Annual benefits enrollment must undergo a shift to effectively embraceÂ a work-from-home environment.
By Karen Frost and Kristie Marshiano
Annual enrollment is quickly approaching, and withÂ nationwide shutdowns being reinstated and most ofÂ the workforce at home, itâs no surprise that this yearâsÂ enrollment will look different than usual. COVID-19Â has caused a shift in employer plans and priorities,Â triggering many to reevaluate their approach to ensureÂ it can be executed successfully in a time when mostÂ everything requires virtual or socially distanced settings.
In addition to benefits goals and plans varying everyÂ year, employers now have even more to consider whenÂ they think about their enrollment goalsâstarting withÂ the uncertainty of navigating annual enrollment duringÂ a pandemic.
Enrollment is the time of year when employees areÂ more engaged and are looking for information andÂ help regarding their benefits, giving organizations aÂ unique chance to truly capture employeesâ attention,Â convey the right messaging, and meet their needsÂ to ensure they make the right benefits decisions forÂ themselves and their families. As businesses have shiftedÂ to accommodate new workplace processes, enrollmentÂ strategies must follow suit to adapt to a virtualÂ environment and meet employees wherever they are.
Following are some insights on what employers needÂ to do to adjust to the new workforce landscape andÂ strategies to successfully get there, no matter where theÂ organization may be in its journey to adapting to theÂ new digital environment.
Digitize In-Person Processes
Though some states have lifted restrictions, manyÂ employers are still embracing virtual work settings,Â which limits typical enrollment approaches suchÂ as in-person benefits fairs, posters, and paperÂ communications posted in offices. Even for thoseÂ essential workersâlike healthcare and retailÂ employeesâwho go to a physical workplace, socialÂ distancing rules eliminate the possibility of town halls,Â Q&A sessions, and other events that would typically takeÂ place in person.
Annual enrollment tactics must undergo a shift toÂ effectively embrace this new digital environment.Â Virtual benefits fairs, e-communications, and onlineÂ tools and resources will be vital in keeping employeesÂ informed and empowered to make smart benefitsÂ decisions for their personal situations and needs.Â With the right kind of support, employees will be ableÂ to save time and effort while making cost-effectiveÂ elections that benefit themselves and their families.
This is especially critical in a time of uncertainty whenÂ balancing budgets to accommodate health and medicalÂ needs may be more stressful than ever.
An added benefit of these virtual solutions is that theyÂ can not only be used to optimize annual enrollment,Â but can serve as a resource for employees year-round.Â From providing assistance with plan comparisons toÂ supporting new-hire onboarding requirements, theseÂ channels can continuously be used for communicationsÂ and overall employee supportâall from a digitalÂ platform.
Personalize the Experience
Personalization plays a large role in everyday lives.Â According to the 2019 Health and Financial WellbeingÂ Mindset Study, 70 percent of employees are comfortableÂ sharing health information with their employer or aÂ third-party vendor for personalized benefits guidance,Â so itâs an opportune time to invest in solutions thatÂ make this concept a workplace reality.
Employers have a rare opportunity to effectively reachÂ their people at a time when they are truly payingÂ attention to their benefits options, making it evenÂ more imperative to communicate the right messageÂ to the right employee at the right time. It could be asÂ simple as using demographic data to highlight specificÂ programs to different populations, like transit accountsÂ to employees living in major metropolitan areas or theÂ features of a local HMO. Many administration platformsÂ can target messages to employees in certain locations,Â those enrolled in certain plans, or those coveringÂ dependents.
Leading enrollment solutions are leveraging the powerÂ of artificial intelligence (AI) to anticipate employeeÂ health and financial needs, their preferences, and theÂ channels where they prefer to be reached. For example,Â this can include guiding an employee to contribute to anÂ HSA after enrolling in a high-deductible health plan orÂ selecting a high-quality primary care doctor. ProactivelyÂ reaching employees with resources relevant to themÂ improves well-being and supports smart benefitsÂ decisions.
Creating a personal experience for employees alsoÂ plays a direct role in increasing engagement, ultimatelyÂ increasing the overall perceived value of employer-providedÂ benefits programs. Research from the 2020Â Employee Wellbeing Mindset Study shows that whenÂ an employee receives proactive communications andÂ messaging about their specific health concerns, they areÂ more inclined to take action and search for preventativeÂ care options sooner, alleviating the risk of potentiallyÂ more seriousâand more expensiveâhealth concernsÂ later on. Even something as simple as a prescription refillÂ reminder can have a lasting impact.
Provide High-Touch Support and Solutions
Employers must also consider how they will remainÂ accessible to their employees before, during, and afterÂ enrollment in a virtual setting. When making theirÂ benefits elections, employees will have questions orÂ may seek guidance to help them choose programs andÂ options that best suit their needs and the needs of theirÂ family members. As in-person dialogue and informalÂ word-of-mouth conversations with colleagues will noÂ longer take place, employers should take advantage ofÂ tools that enable one-on-one conversations virtually,Â such as phone calls or video conversations, to ensureÂ employees feel confident in their ability to receiveÂ help when needed. Virtual benefits counselors canÂ guide employees through the selection process, drivingÂ better decision-making that can improve their overallÂ employee experience. Employees managing chronicÂ conditions may need a navigation solution to supportÂ their unique needs and answer questions duringÂ enrollment. This tool can even help when they use careÂ throughout the year.
Create Long-Term Consumers
While this yearâs enrollment will differ from yearsÂ prior, there are still plenty of ways to optimize theÂ experience to ensure organizational success for 2020Â and in the future. After aligning enrollment goals withÂ organizational goals, consider utilizing a combinationÂ of high-touch, high-tech strategies in ways that workÂ for company culture to effectively navigate this yearâsÂ enrollment process. These strategies will not only helpÂ build more understanding and utilization of benefitsÂ offerings, but also increase value, trust, and confidenceÂ in leadership while keeping costs down.
Karen Frost is vice president of health strategy and solutions,Â and Kristie Marshiano is vice president of total rewards forÂ Alight Solutions.