As they’re looking ahead to the 2021 annual benefits enrollment, many benefits managers may also be looking back to their experience in 2020 to figure out the best approach.
In his article “What 2020 Taught Us About Open Enrollment” in the May issue of Benefits Magazine, David S. Karlin discusses four lessons learned from last year that can be carried forward to 2021 and beyond. Karlin is president of National Vision Administrators, Benecard Services and Heartland Fidelity Insurance Company.
Lesson 1: Virtual Solutions Yield Flexibility and Adaptability
Online platforms and webinars took the place of in-person meetings or benefit fairs for many employers during 2020. Karlin explains that an online benefits fair emulates an in-person benefits fair during which plan sponsors introduce employees to their benefits options for the upcoming enrollment period. Instead of attending in-person presentations or talking with benefits representatives who set up tables at an in-person fair, employees access interactive tools or attend webinars to learn about their benefits.
Advantages of these virtual solutions include allowing employees and their family members to access detailed information at their convenience and being able to use the technology beyond open enrollment.
Karlin shares the following tips for plans that expect to use a virtual solution again in 2021.
- Make sure that information, such as benefit summaries and frequently asked questions, is clear and concise.
- Consider employees’ technological savviness and workstation capabilities. For example, ensure that all forms can be completed and signed digitally for employees without access to a printer.
- Think about how a virtual benefits fair can be repurposed for other uses such as delivering information to new hires or to employees who experience life events such as the birth of a child.
- When evaluating whether to build a virtual enrollment platform in-house, work with an external vendor or use resources provided by benefits vendors and administrators, consider factors such as internal resources and capabilities, budget, level of customization required and time frame.
Lesson 2: Guide Employees Through Changes
“What we can learn from this situation is that it is more important than ever before to lead clearly and concisely in moments of tumultuous change,” Karlin writes. “Leading employees step by step through new processes and procedures is essential to ensuring open enrollment success.”
A short video introduction or webinar can communicate the must-knows of employee benefits. Employers should consider recording webinars for employees to revisit or watch on their own time. Staggering the release of information over a few days can help to avoid overwhelming employees.
Lesson 3: Reinforce the Message With Early Communication
When communicating new information and deadlines with employees, early notification and frequent reminders are crucial, Karlin stresses.
Third-party administrators may have prepared member communications such as videos, email templates and social media post templates that employers can use to promote their benefits options.
Lesson 4: Keep Some Sense of Normalcy
Keeping some things the same helps employee in times of change. For example, if employees are used to receiving giveaways during open enrollment, Karlin suggests offering virtual raffles during online benefit fairs.
Preserving a similar format or appearance of benefits information may help employees cope when other open enrollment changes are necessary. Benefits team members also should remain visible and accessible through video and email.
“Overall, 2020 was a lesson in how adversity can remind us of important lessons and create new opportunities. It has shown us that in times of great stress, clear and consistent communication is critical,” Karlin concludes. “It has also shown that sometimes the solution to an unexpected need can surpass what was in place before. The adjustments companies have been required to make amidst the pandemic will continue to evolve how we approach open enrollment for years to come.”
[Related Reading: What is a Typical Open Enrollment Period? 10 Stats for Your Plan to Consider]
Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans
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