Organizations are embracing new strategies to enable workforces to achieve their benefits goals.
By Tierney McAfee
The COVID-19 pandemic is not only changing the way Americans work—it’s changing the way they do benefits enrollment. Much of this is due to the sudden increase in remote workers. This shift has compelled employers to develop new annual enrollment strategies that adapt to and embrace a virtual environment and meet employees where they are.
“The challenges that we’ve seen over the last year have been new and unlike any we’ve faced in previous years,” says Steve Parkhouse, Senior Vice President of Client Services at bswift, a leading cloud-based technology company that helps enable employers to achieve their benefits and engagement strategies. “It’s up to employers to figure out new and creative ways to reach their employees.”
In today’s space, virtual benefits fairs, text messaging software, and online tools and resources are essential to keeping employees informed and empowered to make the best benefits decisions for themselves and their families.
It’s no secret that navigating benefit options can be overwhelming and stressful. According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, a whopping 80 percent of employers have struggled to get employees to read benefits enrollment materials during annual enrollment.
“With benefits being so complex and annual enrollment happening just once a year, a lot of employees don’t even know where to start,” says Allison Malito, Senior Vice President of Operations and Practice Leadership at bswift.
A great way to keep employees engaged and help them cut through confusing jargon is by incorporating a decision support tool into the enrollment process, Parkhouse says. A well-designed guided experience will walk the employee through available health plans and allows them to compare their options and estimate their total costs at the right point in the decision-making process. Based on an employee’s answers to a few simple questions about their needs, this easy tool can help them choose a plan that fits them best.
“Medical plans are very complex and understanding all of the fees and deductibles and copays is really hard, especially because everyone has different needs when it comes to medical benefits,” Parkhouse says. “Having a decision support tool that lays all that out for you and then embeds education within it is extremely helpful.”
Another solution helping to ease the process is advanced communication practices, like the use of text messaging. Parkhouse says organizations can benefit by using texting to track the employees who have enrolled and remind those who have not.
“Over the last year, a lot more organizations have gone to text messaging to reach employees easily where they’re at and not rely so much on mail and some of the more historically standard ways of communicating.” Parkhouse explains.
Through the results of communication preferences surveys, Malito confirms that many of today’s employees enjoy text message capabilities, receiving confirmation and reminders at their fingertips. “This makes for easy access on a very mobile, responsive site to be able to support anybody anywhere they are,” she says. “Employees don’t have to be at their laptop to access information; they can be on the go, looking through their information.”
There has also been a big uptick in virtual benefits fairs, which also allow employees to access information about their benefits anywhere, anytime through an on-demand, online portal. This approach also gives employees the ability to learn about their benefit options at their own pace, and connects them directly with health insurance representatives, HR specialists, and other benefits providers to get all of their questions answered straight from the source. A robust, online benefits administration solution can serve as a helpful hub to promote virtual benefits fairs and share other key benefits and enrollment information with employees.
“Virtual benefits fairs not only give those other organizations that are bringing their product to the table the opportunity to answer, support, communicate and teach employees, but they also give a nice frame for live communication,” Malito explains.
“Live chats are a really nice feature that support people as they’re going through and choosing their benefits. Our latest research has shown that benefits can be an emotional topic for many employees – in a recent study, we found that 69% of people say benefits help them feel secure and 63% said they help them meet their family needs. Live communication can give employees a more personalized and empathetic experience, ultimately helping to drive better decision-making.” “
Even with all of the technological advances in the industry, Malito and Parkhouse still agree that starting the annual enrollment process as early as possible is one of the most important things employers can do to ensure things run smoothly and on time.
“You need to give the carriers plenty of time to process the results of annual enrollment because, at the end of the day, the most important thing is for employees to have their ID cards by January 1 so they can walk into the doctor’s office or walk into the pharmacy and have that visit or get that prescription right when they need it,” Malito says.
Taking these steps will allow organizations to truly showcase their benefits offerings—a competitive differentiator in a tight talent market—and demonstrate to employees their status as an employer of choice.