• Thomas Hart

Preparing for an Unprecedented Benefits Open Enrollment

With the fall season upon us, it means that we will be entering an employee benefit open enrollment season unlike any other that we have ever witnessed. Most organizations are still operating remotely, while others are planning to reopen with all safety precautions, all while getting mixed signals and fluid guidelines from their state and local governments.

It is safe to say that open enrollment planning is not on everyone’s mind, except for the employees concerned about having the right coverage and savings options in these uncertain times. You can’t be procrastinating or getting distracted from benefit decisions and enrollment planning, as that can have disastrous results.

To help you out, we will share what we think will happen and some expert advice on the best ways for open enrollment preparation.


Open Enrollment Advice Amid the Pandemic

Here is our expert advice on open enrollment amid the ongoing pandemic and how it will affect you in particular. So, to start with, here is what you must do:

Plan for Some Major Changes:

When it comes to open enrollment this year, you should plan for major disruptions and create a backup plan for everything. This pandemic has already taught us that conditions can change daily. COVID-19 may surge in the fall and force businesses to reclose their operations.

Even if some businesses continue operations, the employees may not feel comfortable returning to work as they may feel that the working environment is unsafe. These are examples of worst-case scenarios; still, they make the different potential disruptors that COVID-19 can cause evident in this period.


Choose to Adopt Virtual:

Due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, a lot of businesses are planning to go with virtual open enrollments. It has already been a rising trend throughout the years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has helped it become more prominent in recent years.

A virtual enrollment process will include remote video meetings between the HR and employees, selecting benefits through an online enrollment platform, and downloadable or web and mobile-friendly resources like wallet cards and benefit enrollment guides.

When you’ve adopted a virtual stance, it is best that you have an open line of communication through phone, email, and chat support. There are going to be more questions asked this year than in previous years, and that is mainly going to be about short and long-term disability, dependent care, sick leave, vacation, layoff provisions, telecommuting, telemedicine, and more.


Provide them with On-Demand Access:

If you plan on holding remote video meetings, you should think about recording them and making them available for on-demand viewing. That will allow any employee who can’t attend the meeting the option of checking out the presentation when it is feasible for them, although that will mean that they don’t get to take part in the Q&A forum, which is held live.

What this will do for people who are confused about the benefits information is that it will allow them to easily rewind and watch anything that they didn’t get. As the enrollment presentations will be recorded, it also gives them the chance to share the content whenever they please with decision-makers.


Think About Adopting a Multi-Channel Hybrid Approach:

Virtual enrollment is going to be the latest standard adopted, but this won’t be the solution that everyone wants. As there are so many different employees with limited technical skills in the organization, it will mean that they have limited access to connectivity and technology, and that is going to play a major role in open enrollment and what it looks like in different organizations.

It will be the role of individual employers to finally come out and decide what kind of virtual enrollment solution they are going to offer their employees. For instance, if you think that video conferencing will not work for your workforce, you should think about holding a socially distanced in-person meeting. If you think that there are employees who don’t have access to digital materials, what you should do is distribute printed materials by either mailing them directly to their homes or leaving them for pickup.


Plan on Going Interactive:

When you’re going to be transitioning from paper to digital benefit education materials, you shouldn’t just be looking to convert static MS Word, PDF, and PPT documents. You should make full use of the digital medium by ensuring that they are engaging and interactive.

A lot of online viewers that are web-based will let you embed different user-friendly functionalities, which include the likes of click-to-call, active hyperlinks, video embedding, real-time language translation, informative pop-ups and roll-overs, clipping, bookmarking, and much more.


Build-in Longer Lead Times

It would be best if you considered the fact that a lot of businesses, which include the benefits vendors, have been working with scaled-down staff or have been working in business environments that are entirely new to them. This ‘new normal’ isn’t the same for everyone, and that’s why you should be empathetic towards them.

So, if you’re mailing physical materials into homes, you should think about shipping them through FedEx or UPS, which may be expensive, or if you’re using the U.S. Postal Service, you should leave plenty of extra lead-in time. The reason for that is because the USPS has recently undergone a massive overhaul of its operations.

The changes expected of them include major cuts to capacity, and that has impacted the frequency of mail delivery. That’s the reason why print and letter shops have warned marketers that there is going to be a major slower down in their capacity to ship delivery items through the USPS.

Even though this is an election year, and as such, mail and delivery systems operate slowly in these times (mainly because of the amount of material related to the campaign and election that the system has to deal with), the current year is going to be really bad because of the changes to funding. There is hope that Congress will take bipartisan action to reverse some of these operational changes, but it remains to be seen if they are going to be successful. So, it would be a good idea if employers choose to leave around ten business days to ensure that all enrollment materials are delivered on time.

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