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Article | EX Insights

Preparing for 2023 benefits enrollment

How to differentiate and enhance your employee experience

By Abby Aldrich and Casey Hauch | May 4, 2022

Employee benefits are no longer just table stakes; they’re a differentiator. This gives employers an opportunity to put their benefits in the spotlight during benefits enrollment season.
Benefits Administration and Outsourcing Solutions|Health and Benefits|Inclusion and Diversity|Retirement|Talent|Total Rewards|Wellbeing
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Employees are placing greater importance on their benefits package in 2022

According to the WTW 2022 Global Benefits Attitude Survey, employees cite benefits as one of the top three reasons (behind pay and job security) why they join a company and stay at their jobs. At no other time in the last decade have employees placed more importance on health and retirement benefits. Benefits enrollment period – a time when employers have a captive audience with employees who need to make decisions about their health coverage for the following year – is the perfect time to remind employees of the array of benefits options you offer and the value that they provide.

So, as you strategize about how to make the most of this spotlight on benefits during enrollment season, data trends suggest employers lean into three key themes: 1) provide security, 2) give choice, and 3) make it easy. Talking about benefits in the context of a culture of wellbeing, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, also demonstrates a further commitment to caring for your employees’ health and happiness.

Three boxes representing emerging themes for the upcoming benefits enrollment season, include provide security, give choice and make it easy.
The boxes are encapsulated by a line with additional boxes above and below the three key themes representing wellbeing and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Emerging themes for the upcoming benefits enrollment season
  • Emphasize the security that your holistic benefits package provides and what you are doing to help support employees during benefits enrollment and throughout the year.

    The uncertainty of the world has created demand for a sense of security. Employees want to know their benefits are there for them when needed. Health benefits provide that protection and employees say they are willing to pay more for that peace of mind. In fact, our 2022 Global Benefits Attitude Survey found that 46% of employees are willing to pay a higher amount out of their paycheck each month for a more generous healthcare plan. The survey also found employee willingness to pay for better benefits rebounded after a dip during the pandemic.

    Beyond health insurance, employees are also looking for emotional support, resources to bolster their resilience, and financial protection. Employers are taking a holistic approach to benefits and positioning them as a core element of their organization’s wellbeing strategy. In fact, WTW research indicates that 85% of employers are focused on enhancing employee physical, financial, social and emotional wellbeing. Many are demonstrating their commitment to emotional security by removing barriers to behavioral healthcare and offering care and self-help tools at little to no cost. And many are supporting diverse needs of their workforce by adding financial subsidies for everyday costs like wigs for families battling cancer or increasing the reimbursement for at-home fitness equipment and virtual workout classes. Making sure employees know about all the ways you provide them with security – physically, financially, emotionally, and socially – is an important opportunity that instills trust and optimizes the total employment value in the face of rising inflation, both of which are important components of instilling a great employee experience.

    New legislation in the U.S. also meets employees’ desire for more security by providing transparency into healthcare costs. When preparing employees for benefits enrollment, be sure to highlight both the security that your benefits provide and new laws, like the No Surprises Act, to support the message that you’ve got them covered.

  • Showcase choice to your diverse employee population through creative program design, decision-making support, and modernized communications before, during, and after benefits enrollment.

    As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse and hybrid working models become more prevalent, providing choice and opportunities for employees to select what works best for them are key drivers of engagement and trust. WTW research shows that delivering choice improves benefits appreciation. Where there is no choice in benefits, employees are more likely to say the plans are expensive, rather than a good value. Thus, employers are designing healthcare plans with optimal choice for employees. Nearly half of employers (49%) have added more choice in all benefits and another 23% are planning or considering doing so in the next year or so.

    Beyond medical plan choices, employers are providing creative solutions to healthcare needs that meet employees where they are. These include offering options like lifestyle spending accounts (a lump sum where employees choose how they want to allocate benefits dollars) and adding culturally sensitive care programs to supplement in-network options (like mental healthcare for minority communities). Elevating your benefits package in this way begins with reviewing your offerings through a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens – which is top of the priority list for many companies with 84% citing a greater emphasis on DEI.

    Offering choice also means organizations must support their employees in decision-making during benefits enrollment. To help employees see themselves in their choices, employers are taking a storytelling approach to help with benefits selection, providing examples of different employee scenarios, bringing their health plan options to life. In 2022, 70% of employers are expanding the tools they have to help employees make smart enrollment decisions; and 84% plan to in 2023. These resources no longer weigh merely the costs of care, but showcase unique employee preferences and needs. Rather than using traditional examples of varying conditions like prescription drugs, knee replacements, or high blood pressure, organizations are sketching out profiles of people that represent the uniqueness of their workforce. For example, showing how their health and wellbeing programs can support a single woman looking to have a baby.

