Last year open enrollment was unlike any year before it. Employees had to make benefits decisions in a time of uncertainty—their health, their finances, the political landscape, and social unrest. Meanwhile, many HR professionals orchestrated a 100% virtual open enrollment for the first time.
Now, COVID-19 vaccines are available to all adults, and many of them, but not all, are inoculated (here are some tips for talking with the stragglers). We’ve seen many organizations move toward a hybrid work model—sometimes working from home, sometimes working on-site in an office.
This year’s enrollment season may be less ominous, but it’s just as nebulous. We don’t know yet how, or for how long, the coastal exodus, mass transition to remote work, service-level labor shortages, or the Great Resignation will affect workplaces. Nor have we determined the degree to which COVID-19 variants like Delta and Lambda should scare us. And employees who expect to return to their offices don’t know when, how, or to what extent they’ll be allowed to. How are organizations supposed to make the transition smoother when nothing about the past 18 months has been easy?
These are big questions with bigger answers. But you can take comfort that many elements of open enrollment are the same as ever. For example, it’s always important that employees review their options every year and feel comfortable asking questions when they arise. And you’ll still want to promote underutilized benefits.
Our advice: Don’t grapple with those enormous questions during enrollment. Instead, put yourself in your employees’ shoes, and use the pandemic as a lens. Here are some suggestions:
Are your employees still scared? The answer will change the tone of your campaign. Last year our open enrollment campaign theme for one technology company was “We got you,” invoking togetherness, camaraderie, and care. This message was a great rebuttal to last year’s chaos. But it would lose some power this year if your employees were conducting business as usual, or if your organization is already back in the office full time.
What else is happening in your employees’ lives? Your organization is competing for your employees’ attention. People are feeling the strain after more than 18 stressful months. Maybe your people are trying to cram in a few extra doctor appointments before the end of the year. Families are readjusting to in-person schooling. And the holiday season is right around the corner! Make your campaign impossible to miss—especially if your organization is changing benefits in a big way.
Have you communicated all changes? COVID-19 relief laws have changed benefits, even if your organization hasn’t made any changes. For instance, the CARES Act permitted HRA, HSA, and health care FSA participants to submit over-the-counter prescriptions and some menstrual care products for reimbursement. Other provisions of the CARES Act are expiring. Since it was signed into law on March 27, 2020, this may be your first enrollment to communicate which changes are staying and which aren’t.
“Resist the kitchen-sink approach, where you talk about all the benefits available to your people year-round. Instead, keep your OE messages focused on what people need to act on during enrollment.”
Phil Wolf, VP, Senior Communications Consultant
“Encourage your employees to run the numbers for themselves. Assumptions such as ‘high-deductible plans are for healthy people who use very little health care’ just aren’t true—these plans can work for all types of employees, especially if your company provides HSA funding with an HDHP. Providing a comparison tool to help employees see what their costs are under each medical option can be eye-opening. If you don’t have time to build an online tool, you can tell them how to do their own paper-and-pencil calculation.”
Colleen Magee, Senior Communications Consultant
“Don’t shy away from bad news. Use it as an opportunity to explain how benefit costs affect your organization.”
Ettore Toppi, Senior Communications Consultant
“Plan ahead as much as possible—even if you don’t have all your plan design changes finalized. Identify areas that could fluctuate or change as OE approaches and fill in those missing pieces along the way.”
Megan Yost, SVP, Communications Consultant and Engagement Strategist
“Stick to the facts. People are inundated with communications, so be clear, brief, and direct to engage and persuade.”
Jillian Medoff, Senior Consultant
Open enrollment is the perfect time to reintroduce your employees to their benefits. In this uncertain climate, a closer look could be exactly what they need.
We're proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.
Chris Fielder, Staff Writer, has been with Segal Benz since 2019, working with private sector employers, public sector entities, and multiemployer trust funds.