3 Tips for Mastering Employee Open Enrollment During a Pandemic

Last updated on February 18, 2021 at 03:07 pm

Employee open enrollment is an annual event in nearly all businesses that brings human resources and internal communications teams together to ensure all employees receive timely information on the coming year’s benefits offerings. The goal is typically for all employees to make their elections within the open enrollment window to avoid the onslaught of late requests and extra paperwork. 

But this is 2020. As with everything, open enrollment will be different this year. If you’re not yet preparing for it to be different, then you may be reading this blog just in time to rethink your plan and focus less on the dates when employees should make elections and more on why employees should be taking advantage of your programs this year, despite the cost. 

Tip #1: Use open enrollment as an opportunity to connect with your employees about the importance of overall health and wellness. 

Your company doesn’t offer health benefits simply because they are required to or because it creates an advantage in the recruiting process and increases retention. You offer health benefits because you know that employees who take care of themselves and their families are going to be healthier and happier which you know benefits your workplace and other members of your team. When highlighting the health benefits you’re offering this year, don’t focus on a dollar figure for out of pocket expenses, focus on the benefits of having benefits. Also, be sure to highlight the mental health and wellness benefits that your company offers. Giving employees the ability to talk with a counselor or psychologist is just as important as ensuring their physical health.

Tip #2: Set a targeted goal to increase enrollment among younger or hourly employees

Both of these groups tend to ignore health benefits. In fact, adults aged 19 – 25 are the most uninsured group. This may be because they are still on a family plan, think they’re healthy and simply don’t need them, or live paycheck to paycheck and need every bit of that salary to get by. If there was ever a time to highlight the advantages of having good healthcare, it’s during a pandemic. And a recent study found that ~90% of employees who said they didn’t understand their benefits at all said they plan to spend less than an hour on open enrollment (SHRM). 

Remember that this group may not know as much about benefits and it might be overwhelming. It’s key to show some real-world examples that are relevant to them to help stress why it’s important and what kind of plan they might need. So, do some calculations on what one trip to the ER could cost an uninsured employee and compare that to the bi-weekly amount that will be withheld from their paycheck. Show the cost of a COVID-19 test with insurance and without insurance. You want your employees to be able to take care of themselves in the unfortunate instance they or a family member contract COVID-19, so make sure they understand the value of the benefits far outweighs the cost.

Tip #3: If your company does not offer benefits to part-time hourly employees, especially if you are in an industry deemed essential or high risk, consider offering a plan this year

You’ve likely worked very hard to create a more transparent, empathetic culture over the last several months, don’t let it be for nothing by not, at least, giving your employees the opportunity to protect themselves and their families with good healthcare. This ties back to tip #1 and shows good faith to your employees that you’re more than just talk. And if your company can’t invest in those health plans, give your employees information on public plans that are available to them. Take time to conduct webinars and create materials to explain the benefits of these public plans to help employees make the right decision about their coverage.

This year, open enrollment needs to be about protecting the health of your employees and their families so take a fresh look at the communication plan you’ve been using for the last five years and make sure it centers around what your employees need right now

BONUS TIP: While it may be too late to change what you’re offering for 2021 now, you can still take this opportunity to gather feedback from your employees about what they want to see in your plan or package moving forward. We’re all trying to push past 2020 so might as well begin the work for 2022!

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