open enrollment

As companies begin planning for open enrollment this fall, the economy, labor market and day-to-day business operations are in very different places than they were this time last year. Last summer, most cities were still under strict Covid regulations, and many businesses were only operating at partial capacity. This year, restaurants, entertainment venues, stores and other businesses no longer have capacity limits and life is mostly returning to normal. Instead of worrying about bottom lines, companies are focused on being able to hire and retain enough staff to meet customer demand.

As businesses look to return to normal it is clear there is a new normal. Office employees want greater flexibility to work remotely and the new demand for a hybrid workplace is challenging traditional business structure. The tight labor market some industries are facing, particularly in lower paid positions, is forcing employers to raise the job stakes. Across industries and job roles, employees are demonstrating that if they do not receive the benefits, pay and flexibility that they desire from a job, they will find a better match. To attract and retain the best talent, employers are having to adapt and offer broader scope benefit packages that encompass hybrid and remote workers, among other changes.

One of the biggest changes in benefits is companies recognizing the need to support the well-being of employee’s mental health. More businesses are adding mental health coverage to insurance packages, creating programs to remove stigmas, and they are giving employees more access to mental health resources. While working remotely has now come to be viewed as a perk by many people, the isolation of the pandemic did take a toll on many employees. According to the CDC 11% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression between January and June of 2019. In December of 2020 that number had grown to 42%. Some of the most popular mental health benefits companies are offering include:

  • Access to free counseling sessions or reduced copays for in-network therapy
  • Subscriptions to virtual counseling service apps
  • Subscriptions to wellness apps for meditation, stress reduction, and improved sleep

Because workplaces will have more employees working remotely at least part of the time, companies need to do more than support employees with mental health benefits. They will need to develop effective and innovative solutions for virtual education and healthcare program enrollment. Best practices will include virtual health fairs, virtual open enrollment meetings, and shorter, more frequent, and targeted communications.

Companies should also expect to see an increased demand from employees for benefits that extend to family members. Many working adults had to become caregivers during the pandemic for their elderly parents, and full-time educators and entertainers for their children. These employees will want to make sure that they have options for caregiver support as they return to the workplace. Another outcome of the pandemic will be more parents choosing to stay home, either to be a caregiver full-time or to run their own business, resulting in an increase in spousal enrollment.

Due to the tight labor market, 2022 benefits will be all about creating more attraction for employees.  Employers will be hesitant to make any major changes to their benefit plans, for fear these changes will impact their employees negatively.  Employee contributions to their benefits will be flat, as employers look to hold the line for their employees.  Increasing the value of benefits, and even adding benefits targeted to the changes experienced in 2021 through COVID is the norm.

As preparations begin for open enrollment, companies will want to review the virtual enrollment processes that were put in place last year to determine how they can be optimized and improved for this year. Since many employees will continue to work remotely, it will be critical for companies to succeed at effectively explaining benefits packages, creating programs to educate employees about their healthcare options, and how to improve their wellbeing. And, most importantly design a competitive benefits package that meets the needs of today’s employee and the new hybrid workplace. Based on the current employment landscape, companies that are able to provide expanded benefits packages with flexible work schedules will be the most successful at attracting and retaining high quality employees.

Doug Ramsthel is a Partner at Burnham Benefits, a Baldwin Risk Partners Company, one of the top 50 employee benefit consulting firms in the United States.  He consults employers across the US on their benefit plan strategy, design, funding, and communication.  With health insurance being the major cost for most employers, he has been successful in helping employers creatively reduce costs while not compromising the quality of benefits offered to employees.  He is a recognized specialist in self-funding, consumer driven healthcare, underwriting, and financial analysis.

Open enrollment stock photo by stoatphoto/Shutterstock