Now that your workforce has adjusted to remote work and you’ve amended your leave and PTO policies consistent with the FFCRA, you can take a breather from HR for a bit. Not so fast. Have you thought about how the pandemic has or will affect your employee benefit offerings, management and administration? If not, here are some key issues to consider as you head into fall open enrollment and prepare and budget for 2021 employee benefit offerings.
A remote workforce is possibly the single biggest factor affecting employee benefits and their administration. As remote work remains a reality for the foreseeable future, flexibility and greater benefits’ personalization will be more important than ever.
Virtual Open Enrollment
Open enrollment is a critical event on the employee benefits’ calendar as it is when employees learn about benefit options and can make enrollment changes outside of qualifying events. Obviously, without employees onsite, open enrollment fairs and other educational opportunities must move online. Technology will play a more significant role this year, and with some careful planning, companies can execute a successful virtual open enrollment. Some strategies to consider include:
- Benefits webinar or video conference. Most companies kick off open enrollment season with an all-company benefits meeting or presentation. This year, consider doing it virtually. Most insurance brokers have this capability. Either offer multiple opportunities to participate, or record the session for employees unable to participate at the scheduled time. Allow plenty of time for a Q&A session at the end.
- Concise one-pager. Don’t email your employees lots of long emails and attachments with benefit information. Create a one-page “cheat sheet” with benefit offerings and resources for employees.
- Concise FAQ. Even if benefit offerings are perfectly communicated to employees, they will still have questions. Compile a list of commonly asked questions with answers to email employees before they even have a chance to ask.
- Virtual office hours. After your benefits webinar and employees have received their benefits information, offer virtual office hours where employees can schedule time with HR to get help with benefit forms or to answer questions.
Whatever communication method or tool you choose for open enrollment, ask yourself if employees anywhere in the world could use that tool to answer their employee benefits questions and complete the open enrollment process successfully with as little confusion and stress as possible. Employees are used to lining up outside HR’s door during open enrollment for in-person assistance so be proactive in managing this process virtually for everyone’s peace of mind.
Rethink Benefit Offerings
Workforce demographics change and, as we are all too well aware now, so does the environment in which employees must work. Benefits that were important to employees in January 2020, may not be high on their list now. Benefits you’ve never considered, like financial counseling, could have risen in popularity over the past six months. Hartford insurance company conducted an interesting study asking U.S. employees and HR personnel in early March (pre-U.S. outbreak) and then again in mid-June about their satisfaction with their company’s benefit offerings. The findings suggest a gap in benefit offerings especially during a period when employees most need assistance.
- 80% of respondents stated they valued their insurance benefits in early March. 73% felt the same way mid-June.
- 61% of respondents stated they trust their company is making the best decisions about available benefits in early March. 55% felt the same way mid-June.
- 56% of respondents felt their benefits were above average in the marketplace in early March. 44% felt the same way mid-June.
Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach to benefit offerings, simply ask your employees what they value. There are numerous, easy-to-use online survey platforms, like Survey Monkey, you can use for this purpose.
Telemedicine has been critical during the pandemic. Virtual delivery of EAP, mental health and other medical services should be a vital component to any changes to your benefit offerings. Look for plan administrators offering innovative, easy-to-use technology via apps and online accounts to help employees use telemedicine, file claims and request refunds easily from their homes or anywhere in the world.
Mental Health and Wellbeing Assistance
Recent Census Bureau data shows one-third of Americans are suffering from clinical anxiety, depression or both. Far more people are experiencing less serious, but still life changing effects from months of isolation, caring for elderly parents and young children and financial burdens. The effects of the pandemic on employees’ mental health will be felt for years to come. Employers are taking note. Wilson Towers Watson conducted a 2020 COVID-19 Benefits Survey at the end of April 2020. Highlights of the survey can be found here. Importantly, nearly half of employers surveyed stated they’re enhancing healthcare benefits and broadening wellbeing programs as a result of the current environment. 77% of employers surveyed are offering or expanding access to virtual mental health services, 60% are offering new easy-to-implement virtual solutions, like virtual workouts, and 50% state they are promoting healthy nutrition and weight management for remote employees.
Budget For Increase To Health Care Expenditures
Lockdown and quarantine orders have meant many employees have skipped routine screenings like mammograms and yearly physicals. This lack of preventative care will drive up healthcare and productivity costs for employers in the near and long term. Gallagher’s 2020 Benefits Strategy and Benchmarking Survey includes data gathered from 3,921 employers from December 2019 – May 2020. The survey found that the pandemic, coupled with concerns over rising medical costs, may lead to many companies adjusting their 2021 employee benefits and compensation offerings. The brokerage firm reports likely increases to employee cost sharing for medical benefits in the form of increased premiums and more high-deductible health plans. Companies should reach out to their health insurance brokers now to get a sense of what to expect for 2021 budgeting purposes.
Tout What You Have
While you may consider changing or enhancing your benefit offerings, don’t forget to tout what you currently offer. Regular communication with employees about resources available through their health insurance company, EAP and retirement plan administrator is key. Maybe your employees have forgotten or you haven’t done a great job of promoting the offerings to begin with. Whatever the case, conduct a little online research or reach out to your insurance brokers and TPAs for more information you can email to your employees.
Smart HR Is Here To Help
Whether you want help organizing a virtual open enrollment fair, drafting an employee communication about key benefit offerings or surveying your employees to see what benefits they value, Smart HR can help. Call today.