OPEN ENROLLMENT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT: WHAT PEOS SHOULD CONSIDER
THE NEW BENEFITS LANDSCAPE: REVISITING OPEN ENROLLMENT STRATEGY
COVID has shifted the way businesses operate and engage with their customers and employees. When it comes to open enrollment, it has forced businesses to operate in a model that is unique and different from what they are used to. COVID has presented its own particular challenges to PEOs as they consider supporting their clients’ employees during open enrollment. With many employees still working remotely due to the pandemic, PEOs must plan ahead to make the open enrollment experience easy for them.
While in the pre-COVID environment, PEOs may have had the ability to run in-person open enrollment events and fairs to meet with their clients’ benefits-eligible employees and explain the benefits offered—and in many cases, hand-hold them through the open enrollment process—that is not an option now. Below are some ways PEOs can support their clients’ employees during open enrollment.
BEGIN WITH COMMUNICATION
The open enrollment process typically begins with communication about the benefits offered to eligible employees in the form of brochures and open enrollment reminder posters sent by mail. PEOs also post these documents on their online client and employee portals. Because many employees are working remotely and are unable to come to the worksite, PEOs can mail benefits materials to employees’ homes while continuing to post them online on their HR platforms and send open enrollment deadline reminders via email.
SIMPLIFY & MINIMIZE DECISIONS REQUIRED
While PEOs should always strive to provide support to make enrollment decisions easier for employees, they should be mindful that employees may want to pay extra attention to benefits enrollment in the current environment. They may be more interested in understanding options available for mental health support, income protection, life insurance, and telehealth benefits. If open enrollment is enabled online, PEOs can highlight these additional benefits, if available, through their platforms without making specific recommendations so employees can focus their attention on those benefits.
To simplify the process, automated enrollment tools on the PEO’s HR platform should display and pre-select benefit options chosen by the employee in the previous year, with the ability to make changes if needed. PEOs should consider limiting major changes to benefits offerings, and clients may want to keep changes to contributions to a minimum, if possible. PEOs should also consider enabling a mobile enrollment experience. If the PEO supports a mobile app, one way to simplify the enrollment experience could be to allow employees to review their current benefits on their mobile phones— if they do not need to make any changes, they could complete their enrollment on the phone.
PROVIDE ‘VIRTUAL’ SERVICE
Much of the American workforce is still remote, and in most cases, in-person support by PEO benefit specialists to guide employees during open enrollment is not an option. However, PEOs can create plans for providing a similar level of service virtually.
PEOs can conduct virtual benefits seminars using online meeting tools. The key to employee participation is to set up these seminars months ahead of time and on a regular cadence. Frequent and precise communication about the benefits of attending these seminars encourages attendance.
Online seminars can be augmented with other tools, such as short videos enabled through online video platforms. Direct communication channels such as Slack and online chat allow employees to get support from the PEO. While providing access to support employees through these channels will help, personally identifiable information, including but not limited to date of birth, Social Security number, address, and more, should not be shared through online chat.
PEOs that do not have online platforms to track enrollments should define processes to track enrollment forms returned by mail, taking into account any potential delays due to the pandemic.
Because PEOs support multiple clients at the same time, they should plan to staff their benefits support teams appropriately. The last few days before the open enrollment end date can get very busy.
AUGMENT THESE VIRTUAL STRATEGIES WITH IN-PERSON EXPERIENCE POST-COVID
Many of the strategies explained above to support employees during enrollment can continue even after things go back to normal. In many ways, COVID has enabled PEOs to think more creatively about virtual ways to support client businesses and their employees. Many of these practices can continue post-COVID and can result in creating more value and drive better outcomes for clients when these virtual practices are combined with face-to-face interactions.
Executive Director, Solution Engineer