Many Employers Embracing Virtual Open Enrollment Tools

As open enrollment season gears up, employers are having to rethink many of their normal practices for enrolling their employees in employer-offered benefits. In a recent XpertHR webinar, Open Enrollment 2021: How to Handle This Year’s Unique Challenges, we asked participants several questions about their open enrollment practices.

Virtual Enrollment

Although many organizations were already using virtual enrollment to some extent even before COVID-19, it is going to be the reality for many more organizations this year due to the pandemic. Virtual enrollment will be key to:

  • Addressing workforces that are still remote or at least partially remote; and
  • Ensuring a safe and secure enrollment process.

To deal with the shift to virtual enrollment, employers must be prepared to:

  • Be adaptable, agile and creative;
  • Use available technology; and
  • Prepare for logistical challenges.

When asked what their open enrollment would look like this year, most webinar attendees said they were planning to embrace virtual enrollment to some extent with:

  • 61.4% using virtual enrollment only;
  • 35.1% using a hybrid of virtual and in-person enrollment; and
  • Only 3.5% using in-person enrollment.

The good news for employers is that there are a lot of advantages to having a virtual open enrollment. It allows employees to have more autonomy and choice as to how and when they consume open enrollment information.

For example, virtual open enrollment assets can be:

  • Assessed and re-accessed;
  • Available 24/7; and
  • Reviewed by family members who help with decision making.

There may also be the potential to integrate your virtual enrollment platform with other systems (e.g., your HR or payroll solutions).

Communication Methods

It’s important for employers to have a powerful and persuasive communication strategy in order to make open enrollment significantly easier. This means annually evaluating your strategy to make sure it is effective and reviewing whether:

  • It is consistent;
  • There are measurable goals included in the strategy;
  • You should offer 24/7 access to a user-friendly benefits site;
  • Senior leadership buys in to the strategy; and
  • Employee demographics and communication preferences are being considered.

It’s also important to make sure you are using a variety of different media and aren’t just continuing to use the same communication methods year after year without considering new technologies or strategies.

When asked what communication methods they are planning to use during this year’s open enrollment, webinar attendees revealed a variety of methods, including:

  • Email (37.2%);
  • Live or recorded webinars or videos (23.4%);
  • Benefits websites (23.4%);
  • In-person meetings (8%);
  • Mail campaigns (5.1%); and
  • Text messaging (2.9%).

Changes to Benefits Offerings

Due to COVID-19, many employers are considering adding, expanding, decreasing or eliminating benefits. What your organization is considering or planning to do is most likely going to depend on its financial realities and circumstances.

Some examples of benefits that many employers are adding or expanding due to COVID-19 include:

  • Mental health benefits;
  • Wellness/well being benefits;
  • Telehealth;
  • Financial wellness benefits; and
  • Dependent care resources.

On the other side of the spectrum, other employers may be shifting more costs to employees or eliminating employer 401(k) matches.

However, when XpertHR webinar attendees were asked what changes their organizations were making to their benefits offerings this year due to COVID-19, most indicated they weren’t making any changes. For instance, attendees indicated they were:

  • Making no changes (70%);
  • Adding benefits (21.7%); or
  • Decreasing benefits (8.3%).

What’s your biggest open enrollment challenge? Let us know by leaving a comment below.


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