How to lead a successful Open Enrollment during the pandemic
For most benefits teams, Open Enrollment (“OE”) is all about trying to cut through the noise of daily work to encourage employees to explore and get up to speed on the customized benefits you’re providing them.
This year is no different. Except that everything is different.
With COVID-19 continuing to keep many people at home, juggling everything from Zoom calls to their kid’s distance learning, it probably feels like an insurmountable challenge to get anyone to give you the time of day during OE.
Benefits teams know what worked in the past and, during COVID-19, they planned to build on that work to honor their people’s preferred communication methods.
At Collective Health, we help our customers with over a quarter of a million members through OE each year and as we planned our 2021 OE campaign, we knew it was crucial to do some additional research with our customers in order to really understand the challenges they were facing, and to shape our strategy in a way that would best support them in these unique circumstances. After extensive interviews with six customers (of varying sizes, industries, and populations), here’s what we found. We hope these insights help you consider some different approaches to making your OE a success this year despite the adversities.
- Different cultures. Common goal.
Each company we spoke with had different OE strategies and ideals, yet they shared common goals. Whatever the approach, it usually reflected their company culture. Benefits teams know what worked in the past and, during COVID-19, they planned to build on that work to honor their people’s preferred communication methods. A few different approaches:
Light-Engagement Approach: These teams were planning to create very simple and smooth processes for their people. They focused on developing self-serve communications that would guide employees at their own pace. Their cultural belief is, “Why add any more stress to their people’s lives during Open Enrollment?”
High-Engagement Approach: Others were focused on making OE fun and engaging even for remote teams. This reflects cultures that pride themselves on gathering people together and creating a communal atmosphere. This approach also is a great way to engage folks who only have a few minutes during a break off the factory floor or in a retail location. It might require some additional logistics but certainly makes the most of the moment.
Wherever they were on the spectrum of engagement, customers remained focused on one common goal: celebrating their benefit investments and making sure their people have all the information they need to make informed decisions.
- It takes a village
This OE season, benefit teams are thinking about how they can extend their reach into all corners of their company in order to provide support to employees. This means coming up with new ways to enlist the help of team managers and site leads at certain locations to navigate OE. For example, creating on-the-ground OE support teams who can help share materials for non-English speaking workforces as well as groups that are not familiar with the ins and outs of benefit selection. These extended ‘benefits team members’ are essential to advocate for and/or manage portions of the OE process.
To support this effort, Collective Health has developed a “Train the trainer” kit with everything from basic information about how insurance and health plans work to how to explain cost-sharing and a lot more. Benefits teams need all the help they can get every year but this year an expanded ‘village’ is essential to making it all work. We agree and think it’s important to make sure everyone is prepared and ready to help out.
Benefits leaders clearly understand that status quo emails and standard in-person OE presentations aren’t going to work this year. The teams that we spoke to are coming up with refreshing ideas from Zoom happy hours to Benefits Bingo with raffle prizes.
- COVID-19 demands diversified communications channels
Zoom, Slack, and similar online tools are now everyone’s new best friends. Every team we spoke to discussed exploring new communication methods and trying to piggyback on new tools that are being used during shelter-in-place. Some had even rebooted efforts to be able to text their workforce in order to deliver critical communications. Benefits leaders clearly understand that status quo emails and standard in-person OE presentations aren’t going to work this year. The teams that we spoke to are coming up with refreshing ideas from Zoom happy hours to Benefits Bingo with raffle prizes. Even Slack health plan emojis are in the mix.
- Not all engagement is created equal
The lofty notion of “engagement” with employees is the holy grail of OE. Most people do the bare minimum to really understand their health benefits and, more importantly, the impact of their benefits choices. It’s a tough road to get people to understand how important these decisions can be, both in terms of coverage and financial implications. This year, more than ever, people are actually paying attention to the healthcare conversation due to the pandemic and it’s a good time to capitalize on that attention.
To maximize the positive engagement and minimize the negative this year, benefits teams are spending a lot of time on the education of their people for all things benefits. This includes live and recorded webinars that focus on different population health needs including, but not limited to, maternity, family support, chronic and long-term conditions, and more. Others are doing enhanced home mailers with fun branded masks. And finally, many have consolidated all their benefits information into a handy portal where employees and their partners at home can share in the decision-making process. Whatever the tactic, educating people about their benefits, well, benefits everyone. An informed employee is a happier employee.
- Time constraints are universal
We heard from all our customer interviewees that OE 2021 needs to be efficient and timely. There is no time to waste. Remote workers need to be reached at home and people onsite need to be reached during short breaks, more than once, to absorb materials. From crisp and clear messaging, to assistance in person where possible, to step-by-step guides to facilitate action, and a consistent and timely communication rollout, our customers are planning for all eventualities. By building an extended team and relying on Collective Health and other trusted partners for great materials to engage their people. Benefits teams are freed up to spend extra time planning ahead of OE.
Open Enrollment is a time to celebrate the investment you’ve made in your people’s health and wellbeing at work and in their lives. This year, more than ever, the need for them to truly feel that investment is crucial to instilling confidence and support through this tenuous moment in our history. Weaving in these insights, we know you will develop a wonderful Open Enrollment strategy. And if you need help, you can always join the Collective to take advantage of our award winning approach to supporting Open Enrollment.
For more information on Collective Health’s Open Enrollment, download our overview.
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