Strategic Staffing and Recruiting Approaches to Open Enrollment

It’s never too early for health plans and insurers to begin preparing for open enrollment. A well-equipped team to navigate the intricate landscape of benefits administration is more than just a tactical maneuver, but rather an essential strategy to ensure open enrollment success.  From attracting top-tier talent to optimizing recruitment strategies, a strategic staffing approach is the foundation for maximizing efficiency and effectiveness during this critical period.

Start with the Right Structure

A successful staffing approach for open enrollment involves establishing a labor mix that fills all gaps and prepares the organization for contingencies but avoids excess hiring. What that entails may vary from one health plan to another, but it generally includes a combination of:

  • Credentialed and non-credentialed associates
  • On-site and off-site staff
  • Full-time, part-time, and temporary employees

The right labor mix presents several advantages that allow an organization to thrive during open enrollment. These include flexibility to scale as needed, the relative efficiency of hiring contingent workers compared to full-time staff, and the cost savings of supplementing a full-time and on-site workforce with contingent labor.

Business Strategy Alignment

During the early stages of open enrollment preparation, one critical step is to develop a complete staffing structure. That means having a detailed understanding of factors like:

  • Seasonal goals: Awareness of what an organization hopes to accomplish so an accurate timeline and inventory of requirements can be established.
  • Associated labor needs and costs: Assessing organizational setup and missing components that could prevent an organization from reaching its goals, as well as how much money is available to fill the gaps.
  • Onboarding: A staffing structure isn’t complete unless it addresses how an organization intends to socialize, train, and develop its hires.

With such a structure in place, an organization can approach the staffing process with the assurance that they are targeting its efforts at knowledgeable candidates who correspond with its philosophy — not to mention its budget.

The Value of Experience

In high-demand situations, like a surge in open enrollment, companies fare better with experienced staff. Experience provides employees with a degree of understanding about the open enrollment process that advice, descriptions, and manuals cannot convey. Because they have probably already experienced the most arduous travails of both the industry and the process, they require less in-depth training, which simplifies the onboarding. Not only that, but experience motivates employees to develop techniques for overcoming common challenges, and open enrollment offers plenty of those for health plans, clients, and consumers alike.

Critical Qualifications

Aside from the wisdom and industry savvy that comes with experience, an associate needs the right combination of hard and soft skills to excel during the intensive period of open enrollment. Broadly speaking, for open enrollment, organizations want candidates who embody the qualities of excellent customer service, with high-level competencies related to:

  • Interpersonal engagement
  • Verbal and written communication
  • Organization and time management
  • Multitasking and task prioritization
  • Technical skills with regard to computers, databases, and relevant software

Identifying qualified candidates in a diluted talent pool — much less engaging with them and persuading their consideration — is difficult enough on one’s own. That is why a partner who is an expert in the staffing process is so invaluable for building the workforce necessary to thrive during open enrollment.

Key Recruitment Strategies to Prepare for the Surge

Finding the right talent is a perpetual challenge. The difficulty lies both in numbers and in timing. Traditionally, when an organization is trying to fill gaps in its staff, it must rely on the talent pool as it exists at the time of recruitment, and the number of well-qualified candidates in the pool is often lacking. In such cases, the only resort is to hire the best candidate in the pool, even if they aren’t exactly a great match for the role. Perhaps the ideal candidate might have shown up later, but then it would have been too late.

In today’s employment marketplace, the most effective way to overcome talent shortages is to adopt innovative recruiting and hiring practices and typically entails any combination of the following:

  • Communication: Use of the preferred method of communication, as well as tactics to attract the right talent by standing out among the dozens of other communications and offers candidates receive every day.
  • Industry Pay Trends: Effective recruiting eventually involves a monetary offer, and making the right offer requires an understanding of the direction in which U.S. earnings, particularly those in the insurance industry, are trending.
  • Leveraging a Staffing Partner: The inherent limitations of traditional recruiting are why many organizations are leveraging a staffing partner. These recruitment experts provide a comprehensive solution allowing organizations to realize advantages such as flexibility, industry knowledge and expertise, faster and more affordable hiring, and identification of top talent among a shrinking candidate pool.

A New Way to Tackle Open Enrollment

For many health plan companies, the current approach to open enrollment is grossly inefficient. On average, enrollment requires organizations to increase their staffing levels by 600%1 if they are to meet the demands of the season. Given the high industry turnover rates, as well as the fact that much of the staff is temporary, these organizations are largely starting from scratch every year.

In addition to the costs associated with meeting the increased seasonal staffing demand, some health plan companies must also consider the cost of licensing Medicare agents across the 50 states and establishing the physical space required to house the on-site workforce. The cost of attracting and retaining top talent is rising, so the total cost to ramp up for the open enrollment surge could be considerable.

A smarter and more efficient strategy is absolutely vital for overcoming these concerns. It is important to establish the right labor mix to fill gaps and meet contingencies, as well as to control the costs and inefficiencies of annual ramping. For example, by incorporating off-site, unlicensed associates and building self-service features for basic inquiries, companies can avoid overspending on both staffing and accommodations. Should these associates encounter any higher-level issues, they can refer the clients to the licensed staff on-site.

That’s easier said than done, of course. And, again, scarcely is there a one-size-fits-all solution in this industry. Teaming up with a staffing expert is the key to realizing the best solution for annual ramp-up requirements. With a partner who understands the characteristics of the industry, the demands of open enrollment, and the qualities of top-tier candidates, an organization can build a flexible, adaptable workforce while reducing costs, increasing employee engagement, and realizing more client conversions.

The Final Word

Success during open enrollment requires planning, and planning requires an intelligent staffing plan. Seeking a well-considered labor mix allows organizations to cover all of their bases at the least cost, innovative hiring practices help attract and convert top talent, and efficient staffing solutions help to optimize their workforce and play to their strengths. This smart approach reduces the need to start a staff over every year, leading to accumulated savings of cost and energy and helping organizations not only survive the open enrollment surge but also thrive.

Read our tips on what to look for in a strategic staffing partner here:”Staffing for Open Enrollment Success: Four Must-Haves from Your Staffing Partner


1 Open Enrollment: Smart Seasonal Strategies That Drive More Conversions for Less.

TTEC, 2021.

Work with a Trusted Healthcare and Life Sciences Staffing Agency.

We help companies find great talent — and great talent find great jobs.