Many executives and human resources managers anticipated COVID-19 would complicate the open enrollment process. The pandemic compelled a significant percentage of people to work from home for most of 2020, and holding in-person meetings often proved impossible even at organizations with large numbers of essential employees. Developing new strategies for successfully delivering open enrollment education and communications became mandatory.
Last year’s open enrollment showed that employers who find optimal ways to engage their employees virtually and throughout the year run the most successful processes. It is also now clear that employers should create prerecorded education sessions that employees can access at any time, as well as easy-to-use tools that enable employees to compare plan offerings and do the math on plan costs.
Employers should also fully address the differing needs of workers in multiple generations and formalize methods for navigating challenges to enrolling in health care plans and wellness programs while working from home. It is important to note, as well, that a robust benefits plan addresses financial health. Employees should be able to choose financial wellness programs that offer the assistance they need to create personal budgets and long-term fiscal plans.
Finally, whether connecting with their staff in person or via videoconference, employers need to communicate evergreen messages about health financing opportunities such as health savings accounts (HSAs) that can help employees save money.
Adapt to the New Virtual Reality
Anecdotal evidence shows that the pandemic boosted employees’ engagement with the open enrollment process. Further, the pandemic shifted open enrollment priorities for employees. In previous years, economic considerations drove employees’ choices of plans and programs. During 2020, employees focused more on health and well-being.
In response to these trends, some employers learned to leverage technology and retool their delivery of education and communications. Employers that built dependable and flexible virtual platforms saw better open enrollment results last year, with conferencing tools that allowed employers to hold and record group meetings proving particularly useful.
Beyond virtual meetings that employees could join live or view on demand, employers regularly sent videos, newsletters and other communications to employees throughout the year to answer frequently asked questions and teach best practices. Crucially, these innovations allowed employees to absorb open enrollment content at their convenience.
Giving employees access to calculators and video explainers helped them compare and choose plans. These tools often increase engagement and give employees greater confidence in the decisions they make regarding health care benefits.
The lesson from 2020 is that employers should be flexible with their enrollment processes, especially as some employees will continue to work from home. Two specific best practices that emerged last year were managers encouraging employees to watch benefits webinars with spouses or partners who will also be impacted by plan and program choices, and then giving people more time to digest information, review plans and options, and calculate costs and savings for themselves and their families.
Aim for Year-round Engagement
Engaging employees with their health and wellness benefits throughout the year requires extending plan program communications well beyond a fixed open enrollment period. Employees who do not receive consistent communications find it harder to focus on learning new ways to maximize their benefits to improve their health and finances.
Times when employers should be in touch in order to keep employees engaged are when new accounts open—typically at the beginning of the calendar year—tax time in April, at mid-year, during the fall open enrollment period and at year end with reminders to maximize tax-free HSA contributions and to use of expiring benefits. Employers can also schedule monthly or quarterly emails that remind employees to contribute, manage investment options or check their balances. At each point, sending employees simple, clear messages keeps health benefits top of mind.
Play to Different Preferences for Employees From Different Generations
Employers have to pay careful attention to the differing needs and communication styles of younger, mid-career and older employees. The most successful messages are delivered via an array of media because individuals learn in a variety of ways. Moving forward, employers should strive to engage their audience through methods employees already use, including flyers, educational videos and online calculators.
For example, members of Generation Z, who are currently 18-24 years old, may find a video or graphic particularly engaging. Baby boomers, who are 56-75 years of age, may, on the other hand, prefer small group webinar discussions or even one-on-one meetings conducted over Zoom or a similar app.
It can also help to vary content for members of different generations. For instance, sharing financial planning best practices with older employees may make the most sense.
Stepping back, it is important to recognize that employees who are nearing retirement have room to improve poor financial habits. Among people older than 65 who used HSA Bank’s Health and Wealth Index tool during 2020 to assess their engagement in managing their health and wealth, 37percent reported that they rarely save money for future health care expenses. At the same time, more than four out of five index users who were 65 or older reported worrying about future medical bills.
Gen Z employees generally have high levels of health and wealth engagement. Members of this Fitbit-friendly generation have shown a greater understanding of how health and other forms of data tracking expedites education on plans and options.
Emphasize Evergreen Benefits
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic has taught people the importance of setting aside funds for emergencies. Everyone now recognizes that a job can be lost suddenly and that medical expenses can rack up quickly. Even before 2020, medical debt ranked among the leading causes of bankruptcy for people living in the United States.
A survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by HSA Bank revealed that just 15 percent of respondents regularly saved money for future health care expenses. It is no surprise, then, that respondents also expressed less confidence currently than in the past that they could financially manage a health crisis.
This is a problem that quality open enrollment communications can help address by underscoring the importance of starting and contributing to a medical emergency fund such as an HSA. Highlighting HSA benefits such as tax breaks on contributions, matching funds from the employer and balances that roll over from year to year can increase employees’ interest. Conducting enrollment sessions can also demystify and simplify the process of starting to save for future health care needs.
Last, online calculators can play an important role in encouraging employees to start and maintain savings accounts. Running the numbers for themselves allows employees to see the benefits within the larger context of health insurance premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums and co-pays.
The open enrollment period stands as an opportunity to help employees and their families meet their health care needs and achieve a healthy financial future. When it comes to education and communication, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that being adaptable and inclusive is paramount, regardless of whether employees return to the office or continue to work at home. Equally important, it now undeniable that a successful open enrollment period can transform into an effective ongoing education and communication campaign that gives employees a strong foundation for their health and finances throughout the year.
01 January 2021
HR News Article