded. With that said, here’s some of what I do to keep us all off the ledge during our busiest time of the year. Perhaps it can help you and your team as well!
- I put my oxygen mask on first. As the group leader, my meltdown comes now—in private—before all the madness ensues. If I complain to my husband a ton, lose plenty of sleep, and binge eat now, it will be well out of my system, leaving me free to be there for the team when they need me most.
- We plan early. In June, I gathered my team to talk about how we’ll approach the season. We debriefed on last year’s experience, applied lessons learned, and assigned roles, back-up roles, back-ups for the back-ups, and systems for making a go of things. It’s a very left-brain experience that’s designed to lay the foundation for what follows; it’s also a great way to kick off the season.
- Everybody gets a vacation. It is summer after all, so I tell my people to go, be free, to enjoy the beach, the mountains, their sofas, Netflix, and/or prolonged periods of drool sleep. All I ask is that they stay off of email (and wear sunscreen, of course). And if they must, only chime in when they see our “safe” word in the email subject line, like, for example, “HELP!!!!!!” (Sometimes functionality trumps creativity.) The goal is to get some space so they come back ready to rule the world.
- We do fun things together. Among other things, every August, we go to a Phillies game. It’s less about whether they’re having a good season and more about being together — bonding, eating hot dogs, and rooting for the home team.
- I plan cool things! Just after Labor Day, I roll out a series of activities designed to infuse silly time into what’s otherwise a horse-race of an experience. For example, I give the team a three-word clue on Monday about an item I’ll give each of them on Friday (e.g., a mug, a shark-inspired shot glass, or a pair of “Bazinga” socks in homage to the Big Bang Theory—a team favorite). Then they have all week to guess what it is. Or, whoever has the best Open Enrollment-related story wins a gift card. Things like this help to lighten the mood when the pressure is at fever pitch.
- I help people find their way from liquid to solid. It’s inevitable: Between August and November, someone on the team will come into my office and tell me the time of day. They need more time to make that benefits guide Louvre worthy. They can’t find a translation service that knows Javanese. The printer’s gone AWOL. They ran out of soft pretzels at the deli downstairs. They were abused as a child. Whatever it is, they melt down. It’s okay and, for some, a necessary part of the whole shebang. The good news is we haven’t lost anybody yet.
- Carbohydrates. Several times a week. Need I say more?
So how are you planning to get through it all? Meditation? Project management software? Brownies? Feel free to borrow some of my suggestions. And, if you’re willing, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share yours – I’m always open to suggestions! Thanks and Godspeed!