If you are an HR professional or a benefits specialist, capturing employees' attention can be a challenge even in optimal Open Enrollment scenarios. This season, the unprecedented circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are adding an extra layer of complexity and the need for technological tools and communications that can reach an expanding remote workforce.
As employees grapple with a shifting sense of “normal,” many are working from home with additional responsibilities— from homeschooling their children to helping high-risk family members stay safe in isolation. Not to mention the stresses that can stem from job security and an uncertain global future.
The Pressing Need for Virtual Enrollment
From healthcare coverage to contribution elections, Employee Assistance Programs and other ancillary benefits, getting employees to make timely benefits decisions will be more crucial than ever in a COVID-19 world. But how will you provide benefits information to employees who might be working remotely or facing imminent changes to their employment status?
This season, think about offering a virtual Open Enrollment, so you can capture and keep employees' attention, regardless of where they are. If you have an existing benefits website or intranet, you’re already a step in the right direction!
The following virtual Open Enrollment tactics can help encourage employee participation, highlight benefits offerings and break down crucial and COVID-19 related changes with efficiency and ease.
Benefits Communication Platforms
A comprehensive benefits decision support platform (ex. Picwell DX, Tango Health, Jellyvision’s ALEX) provides a full panorama of the employee enrollment process and engages them directly with the programs and benefits best suited to their needs. Benefits communication platforms tap into existing HR technologies to deliver a personalized approach to benefits selection using decision support services. These branded portals can be used to introduce new plans, increase plan adoption and align employee communication initiatives with Open Enrollment deadlines.
Engaging Educational Training Videos
In the COVID-19 era, many employees are bombarded with emails as a stand-in for face-to-face communication, so helping them cut through the inbox clutter and compelling them to keep clicking can be key. Enter: video communication. According to Hubspot, using video in an email leads to 200-300% increase in click-through rates.
Employees must be armed with accurate information to make the right benefits decisions. Video is an effective communication method for doing just that, particularly for visual learners or varying degrees of literacy. A short, educational video can help forge a more human connection with your employees, breaking down complex benefits information and motivating them to learn more about available offerings
Flexibility and Ease in Election Changes
With the mounting professional and personal responsibilities employees are juggling, creating ease in the election change process can provide much needed relief. By allowing mid-year election changes, extending claims timelines for existing employees and providing benefits continuation to employees who are furloughed, laid off or reduced in hours, employers can help ease the challenging personal circumstances many employees are facing as a result of the pandemic.
Proactive Communication About Telehealth
The number of outpatient healthcare visits declined nearly 60% between the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and early April, with the amount of in-person office visits still about one-third less than it was before. Many non-critical surgical procedures, well-child, wellness visits are being postponed. When possible, doctors' offices are rescheduling in-person visits as telemedicine visits.
As the pandemic moves into the future, telemedicine visits will likely become a popular healthcare treatment option for employees, particularly those in high-risk populations seeking safer alternatives. Coordinating with telemedicine vendors and communicating virtual visit coverage logistics with your employees is a proactive way to prepare for the looming uptick in this particular offering.
Extra Emphasis on Wellness Benefits
From out-of-pocket costs to care provider networks, employees are weighing a variety of data points during the Open Enrollment process. Wellness benefits can get overlooked in the process. Since many wellness programs are proven to reduce elevated health risks, lower healthcare costs, achieve higher productivity and improve employee morale and loyalty, virtual Open Enrollment is an essential time to plug them.
Popular wellness offerings like nutrition counseling, guided yoga and meditation, fitness reimbursement and employee assistance (to name just a few) can help employees adopt and maintain healthy behaviors that bolster their mental and physical health during the pandemic crisis and beyond.
Engaging Speakers and Special Guests
Whether it’s webinars, videos, Zoom conferences or online chats, putting together an engaging lineup of benefits experts, company executives, opinion leaders and vendors is a personalized, thought-provoking way to highlight employee benefits. These “pinch hitters” can help diversity benefits-related content by offering shared best practices, real-time dialogue and direct support to a very busy HR team.
Gamification and Rewards
The team that can’t be together can still beat each other, right? Gamification is a great way to use recognition and rewards to encourage social connection and Open Enrollment participation. Gamification can help increase motivation, encourage creativity, strengthen communication and it’s especially helpful in introducing important coverage information.
You can leverage your existing benefits communication platform, HRIS system or company intranet to help your employees learn about their benefits offerings and kickstart their competitive spirit, adding on a Rewards Room to incentivize them in their completion of the Open Enrollment process. These Rooms can be strategically timed to appear at certain points in the virtual Open Enrollment period and allow you to conduct contests and offer employees incentives like monetary bonuses, gift cards, bonus PTO and company-wide recognition.
Communicating Covid-Specific Changes
This year’s virtual Open Enrollment is the employer’s way of maintaining compliance with CDC guidelines and safeguarding employee health and well-being. Communicating with employees about the COVID-19 crisis is critical to informing their current and future benefits requirements.
Creating fresh and relevant ways to communicate can help connect them through the social distance and keep them informed of important changes.
Here are a few best practices to kickstart the OE employee communication process:
- Segment your audience by key demographics, job function, location, tenure and age. This will be essential in determining which information is necessary to communicate based on each employee’s unique living area and circumstances.
- Determine which topics should be covered, be it benefits changes from the previous year, relevant terminology, important dates and deadlines or COVID-specific changes (which can vary greatly depending on the carrier, location, etc.).
- Galvanize key stakeholders and resources like vendors, internal marketing and communications teams, providers and guest speakers to prepare them for their role in virtual Open Enrollment. Arm them with everything they need to communicate COVID-related changes and engage employees throughout the process.
- Take a multi-channel approach to employee communications during virtual Open Enrollment, utilizing face-to-face video meetings, online platforms with mobile compatibility, benefits portals, virtual benefit fairs and other technological tools to help extend your audience reach.
An inclusive and updated response toolkit like this one created by Alight can help you stay at the forefront of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 crisis and communicate changes to your employees.
Above all else, for virtual Open Enrollment to be effective, it should be engaging and even fun. By implementing a few of the strategies mentioned above, employers can stay on track for a successful Open Enrollment that captures employees' attention and delivers crucial information about the COVID-19 crisis as it pertains to their professional and personal well-being.