Open enrollment for 2023 plans will be different because employees’ expectations and needs are changing.
Amid inflation and the pandemic, employees are evaluating healthcare coverage options differently than they were a few years ago. As the economy continues shifting, employers must offer employees flexibility and personalization to make sure their needs are properly addressed during a time when the job market is still very competitive.
So, now more than ever, benefits and compensation are on the main stage – making open enrollment season a critical time for HR teams to deliver benefits that meet employees’ evolving needs.
Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your open enrollment season is successful.
Educate, educate, educate
Education has always played a role in open enrollment. This year, however, it’ll be different. “You’ll be seeing it from the employees themselves, where there’s more emphasis to try and understand their benefits better,” says Chase Ambrosia, senior benefits consultant for OneDigital. “Employees want to make sure they have the right coverages to protect their families, and they want to feel good about the benefits they have in such a competitive job market.”
But it doesn’t end there. Employees are also thinking about how they can be more conscientious consumers with the benefits they’re offered. “For example, they want to know about tax advantage opportunities, whether it’s HSAs [Health Savings Accounts] or FSAs [Flexible Spending Accounts],” says Ambrosia. “They want to know how much they have to pay for their health care or insurance needs on a pre-tax basis to really get the value out of their benefits packages.”
Communicate clearly and often
All good open enrollment experiences start with excellent communication. “I’ve always been a believer – regardless of the type of benefits package you offer – that how well you communicate it really dictates the perception of the benefits to your employees,” said Ambrosia.
Most people don’t do in-person meetings anymore, so the human contact/personal touch aspect has been lost. While Zoom meetings are effective, they don’t resonate as much as personal small-group meetings did. So, if you can implement them again, great. If not, don’t rely solely on Zoom recordings or webinars to communicate benefits plans. “Do a combination of things so that you’re hitting home with how employees can perceive your benefits package and get the best info from you,” says Ambrosia.
One suggestion from Mercer is using two-way communication like having leaders host live sessions where they answer questions from employees.
Lastly, offer multilingual communications so every employee has the opportunity to learn about their benefits.
Embrace automation and technology
Many employers have gone into a hybrid or fully remote workforce. So, to accommodate remote workers employers must embrace automation and technology tools. That means goodbye paper forms.
If you’re thinking, “We haven’t been using paper forms for a few years now,” think about this: 78.5% of U.S. employers have fewer than 10 employees, and 89% have fewer than 20 employees. So, for these companies, what has traditionally been a paper-based environment is quickly going digital.
“In the process of going digital, not only is it easier, but it’s an environment that for the first time we’re beginning to see employees of small businesses have access to a broader benefits package that they haven’t had access to previously,” said David Reid, CEO and co-founder of Ease.
Take a holistic approach
“Traditional benefits are still going to be top of the list with medical being the one that leads it,” said Reid. “But the concept of holistic or the term equitable benefit offerings is coming front-and-center. We’re seeing employers move toward more creative types of plans rather than traditional plans.”
The report, which surveyed more than 1,700 employers, brokers and agencies, found that 75% of agencies predict needing to provide more insurance options to their groups this open enrollment season with the following topping the list:
- Worksite benefits (42%)
- Health insurance (33%), and
- Mental health benefits (32%).
“HR leaders must take a holistic approach to benefits – one that addresses employees’ physical, mental and financial wellness needs – while also considering the diverse backgrounds and circumstances of their employee base,” says Lauren Uranker, head of corporate relationship management at Goldman Sachs Ayco Personal Financial Management. “A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer an option.”
Benefits impacting open enrollment
Some benefits trends that Uranker says are picking up steam and she expects to impact open enrollment this year include:
- Lifestyle spending accounts: There’s been an increased interest in lifestyle spending accounts, notes Uranker. These accounts enable employees to allocate a fixed amount of funds for elective expenses – anything from their gym membership to student loan repayment. This benefit offers the flexibility and ease that employees want out of benefits today.
- Student loan assistance: Student loan assistance options are important to enable employees to achieve other financial goals, like retirement planning. Some student-loan-related benefits, according to Uranker include loan refinancing and management tools, fixed contributions toward student loans, match on student loan repayments and allowing employees to redirect accrued PTO toward payments.
- Financial wellness programs: “In our latest bi-annual (every other year) Ayco Executive Benefits Survey, we saw financial education make one of the biggest increases of any benefit with an 11% jump in companies offering financial education to all employees, compared to the 2019 Ayco Executive Benefits Survey,” shares Uranker. “We expect this trend to accelerate as employers and employees alike are conscious of the current economic environment: a potential recession, inflation and rising interest rates.” Employers can incorporate or improve their financial wellness benefits for employees to help navigate this time. Financial wellness programs can span budgeting, investment planning and enhanced 401(k) offerings, like after tax-spillover features and annuity payment options.
“While employers navigate employees’ evolving needs this open enrollment season, it’s also important to consider the needs of your organization, especially as benefits costs are top of mind in today’s economic environment, and inflation has impacted the price of employee premiums,” advises Uranker. “By working closely with employees to understand what they need, employers can identify value-added benefits and scale back in underutilized areas as needed.”