    Employees also want choice in how they learn about benefits offerings. Having a multi-faceted communication strategy is critical to educating employees and reaching them in ways and at times that work best for them. This means thinking strategically about proactive communication prior to any required action and embedding immersive education throughout the benefits enrollment season. It also means thinking about how you reach various employee types – using targeted and personalized communication tactics. Notably, the 2023 Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index encourages employers looking to achieve a high rating to directly address select communities, like LGBTQ+ employees, with targeted communication material (e.g., benefits guide specific to family formation, transgender inclusive healthcare, and HIV treatment/prevention), so there is equitable opportunity in learning about choice offerings.

    Employee confidence in benefits selections is strongly linked to effective communication, support, and tools from employers according to the results of our 2022 Global Benefits Attitude Survey.

  • Make it easy to prepare for, enroll, and use benefits by communicating often and in a personalized manner using technology, throughout the benefits enrollment process.

    Our world has quickly evolved to one-click purchases, instant food delivery, on-the-go virtual visits, self-checkout – all things that make it easier for us to live our lives. It’s become an expectation. Experiencing, learning, electing, and utilizing employer benefits is no exception. More than half of employers (52%) have taken action to enhance the enrollment experience, while another third (34%) are looking to do so. With more than half of all employees working remotely or a mix of onsite and remotely, meeting employees where they are, no matter the location, time of day, or what device, is a must. This means taking accessibility into consideration too – supporting those who are neurodiverse, colorblind, or suffer from decision-making anxiety – and making it easy for all people will ensure your approach is inclusive.

Here are the ways leading organizations are making the experience easy before, during, and after benefits enrollment.

Pre-enrollment

Organizations are inviting employees to learn about their benefits options two to three weeks in advance of decision-making time; making it easy to access information when it works best for them. To do this, employers are hosting virtual benefits fairs – available through desktop, mobile, or tablet – with equitable access for all employees. This year, some organizations are taking a hybrid approach to virtual fairs. With employees heading back to the office, in-person experiences like on-site ergonomic lessons are supplementing robust digital experiences. This makes it even easier for employees to participate in their health during an on-site work break, or at home before and after work hours.

Other companies are investing in digital communication platforms, building engaging one-stop digital hubs where it’s easy to consume information, find resources, and enroll. With the evolution of more modern employee experience platforms like WTW’s Embark solution (also optimized for accessibility needs), benefits guides and handbooks are being replaced. Only 40% of organizations provide an online communication platform to meet employee’s personal benefits needs.

Highlight pieces are also trumping longer preview emails and brochures. Organizations and creative teams are partnering to think differently about how to capture attention through brand and media. Employers are leading with quick audio messages from leaders, visually interesting campaigns, and bingeable video learning series. These short pieces make it easy to consume need-to-know information on-the-go.

During enrollment

People are busy juggling work and life. Back-to-back meetings lead into dinner, bath time, and dog walking time, among other personal activities. Even with a three-week window, employees miss deadlines as life goes by. The key to making it easy is making it quick by meeting people where they are. Benefits enrollment should be easily accessible via desktop, mobile, tablet, or phone. Intensifying the need for employers to make it easy is the systematic shift to self-service.

  • Consider offering your employees tools that support them in making smart health plan decisions based on their previous claim data.
  • Showcasing complex plans or changes? Embed a decision pathway tool into your communication or have a chatbot ready to answer questions no matter the time of day.
  • Think strategically about each word in your benefits enrollment communications and drive a consistent call to action. For example, if you’re directing employees to your digital benefits platform, make sure they can get to where they need to be in one click.

Lastly, don’t make employees dig for support. Make it easy to contact your carriers, service center, or HR partners. Provide the phone number (people still call!) and web address for self-help.

Post-enrollment and ongoing

Post-benefits enrollment is also a crucial time and not an afterthought. Make sure to thank employees for taking the time to care for themselves and while you’re at it, solicit some quick feedback so you know how to elevate your approach in the future. Short listening activities, like five-question enrollment satisfaction, virtual event surveys, and service center commentary, are additive and can be impactful in measuring your overall benefits enrollment experience.

Lastly, consider transforming the benefits enrollment experience into a year-round personalized journey for your employees. Leading organizations have strategic plans in place to refresh their digital communication platforms frequently and bring employees back to their communication platform throughout the year for multicultural fairs, recruiting events, and more. While there, employees can easily engage with financial and wellness resources such as employer health plans, mindfulness tools, and financial counseling, among others. Successful companies are taking an additional step and using data and analytics to send targeted communications and personalized messages to encourage active benefits participation – by age group, level, and ethnicity, among others.

Conclusion

With the importance of health benefits at its highest in a decade, now is the time to demonstrate commitment to employee health and wellbeing. Providing security, giving choice, and making it easy, are strategies that will garner trust with your employees and entice them to come back for more – beyond the benefits enrollment season.

A differentiated benefits experience can also help attract new employees and retain current employees, enhancing your overall employee experience and making a meaningful difference in the moments that matter for your employees.

Authors

Director, Employee Experience
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Managing Director, Communication and Change Management
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