Rolling into Open Enrollment

Annual benefits enrollment must undergo a shift to effectively embrace a work-from-home environment.

By Karen Frost and Kristie Marshiano

Annual enrollment is quickly approaching, and with nationwide shutdowns being reinstated and most of the workforce at home, it’s no surprise that this year’s enrollment will look different than usual. COVID-19 has caused a shift in employer plans and priorities, triggering many to reevaluate their approach to ensure it can be executed successfully in a time when most everything requires virtual or socially distanced settings.

In addition to benefits goals and plans varying every year, employers now have even more to consider when they think about their enrollment goals—starting with the uncertainty of navigating annual enrollment during a pandemic.

Enrollment is the time of year when employees are more engaged and are looking for information and help regarding their benefits, giving organizations a unique chance to truly capture employees’ attention, convey the right messaging, and meet their needs to ensure they make the right benefits decisions for themselves and their families. As businesses have shifted to accommodate new workplace processes, enrollment strategies must follow suit to adapt to a virtual environment and meet employees wherever they are.

Following are some insights on what employers need to do to adjust to the new workforce landscape and strategies to successfully get there, no matter where the organization may be in its journey to adapting to the new digital environment.

Digitize In-Person Processes

Though some states have lifted restrictions, many employers are still embracing virtual work settings, which limits typical enrollment approaches such as in-person benefits fairs, posters, and paper communications posted in offices. Even for those essential workers—like healthcare and retail employees—who go to a physical workplace, social distancing rules eliminate the possibility of town halls, Q&A sessions, and other events that would typically take place in person.

Annual enrollment tactics must undergo a shift to effectively embrace this new digital environment. Virtual benefits fairs, e-communications, and online tools and resources will be vital in keeping employees informed and empowered to make smart benefits decisions for their personal situations and needs. With the right kind of support, employees will be able to save time and effort while making cost-effective elections that benefit themselves and their families.

This is especially critical in a time of uncertainty when balancing budgets to accommodate health and medical needs may be more stressful than ever.

An added benefit of these virtual solutions is that they can not only be used to optimize annual enrollment, but can serve as a resource for employees year-round. From providing assistance with plan comparisons to supporting new-hire onboarding requirements, these channels can continuously be used for communications and overall employee support—all from a digital platform.

Personalize the Experience

Personalization plays a large role in everyday lives. According to the 2019 Health and Financial Wellbeing Mindset Study, 70 percent of employees are comfortable sharing health information with their employer or a third-party vendor for personalized benefits guidance, so it’s an opportune time to invest in solutions that make this concept a workplace reality.

Employers have a rare opportunity to effectively reach their people at a time when they are truly paying attention to their benefits options, making it even more imperative to communicate the right message to the right employee at the right time. It could be as simple as using demographic data to highlight specific programs to different populations, like transit accounts to employees living in major metropolitan areas or the features of a local HMO. Many administration platforms can target messages to employees in certain locations, those enrolled in certain plans, or those covering dependents.

Leading enrollment solutions are leveraging the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to anticipate employee health and financial needs, their preferences, and the channels where they prefer to be reached. For example, this can include guiding an employee to contribute to an HSA after enrolling in a high-deductible health plan or selecting a high-quality primary care doctor. Proactively reaching employees with resources relevant to them improves well-being and supports smart benefits decisions.

Creating a personal experience for employees also plays a direct role in increasing engagement, ultimately increasing the overall perceived value of employer-provided benefits programs. Research from the 2020 Employee Wellbeing Mindset Study shows that when an employee receives proactive communications and messaging about their specific health concerns, they are more inclined to take action and search for preventative care options sooner, alleviating the risk of potentially more serious—and more expensive—health concerns later on. Even something as simple as a prescription refill reminder can have a lasting impact.

Provide High-Touch Support and Solutions

Employers must also consider how they will remain accessible to their employees before, during, and after enrollment in a virtual setting. When making their benefits elections, employees will have questions or may seek guidance to help them choose programs and options that best suit their needs and the needs of their family members. As in-person dialogue and informal word-of-mouth conversations with colleagues will no longer take place, employers should take advantage of tools that enable one-on-one conversations virtually, such as phone calls or video conversations, to ensure employees feel confident in their ability to receive help when needed. Virtual benefits counselors can guide employees through the selection process, driving better decision-making that can improve their overall employee experience. Employees managing chronic conditions may need a navigation solution to support their unique needs and answer questions during enrollment. This tool can even help when they use care throughout the year.

Create Long-Term Consumers

While this year’s enrollment will differ from years prior, there are still plenty of ways to optimize the experience to ensure organizational success for 2020 and in the future. After aligning enrollment goals with organizational goals, consider utilizing a combination of high-touch, high-tech strategies in ways that work for company culture to effectively navigate this year’s enrollment process. These strategies will not only help build more understanding and utilization of benefits offerings, but also increase value, trust, and confidence in leadership while keeping costs down.


Karen Frost is vice president of health strategy and solutions, and Kristie Marshiano is vice president of total rewards for Alight Solutions.

Posted September 17, 2020 in Benefitsin Engaged Workforce

Leave a Reply