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Published October 23, 2023

Conquer the Stresses of Open Enrollment With These Tips for HR Pros

Stressed woman in professional setting

Open enrollment season has arrived for many U.S. companies, and if you are responsible for managing your organization’s benefits program, you already know how stressful this time of year can be. The tasks and responsibilities involved with guiding your colleagues through this process can unfortunately have a major impact on your physical, mental and emotional health. And you know that each year presents its own unique challenges.

To help benefits administrators navigate this challenging period, we have some guidance for promoting your overall wellbeing throughout the open enrollment timeframe.

Recognizing Signs of Stress

If you’re an HR pro, you already recognize the stresses and challenges that come with your role. This time of year, it can feel like a whirlwind of stress and pressure — you’re searching for candidates to fill an open role, dealing with the demands of leadership and trying to build and maintain a great organizational culture, all while juggling the challenges of open enrollment.

A recent survey found 98% of HR professionals have felt burned out at work in the last six months, while a separate survey reported that 43% consider planning or managing benefits to be one of the most stressful parts of their job.

Dealing with stress is impossible if you can’t recognize the differences between routine challenges of the job and feeling truly overwhelmed. Some of the short-term warning signs of excessive work-related stress can include [1]:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Neck, back or chest pain
  • Elevated heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite, or overeating comfort or convenience foods
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Anxiety

If you don’t deal with stress, the long-term impact on the body and mind can be even more significant [2]. Each of the short-term issues listed above can lead to more serious health issues over time. For example, difficulty sleeping for months will greatly impair your body’s ability to heal and recover. High blood pressure could lead to heart attack or stroke. Chronic stress can even impair your immune system, causing you to be more susceptible to illness [3].

It often seems those who help others have the most trouble asking for help themselves. In the next section, we’ll cover some techniques and practices to help manage work-related stresses.

Managing Stress

In the moment, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to solve a problem, even when you may not have an immediate solution. That feeling of being overwhelmed can be a lot to handle. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing stress. Understand that the guidance below can provide benefits, but what works for you may not work for another.

Use Your Support Network
Remember that you are not alone, even when it may feel like it, and that the best solution to dealing with stress is working with others to solve the problems causing tension in the first place. Any problem can seem overwhelming when you don’t see a clear solution. But sometimes, just talking through a challenge with a trusted colleague or even a loved one can provide clarity and give you an opportunity to view a setback with a little more insight.

Practice Self-Care
Self-care takes many different forms, but regardless of how you like to relax and pamper yourself, it’s important all the same. It doesn’t have to be a spa day or lighting candles by the bubble bath. Maybe it’s taking a weekend trip to see family or just spending time with friends at a concert or sporting event. Whatever it is that brings you happiness and gives you a break from the stresses of your personal or professional life, make sure you take the time to invest in yourself.

Exercise has been proven to help manage both acute and chronic stress [4]. It has also been shown to cancel out some of the long-term effects of stress, such as a diminished immune system [5]. It also provides a break from stressors and an opportunity to recharge while your mind is focused on your workout or activity.

It’s important to find something you enjoy doing — if you don’t enjoy running, for instance, a 30-minute jog will probably just stress you out even more. Know your strengths and interests, and try many different things to find an activity that suits your preferences.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully conscious and aware of where you are, what you’re doing and taking the time to process your surroundings instead of being reactive [6].

Think of a time when you’ve experienced a setback or hurdle and reacted with frustration. Mindfulness is when we seek balance in those moments and experience them rationally, not emotionally. When we are mindful, we are able to reduce stress, enhance our performance, gain insight and have awareness of our own wellbeing.

Studies support this practice: reframing your thoughts can help you reduce stress. Next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or reacting strongly to a setback, try to take a moment to process these feelings logically, rather than emotionally.

Box Breathing
This yoga technique is employed by many athletes and is even incorporated into training for Navy SEALs. It could also be considered a form of mindfulness. The practice is simple; do each of the following while slowly counting to four.

  • Breathe in through your nose
  • Pause and hold your breath
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth
  • Pause and hold your breath

Repeat this several times, giving focus and attention to your breathing. Studies show that regulating your breath can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and reduce heart rate because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, controlling the body’s ability to relax.

Regulating your breathing can have a calming effect, and directing your mind to focus on the four-count, as well as feeling the air enter and exit your body, can take your mind off external stressors. Practice this skill: working on it can prepare you to experience its benefits in times of hardship. It can even be a great practice to calm down and evict busy thoughts before bed.

Taking Breaks
Knowing your own best practices for productivity at work can present its own unique challenge. No matter your preferences, one thing is certain: taking breaks can not only improve your mood, it can make you more productive in the long run [7].

Being able to detach from a project and return to it later with renewed focus and energy can help you secure wins throughout the day, instead of feeling the burden of responsibilities piling up. In today’s connected world, it’s also likely you’ve felt pressure to be “on” evenings and weekends. You need to be able to detach from work in your down time, your mental health depends on it. Prioritizing breaks, downtime and setting boundaries can have a profound effect on your wellbeing.

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you be more aware of underlying beliefs and behaviors. Taking time to digest events in your life can help you define them more clearly and bring meaning to them. It can also help you resolve feelings lingering in your mind, and sometimes even uncover thoughts or beliefs you weren’t consciously aware of. Take time before bed or after a busy day at work to record thoughts and occurrences. It could even just be as simple as making a list of things you accomplished that day, versus fixating on items left unfinished.

Remember, You’re Not Alone

Remember that all across the country, there are HR pros like you feeling the same stresses related to open enrollment. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed from time to time, but that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. While it’s just about impossible to completely avoid work-related stress in any profession, hopefully these tips can help you now and in the future. You’re not alone — and open communication with your support network, practicing self care and being aware of your emotions can go a long way towards lowering your level of stress.

This content is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice. Gregory & Appel is neither a law firm nor a tax advisor; information in all Gregory & Appel materials is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal or tax advice.