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4 Lessons Learned From Open Enrollment During the Pandemic

The pandemic presented many learning opportunities for organizations as they pivoted and learned how to be resilient during uncertain times. The 2020 open enrollment season was one such opportunity, and many employers rose to the challenge by exploring new ways to engage and educate their employees about their benefits.

With open enrollment approaching and hybrid/remote workplaces still a reality, employers can use last year’s experiences to shape their open enrollment planning and processes. This article discusses key lessons from last year’s open enrollment season that can increase plan participation this fall.

1. Employees Want—and Need—Holistic Benefits

As the name suggests, employee benefits work best when designed to provide holistic employee support. Unfortunately, many benefits offerings are not created with holistic support in mind. In the past, employers could offer basic, one-dimensional benefits. Those days are long gone, and the pandemic may have been the turning point. The pandemic has hurt employees’ mental, physical, and financial wellness. Employers have a unique opportunity to support employees and make it easier to get help through their benefits.

Beyond needing holistic support, employees might be expecting new benefits, particularly if their plans changed very little in the past year. According to a survey from WEX, 85% of employers said they didn’t change their 2021 offerings due to the pandemic. It appears many employers kept their benefits packages during an uncertain year.

If employers are ready to revamp their benefits, the following are the top perks employees are looking for right now:

  • Telecommuting
  • Flexible or hybrid scheduling
  • Greater compensation
  • Mental health resources
  • Caregiving benefits
  • Developmental opportunities

If employers are unsure about employee preferences, they might consider surveying employees or encouraging managers to discuss open enrollment during one-on-one meetings to better understand how employees are doing and which benefits they find most valuable. Employers’ overall goal should be to establish meaningful offerings and resources for current and prospective employees.

2. Open Enrollment Planning Needs To Begin Sooner

The most successful open enrollment campaigns engage employees months before enrollment opens. That means organizations need to start reviewing their offerings sooner rather than later so there’s ample time to develop and execute a successful open enrollment strategy or campaign. During the pandemic, employees leaned heavily on employer-sponsored mental health resources, employee assistance programs and other virtual resources. Simply put, benefits mattered even more to employees last year. This year, employers have the opportunity to showcase the perks available to employees as soon as possible to thoughtfully engage and retain employees.

Furthermore, there’s a massive wave of turnover expected by the end of 2021. That’s even more reason for employers to start early and get ahead of turnover by previewing new or enhanced benefits with employees. The pandemic allowed many people to rethink their values and make major life changes—possibly including finding new jobs. Many employees are staying in their current roles to collect a steady paycheck and keep household finances stable. That is until the pandemic is over. Workplace stressors—worsened by the pandemic—are likely to blame for this turnover. Additionally, compensation, benefits, and work-life balance are top reasons why employees are job hunting this year, so it’s critical for employers to offer competitive benefits.

And don’t worry about communicating too soon about enrollment. Research shows that repetitive messaging and reminders increase the odds of an employee seeing enrollment information and understanding the upcoming benefit changes and how they work.

Open enrollment this year provides a fantastic opportunity for organizations to combat turnover by proving they have gone above and beyond to support employees with top-tier benefits offerings. Especially this year, the earlier employers can start their open enrollment processes, the better the participation and employee retention potential will be.

Download this SSG HR+Benefits Insight to learn more about:

  • Lesson 3 - Virtual Open Enrollment Tactics are Effective, Regardless of Remote Work; and,
  • Lesson 4 - Open Enrollment Should be More Personalized and Interactive