Open enrollment season is almost here, and the offering process has never looked better! Having faced a difficult covid-19 season, employers are adjusting their benefits offering to serve their workforce better. They are prepared to show empathy to the employees who have had to supervise their children’s’ virtual education from home or the ones who have been furloughed. Faced with an uncertain future, employers are doing their best to keep employees engaged, motivated, and productive through benefits.

Employers expand benefits portfolio

During open enrollment this fall, employers have made several enhancements to virtual care options, mental health support, and voluntary benefits. Findings from the 2021 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey conducted this past summer with responses from 122 large employers, showed that next year:

  • Fifty-three percent of large employers will offer more virtual care options in mental health, weight management, care management for chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, prenatal care, and musculoskeletal care management/physical therapy.
  • Eighty-eight percent plan to give access to online mental health support resources, such as apps, videos, and webinars. Also, employers plan to train managers to recognize mental health issues and direct employees to appropriate services.

Another survey conducted by Mercer stated that many employers might also:

  • increase cost-sharing for plan expenses such as deductibles, premiums, or co-payments.
  • add or expand voluntary benefits.
  • and augment services for managing high-cost claims, including specialty pharmacy claims.

Employers connect with a stressed remote workforce

With so many people working from home due to Covid-19, many employees will not have in-person informational sessions. This poses a challenge as many employees will look closely at cost and want to understand benefits better such as telemedicine coverage and coronavirus curbside testing.

According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plan, only 34% of employees have a solid understanding of their coverage options, and 15 percent have a “somewhat” level of understanding. Given the challenges of communicating about health care benefits, employers are maximizing the use of AI decision-support tools, videoconferencing, webinars, podcasts, mobile apps, blogs and other online tools to help their employees make the right decisions for themselves and their families.

As you know, the market is brimming with benefits enrollment software platforms and consultants adept at engaging employees with short attention spans. Suppliers of artificial intelligence (AI) decision-support tools, which can be embedded within benefits enrollment platforms, have products to help employees make better decisions when selecting health benefits. These tools offer a plan recommendation based on employees’ online answers to questions about their health status, how often they see a doctor, family size, projected prescription spending, and tolerance for out-of-pocket costs (SHRM).

Employers show empathy during open enrollment

To achieve a successful open enrollment, employers opted to show empathy in their benefits communication messages. The tone of their messages acknowledged the challenges working parents or furloughed employees face and the importance of maintaining physical and mental health.

Robyn Bachochin, a partner at HR consultancy Mercer, recommended creating employee personas to represent the differences among workers’ life situations. For example, a persona could be called “Stacey.” She a single mom, with young children learning at home, who needs flexible work arrangements. Then there is “Mike!” He is a middle-aged man who withdrew funds from his 401(k) while on furlough and could benefit from financial wellness resources.

Employers are trying to show they understand the fears and anxieties their employees are feeling. Kim Maitlin, with HR Consultancy Willis Towers Watson, said, “It’s important for organizations to take the time to listen to their employees and understand them. People’s situations are different. It’s important to recognize those differences in your plans and programs, as well as in how you communicate with and support [employees].”

This year, open enrollment is about showing employees that employers care about their struggles and will do everything they can to support them. Employers make every effort to deliver benefits that can meet employees’ virtual, physical, financial, and emotional needs. This support helps them achieve a healthy and happy work-life balance. Managers strive to communicate messages to show empathy and encouragement. These messages are vital because a recent Metlife survey found that 48% of employees felt open enrollment is more important this year due to Covid-19. Another 40% of employees plan to spend more time selecting benefits from their employers during this upcoming open enrollment period.