Benefits Open Enrollment Checkup Time? Talk to Employees.
Steve Carroll January 28, 2021 13 min read

Benefits Open Enrollment Checkup Time? Talk to Employees.

Ask your employees about their benefits open enrollment experience

The work from home revolution. Virtual benefits fairs. The impact of furloughs and layoffs on employees’ eligibility. How to provide mental health benefits for remote employees. What to do about leftover FSA funds. Changing insurance, tax and compliance rules and requirements. COBRA extensions. Credits for unused gym memberships, commuter benefits, or canceled continuing education classes.

2020’s benefits open enrollment truly was unlike anything we’ve been through before. Unprecedented. The new abnormal.

Give yourself and your HR and benefits team a hand. You pulled it off with amazing grace and efficiency, balancing your organizations’ economic challenges with employees’ continually shifting needs and their desperate need for guidance, comfort, and advice.

We hope you’ve given yourself the credit and congratulations you deserve, and that you were able to find quiet time at year-end to celebrate family and friends (if only via video), and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for.

But now it’s time to take stock. What went right during 2020’s OE? Where did unexpected hurdles trip you up? Did your organization and employees get what they need from your benefits program? What offerings should you add or expand? Or, potentially, scale back or eliminate until things stabilize for your employees and your business?

Your peers who responded to a recent benefitexpress survey made it clear they are working hard to answer these questions and balance the competing pressures created by the pandemic.

Common large employer benefits changes expected to make within the next 12-18 months chart

But how do you know what needs improvement and whether the changes you make will actually be improvements?

Like everything else around this pandemic, unfortunately, it won’t be simple or easy.

Let’s take a look at what your review process might require:

  • Surveying employees for their opinions/complaints about the annual enrollment process
  • Surveying employees for their opinions/complaints about benefits offerings
  • Measuring the impact of benefits plans on employee satisfaction, talent retention, and recruiting
  • Executing ongoing benefits communication strategies to optimize utilization and achieve wellness, and other goals
  • Redesigning your plan options in response to what you find out.

So, how’d you do in 2020?

During the planning phase you set goals around participation rates, contribution amounts, and budget priorities.

Even if you met those goals, this is the time to sit down with HR and Finance leadership to talk about whether those goals need to be revisited based on your experience during and after open enrollment.

Just as important as assessing performance against those goals, it is critical to assess whether you achieved your targets for an employee-satisfaction-return on your benefits investments.

Remember, while participation and financial metrics describe outcomes, they tell you little about the experience of using the technology and the efficacy of the processes you’ve put in place.

Because benefits technology is no different from most software and platforms intended for non-technical employees, even if the underlying functionality is impressive, the user experience can be horrible.

As benefits leaders at your organization, you have as much responsibility for employees’ experience using your benefits technology as you do for offering the best benefits options. Getting it wrong will directly impact your employees’ engagement and productivity—and your organization’s success. And understanding the user experience has never been more critical.

The Hartford’s Future of Benefits Study, polled U.S. workers and human resources benefit decision makers in early March 2020 just before the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., and again in mid-June. The findings are sobering.

Of more than 1,000 employees responding to the second survey in June, 73% said they value the insurance benefits their company offers them, down from 80% three months earlier. Similarly, just 55% of employees trust their company is making the best decisions about the benefits available, compared to 61% in wave one of the study. Only 44% rate their employer’s benefits as above average compared to 56% in wave one.

With so much else going on at work and at home, you can’t expect your employees to proactively tell you where the problems are. If they don’t believe you are working to improve their benefits and how they access them, they’ll just give up.

So dig in. If your system usage reports show people are spending too much time on one aspect or another during the enrollment flow, that’s data you need to understand. Ask a user to walk you through the process from their point of view, and you will understand very specifically what needs to change.

Are your users telling you it’s time for a (tech) change?

Benefits technology comprises an amazing suite of tools and capabilities that is evolving very quickly. That means you must continually ensure you have access to the tools and partners you need to support your workforce not only today, but well into the future.

Larger employers have taken the lead in implementing and evolving benefits administration technology. A significant majority of organizations participating in a recent benefitexpress study are already using benefits administration technology to improve employee experience and increase their HR teams’ effectiveness.

And most of those employers expect to make significant investments to improve their benefits administration technology in the coming months.

Large employers evaluating the need to switch/invest in benefits technology within the next 12-18 months chart

However, the advantages that organizations achieve using this technology are not restricted to large employers.

Organizations of all sizes can access a full suite of benefits technology capabilities—and gain the flexibility to quickly and affordably implement technology advancements—by partnering with a benefits administration specialist.

But make sure, whether building your benefits infrastructure in-house or working with a partner to administer your programs, you’re letting user insights guide how you select and use technology tools, and not the other way around.

And remember, this isn’t a one-time, fix-it-and-forget-it chore. Keeping your benefits administration process working smoothly and your employees well-served requires constant tweaking or, sometimes, if your assessment goes poorly, ripping out and replacing technology, suppliers and partners. It’s a lot of work and the rest of your daily to-do list isn’t going away.

Sharing the load

It’s critical that the benefits administration partner you select works to understand both the “what” of your benefits program and also “why” you expect it to impact your organization’s results.

They should be flexible, able, and willing to take on just one or two tedious but critical processes, offload the entire benefits administration function, or help you handle anything in between.

Here are some questions you can ask to help decide if you’ve already found the right partner, or if it’s time for a change:

  • Is my current partner adding work to my plate instead of removing it?
  • Is my team constantly educating new account managers or playing quality control for their developers?
  • How quickly can they adapt to changes in regulations or headcount or carriers?
  • Do my employees consistently get the support they need, or is my team constantly involved in chasing down answers about eligibility or reimbursements or balances?
  • Are other customers happy or is your partner churning through accounts?
  • Is there full accountability for security and education, and proactively finding, reporting and correcting any errors?
  • Who are the tech experts here? It shouldn’t be you.

Your in-house team is already shouldering a huge workload. They need to rely on your partners to ease that challenge, not work harder to succeed in spite of them.

Getting employee benefits right in the new abnormal

As we push on through the ongoing (and still unforeseen) challenges and changes the pandemic has wrought, there really is only one resource none of us can succeed without—our people.

They are living with changes every day and there is no substitute for understanding their situations and needs. No matter how you rate your 2020 open enrollment, it's important that you take time to listen and respond to any insights your employees give you around their experience with the process.

These  conversations will help you analyze what went right and what could be
improved, so you can implement an easier, more effective process for next year. And don't hesitate to reach out to benefitexpress if you need help.

Is your current benefits administration outsourcing partner meeting your evolving needs? Take fifteen minutes to learn why making a switch to benefitexpress can take your benefits strategy to the next level in 2021 and beyond. Interested? Let's talk.