Open Enrollment is Going Virtual This Year

The dog days of summer aren’t likely to have you thinking of health plans, life insurance, 401ks, or any of the other benefits employers offer. That is, unless you’re in HR.

This year, open enrollment – the weeks in October and November when employees make choices about their benefits – is going to be so different from those of the past that HR professionals began their planning while the rest of us were cleaning the barbecue for the summer ahead.

BenefitsPRO made that point a month ago writing, “In terms of benefits enrollment and communication, we will see major disruption.”

Across the country, HR leaders are rethinking how to present and communicate benefits information. With many employees likely to still be working remotely and even where they’re not, the usual group meetings are too much of a health risk, so HR professionals are turning to virtual presentations and digital messaging.

Heather Garbers, VP voluntary benefits & technology at HUB International, tells BenefitsPRO, “We are already seeing more employers adopting text messaging services and centering communications around digital campaigns, and we expect this trend to become normal operating procedure moving forward.”

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) predicts that employers will take their open enrollment campaigns online, offering virtual benefits fairs. Some will plan their own event; more will use a commercial service.

Megan Taggart, client and participant engagement senior manager at ConnectYourCare, says an online benefits fair is superior in some ways to the traditional in-person events. “An online fair allows employees to check out webinars, download resources and speak privately with benefit account experts according to the employees’ schedule,” she explains in the SHRM article.

But virtual benefits fairs and meetings have their downsides, the SHRM article notes.

“Virtual benefits fairs, by themselves, don’t create the same sense of urgency that in-person events do,” says Jon Stuckey, VP at the benefits communication firm Segal Benz. Hosting a live presentation with Q&A is one way to generate interest. Stuckey suggests conducting a survey or raffle as other ways to drive engagement.

A different issue is reaching those employees who may not be online. There are also legal requirements to consider says SHRM. Information about retirement plans can be delivered digitally, but “only for employees who regularly use a computer as part of their integral duties or for those employees who affirmatively consent.”

Mailing open enrollment information to employees in addition to making it available online “may be preferable,” says SHRM. “This is especially true considering that sometimes it’s the employee’s spouse who makes the benefit decisions.”

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