Five tips to navigating open enrollment amid the pandemic

Marsha Akpodiete, BridgeTower Media Newswires

This year’s open enrollment period is proving to be more important than ever before. With the COVID-19 pandemic increasing health concerns for many across the country, employees are now taking a closer look at their employer’s benefit offerings and finding value in options that may have been previously overlooked or unavailable.

As businesses kick off their open enrollment periods, it’s important to keep in mind that in today’s virtual environment, it’s not just about the plan changes or updated offerings, but how the information regarding the plans is delivered to employees in a virtual, digital way. HR managers and benefits specialists are also being tasked with advising employees on how to respond to the pandemic and strike a balance between over-insuring and under-insuring during this uncertain time.

To provide a streamlined open enrollment process that empowers employees with the information and flexibility that they need, HR managers should update their strategy to ensure they’re providing employees with detailed information about available benefits and offerings. These five tips can help businesses efficiently navigate their open enrollment period through the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring their employees get the support they need to make an informed decision about their benefits.


Offer virtual meetings and/or webinar

Whether plans changed drastically or minimally this year, employees are interested in hearing about these changes from HR. Hosting virtual meetings or offering a webinar to go over changes to the benefits plans is an essential step in helping to eliminate confusion. It gives employees a chance to ask questions and voice concerns, all while maintaining safe social distancing measures in this new remote world in which many employees are living. If a business chooses to move forward with an in-person meeting to review plan changes, it’s important to ensure the employees’ safety by adhering to all relevant state, local, and CDC guidelines. In these sessions, HR professionals should encourage employees to ask questions or request clarification where necessary to cultivate an environment of trust and transparency. If your company is using a self-service portal to enable employees to sign up for their plan of choice, encourage them to familiarize themselves with the platform and reach out with questions or concerns.

For those who may have recently joined the company or have experienced a qualifying event, such as turning 26 years old in the last year and no longer having access to their parents’ insurance, this may be their first time having a benefits specialist walk them through the plans offered. Enabling employees to sit down and hear what their benefits options are and why the employer is offering these plans can lessen future questions as employees begin their benefits selections.


Start sending reminders early

We all know that life can sometimes get in the way of our plans, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the open enrollment period is no different. Employees may have time set aside to enroll in their benefits but may find themselves distracted with other tasks or responsibilities, causing them to lose track of deadlines and miss the enrollment period.

Beginning the communication process about open enrollment early can help employees to keep this crucial task top of mind during this busy time of year. Encourage employees to keep an eye out for a confirmation notice once they’ve enrolled if that is something your company provides. Offering clear, detailed information about important timelines and due dates as well as regular reminders can help employees to better plan for their enrollment.


Provide helpful tools and resources

Benefits information can sometimes contain a sizeable amount of insurance jargon and terminology with which many employees may be unfamiliar. To help address this, HR managers can put together resources that will help employees better understand the benefits information provided to them. These resources could include links to sites with layman’s terms for the jargon used, a detailed vocabulary list, and more.

Offering these resources up front during open enrollment will enable employees to feel more knowledgeable as they make their selections during this period. Additionally, these resources will help to minimize the number of questions the HR team may receive throughout open enrollment.


Create a new communications plan

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s open enrollment period looks very different from how it has looked in previous years. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that the communications plan around open enrollment should shift along with the new normal. As many employees continue to work remotely, businesses should plan to leverage HR technology to communicate benefit options to employees. Self-service applications are particularly valuable as they empower employees to assess plans at their own pace and complete the process of signing up at a time that works for them and their families.

These tools can help ensure employees feel supported by their HR departments while they make their enrollment selections and help to create a more streamlined process for both the employees and HR management.


Consider virtual benefits office hours

Many employees are used to having their HR team just a few doors down when they have a question during open enrollment. Yet, the new virtual work environment may leave many feeling unaware and uncertain. Offering virtual benefits office hours gives employees a few dedicated hours a week to connect with their HR teams to discuss the benefits plans and ask questions throughout the enrollment period.

As HR’s role continues to evolve throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many HR professionals may be wondering how they can take the time to address employee concerns throughout open enrollment. Blocking off this dedicated time to virtually connect with employees also allows the HR teams to feel connected and engaged with the employees as they make these crucial decisions.


A different year for open enrollment

As employees remain concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their health and the health of their families, many will be taking a closer look at their benefits plans this year as they head into open enrollment. With uncertainty looming, it’s more important than ever that businesses provide transparent guidance and support to their employees to help them make the decision that is right for them. The degree to which you empower your employees through technology and support them throughout this process will determine both the efficiency of the process as well as the satisfaction of your employees.


With more than 20 years of HR experience, Marsha Akpodiete is an HR coach at Paychex where she supports 60 HR generalists across the United States who are responsible for advising Paychex clients on a wide range of business and HR issues in a variety of industries.