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How HR can succeed at remote Open Enrollment: three ways to increase engagement

By Chris Renz



Engaging employees during open enrollment is a challenge HR leaders face year after year, and now more than ever, in the pandemic-driven remote world, we need to find ways to connect with employees and support their health and well-being. 


Research shows that employee well-being boosts employee performance. What is needed to support “well-being” has evolved in light of Covid-19, and HR leaders need to acknowledge this evolution. Open enrollment is a key opportunity to not only allow employees to adjust benefit choices, but also to make employees aware of what is available to them and their families. 


The conventional approach to engaging employees may not be enough this year, and it’s time to start thinking differently. These three considerations can help HR leaders better connect with their employees and provide what they need during these challenging times.


1. Acknowledge new employee situations, and consider new benefit offerings to reflect them.


Employees want to know they are understood and supported by their organization. Take this time to reflect on the effects the pandemic has had on your employees and adjust your benefits offerings to reflect them. HR teams can continue to use a data-driven approach to identify what is most important to employees, including metrics on benefit usage and plan selection, and ensure offerings are meeting employee needs at this time. In the absence of data, an employee pulse survey can help gauge needs and values. 


Adjusting offerings could mean strengthening your mental health offerings or redesigning perks to reflect remote work environments. You may also find that adjusting offerings is not necessary; instead, there may be a need to emphasize programs that are currently offered but have been underutilized, especially now that employee situations may have dramatically changed. 


2. Use new channels to reach employees on a personal level, including remote office hours.


Finding time for human connection is critical to engaging employees in the open enrollment process and ensuring they understand the full program of benefits available to them. Traditional virtual communication platforms are important to continue (e.g., benefits websites), but this year we may need to forgo the typical in-person benefits fairs and on-site distribution of materials and get creative to ensure employees are educated on and taking full advantage of your offerings. 


Webinars or online meetings are an effective way to emphasize the importance of benefits selection, educate employees on offerings and allow real-time questions. An open enrollment via Zoom is an ultimate solution, although many employees have hit Zoom fatigue by now, so it’s important to approach these presentations with employee needs in mind, anticipating the questions employees might have and following employees’ lead. Highlighting scenarios that are common to today’s world will help you connect with employees and recognize their situations. 


In addition to the content of the presentations, can you make the experience more interactive — for example, distribute company-wide food delivery vouchers or babysitter credits so that the employees could give the session their full-time attention? Can you identify and liaise with employee ambassadors who can present selected benefits through their own personal stories? Can you produce “open enrollment packs” that include quick cards with benefits overviews, next steps and useful benefit vendor contacts, and ship these to employees? The opportunities here are endless! 


To supplement online presentations, consider allowing time for virtual office hours with the open enrollment lead, benefits managers or dedicated benefit vendors who are knowledgeable about all benefits offerings. This provides employees the opportunity to ask specific questions about their unique situations.


Although not unique to the Covid-19 era, it’s important to have one place where employees can go, such as a benefits website, that anticipates the information that would be relevant to the employees and empowers employees to make the right decisions.


3. Communicate with compassion, and educate employees about their rights to change plans in these uncertain times.


Now that you have your channels established, it’s important, especially this year, to communicate with empathy and recognize the effects of the pandemic. Covid-19 has proven we are in a time of uncertainty, and many employees will need plan changes throughout the year. Whether this is a change in dependent care, a spouse losing work or an increased need for mental health options, knowing there is a way to make a change will put employees at ease. 


Government regulations for making benefits changes are complicated, and employers can use open enrollment as an opportunity to educate employees on their rights. Show some concrete examples of how this has happened, common types of experiences and how benefits programs can be adjusted to continue to support their well-being throughout the year. 


At a time when everything feels uncertain, open enrollment is an opportunity for employers to connect with their employees and show their understanding and support for their well-being, and in turn, boost performance and engagement. Put your employee needs first, select the right channels and lead with compassion for the best outcomes both for the employees and for the business. 



The article was originally published on Forbes.


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