Supporting Employee Benefit Needs in a Virtual World

Engaging and supporting employees has always been a focus for employers, but connecting with employees is more challenging now than ever. Gone are the days when employees could access information from flyers, in-person benefit fairs, and organic face-to-face discussions. In the midst of a global pandemic, Zoom meetings are more common than watercooler chats and employees are receiving information from a multitude of digital platforms.

The need to communicate effectively about benefits is critically important, not just during open enrollment but year-round as employees use the benefits they have elected. Their questions may change daily as you navigate this uncertain world together. Engaging with your employees in a virtual world is imperative; lean into ways to connect that create a sustainable, satisfied workforce.

Effective communication can be broken down into three “seasons” for maximum impact: before, during, and after open enrollment.

Season 1, Before Open Enrollment: Summer is winding down, school is starting, and you need employees to start thinking about their benefits. How are you going to get your message to them?

Begin your planning process early and establish a comprehensive, thoughtful, and engaging communication strategy. Questions to contemplate as you prepare your strategy:

  • How will your employees receive messages (email, text, paper, online, webinar, etc.)?
  • What type of messages will be best received (short and sweet or long and informative)?
  • How will you be creative as you compete for employees’ attention to deliver critical benefits information?
  • How do you ensure employees are educated and confident in the ability to elect the best personalized benefits package for themselves and their families?

Your overarching goals should be to provide clear and timely information on the available options employees have, and a call to action on the decisions and actions you want employees to take.

Don’t be constrained by “That’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking. Employees have adapted to a new world in the last year, so don’t be afraid to try something new. For example, consider offering a virtual benefit fair to educate remote employees. These events can range from informal web conferences to fun and interactive virtual benefit fair experiences.  And they’re not just for one-time open enrollment; many of these fairs can be converted into a year-round destination as a new hire training resource or recruiting tool.

Season 2, Open Enrollment Is Here: The World Series of benefits has arrived and you need a winning communications strategy to get the results you need from enrolling employees. How do you convey a wide range of complex options clearly and effectively?

You have worked hard, honed your strategy, negotiated with vendors, and put together the best benefit package possible within your organization. Now you need employees to enroll in benefits that will bring them the most value. How do you accomplish this goal without personally walking each employee through the options?

Encourage informed decision-making! Partner with an outside vendor that can provide your employees access to real-time support and education. For example, this strategic partner can:

  • Create and share education materials that demonstrate the value of the plans, promote appropriate actions, and support enrollment in voluntary and other value-added benefit programs through varied communication methods (videos, articles, FAQs, etc.)
  • Provide licensed benefits counselors who will go beyond the transactional to thoughtfully guide employees throughout the benefits process, including education, consultation, and enrollment
  • Provide online decision support tools and resources that promote self-service and guide employees to make the best decisions, designing a personalized benefits package that takes advantage of the full value of your offerings.

Remember that every employee consumes information differently, through different channels and through different modalities. Make sure to provide personalized support anytime, anywhere, on any device. Leverage the use of digital real-time communication and developments in artificial intelligence with the availability of live online chat to provide immediate responses to your employees’ questions.

Season 3, After Open Enrollment. The dust has settled, your employees have made their benefit decisions and are back to engaging with other content and media. How do you continue to communicate important messages to your employees outside of open enrollment?

Engaging your employees in their benefits experience shouldn’t end at open enrollment. Create a culture of 365-day benefit support:

  • Partner with an administration vendor that allows for year-round access to the online education platform, as well as online chat and live benefits counselors.
  • Create a calendar of benefits topics to educate and communicate year-round (making sure these topics are flexible; if 2020 taught us anything, it’s the importance of being agile).
  • Take note of frequently asked employee questions and make a plan to educate on these topics. These are likely to focus on important benefit utilization and life events.
  • Start planning now for next year’s open enrollment!

You are responsible for being the trusted resource. Partner with vendors that will carry this torch with your employees. Benefits become very personal to employees when they need to utilize them, so year-round access to education and information can support your employees when they need it most.

You don’t have to manage this process alone. Consider partnering with an expert! Creating a benefits program that supports employees in a virtual world may be challenging to do on your own. Reach out to Mercer Marketplace 365+ today to discuss how we can support you and your employees as the world moves to a digital-first model.

About Mercer Marketplace:

Mercer Marketplace 365+ is an integrated bundle of strategy, consulting, communications, decision support, and administration services for health and benefits programs. Mercer Marketplace 365+’s benefit counselors help employees 365 days of the year, with a customer satisfaction score of over 97%.

Reach out today to learn how Mercer Marketplace 365+ clients have saved more than $3.2 billion since inception—an average of $1,000 per employee during the first year.

Meg Bricker
by Meg Bricker

Principal, Solution Leader, Mercer Marketplace 365+

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