Guide to Open Enrollment 2020 in the COVID-19 Pandemic

BENEFITS | Jun 23, 2020

Open Enrollment 2020 for employee benefits is just around the corner. Here’s what we think should be different — and what should stay the same — when it comes to effective employee communication strategies this year.

two people working in face masks

Benefits Open Enrollment is always an exciting and challenging time. Deciding on benefit plan design changes and how best to communicate them to employees is tricky in a typical year.

Layer on COVID-19 (coronavirus) and an election year, and you’ve got an Open Enrollment season that requires extra care, planning, and attention!

To help you get started, we’ve rounded up some thoughts on what we think should change for this Benefits Open Enrollment season, what should stay the same, and some bonus ways you can save money on employee communication this year.

Three Ways Open Enrollment Should Change During COVID-19

Let’s face it — things are looking pretty different this year! So, it makes sense to adjust some of your employee communication strategies during this year’s Open Enrollment season.

two people working in front of whiteboard in face masks

1. Embrace transparency and address “the why”

We don’t always recommend explaining the full context for employee benefits and plan design changes. Often, we focus on the “what” and leave the “why” aside. After all, employees typically want to know how changes will directly affect them and only want to hear the background and rationale if it’s really compelling.

This year, though, we recommend explaining to employees how COVID-19 is affecting your business and, in turn, impacting employee benefits changes.

If you’re making changes to your telemedicine benefit as a result of COVID-19, for example, be sure to explain to employees how the change will help them navigate the new normal.

It’s also more important than ever to help employees understand the coverage they’ll get under all their medical plan options. Otherwise, employees fearing a health crisis may choose your most expensive plan, assuming that it will offer the most and the best coverage.

If there was ever a year for what and why, this is it.

2. Promote other important employee benefits during OE

This Open Enrollment season, employee benefits that support physical, emotional, mental, and financial health are going to be even more important than usual. Some of your employees may have partners who lost their jobs due to COVID-19, some are balancing work and parenting every single day, and most are managing incredibly high levels of stress.

Employees are looking for employer support services and need to know what you offer that can help them stay both physically and mentally well.

Normally, we recommend focusing your Open Enrollment material exclusively on the benefits employees need to choose (and not the benefits they use year-round).

This year, though, consider adding a companion piece to your Open Enrollment guides, such as a financial wellness graphic email campaign, or a series of webinars on year-round wellbeing benefits.

3. Rethink onsite employee benefits fairs in light of COVID-19

September/October is generally when we roll out the red carpet and invite employees to meet their benefits administrators, get a flu shot or biometric screening, and grab some fun swag.

This year, Open Enrollment onsite events probably won’t happen, but we still need to make sure that employees are informed about benefit changes and have the opportunity to ask questions.

We’ve done a lot of thinking and have reimagined the benefits fair for the new normal. Read all about it here.

Two Key Ways Open Enrollment Should Stay the Same This Year

Even this year, when it seems like everything is changing, some things should stay the same.

kid and doctor in face masks

Here are the two most important things to keep consistent this year. (And if you’re not already doing these, we can help!)

1. Keep the lines of employee communication open

A lot has changed in recent months, but one thing never will — employees will always want to know what’s happening to their employee benefits in the upcoming year. Effective employee communication will be key to this Open Enrollment season.

We still have a responsibility to communicate comprehensively and offer messaging through a variety of mediums.

Remember, people learn in different ways, so using as many different channels for benefits communication as possible (like physical signage, mailings, videos, webinars, web content, and podcasts) will help show employees how much you care.

2. Remember that branding and tone still matter

Every year, we give a lot of thought to landing the right tone and look for our clients’ Open Enrollment materials. We always want the design and messaging to align and complement each other.

This year, it’s even more important to nail the right voice and brand for your benefits communication.

This may not be the right year for rah-rah messaging — you may want to opt for a measured tone. Or maybe this is the right time for authentic, transparent communication from senior leaders. Maybe you ditch traditional lifestyle photography and move to figurative illustration.

Whatever you decide, your employee communication should speak to the current worldwide climate and your company’s specific situation, and it should be sensitive to how your employees and their families are feeling right now.

Bonus: Three Ways You Can Save Money This Year on Open Enrollment Benefits Communication

While this year has been tumultuous, there is an opportunity for many companies to save money this year. It’s even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic for companies to be thinking about creative ways to save money.

zoom meeting

1. Consider an all-digital Open Enrollment experience

If you’ve been flirting with the idea of a digital Open Enrollment guide, this might be the year to make that move.

An online flipbook can help give employees the same feel as a print piece — without the hefty bills associated with printing, fulfillment, and postage.

You could also use this opportunity to reimagine your online benefits experience. Instead of directing employees from your benefits website to your printed guide or a digital PDF of it, you can build a guided, interactive, online benefits experience that helps employees understand benefit changes and consider their options during Open Enrollment.

2. Streamline your internal communication strategy

If ditching your print guide this Open Enrollment feels too extreme or you truly feel that print materials are the best way to get key messages out to your employee population, consider streamlining your printed material. Try a quick start guide instead of a complete Open Enrollment guide or enrollment reminder postcards only.

Simply reducing the size of your open enrollment guide can save you thousands — and your employees likely won’t notice the difference.

3. Try creative ways to communicate employee benefits

If you’re interested in reducing your Open Enrollment spend, you may want to take a fresh look at your internal communication plan and explore your digital employee communications options.

Is it time to move to digital legal notices (if your legal counsel approves)? Can you combine some of your Open Enrollment messages with other company communication (like regular COVID-19 update emails or all-company calls)? Can you rely more heavily on your leaders, people managers, and HR to cascade benefits messaging to employees?

You may also want to consider setting up regular webinars on Open Enrollment topics to supplement your print and digital communication — it’s not expensive and employees will appreciate hearing from benefits experts.

Podcasts are another great way to spread the word about benefit changes and options since they’re relatively inexpensive and allow for a deep-dive into important Open Enrollment and employee benefits topics. And the best thing about them is employees can listen while they’re engaged in other activities like working out, cleaning the house, and cooking dinner.

By embracing necessary changes and keeping the right things the same, you can create impactful, informative, and supportive Open Enrollment benefits communication for your employees.

Let’s Be Partners

If you’re ready to change how your people use their benefits, experience company culture, and take actions that drive success at work and in life, we’re ready to help. Together, we can raise the bar on your employee communication and produce measurable results so that you can grow and thrive.

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