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This Open Enrollment Is Harder

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What You Need to Know

  • The pandemic is still out there.
  • The employees aren't interested.
  • The people in HR are overwhelmed.

More than ever, group business agents are encountering human resource professionals that have a lot on their plates. The expectations for individuals in the roles running HR departments have not only expanded to involve more duties, but teams have become leaner, and the duties they oversee have become more complicated.

Given that employee benefits have grown to become the second or third highest spend an organization allocates budget for in an annual fiscal year, agents need to convey clarity and value to C-suite senior decision makers more than ever.

To sum it up, the job of managing benefits has become more difficult, and the stakes have only gotten higher. This is putting more pressure on the agent community now, especially as the pandemic continues to linger, and the agent community’s clients continue managing the challenge of increasingly remote workforces, workplace health and safety protocols, and a disengaged workforce.

However, despite these obstacles, the response from many agents and their clients last year did result in some much-needed innovation within the group benefits space. 2020 was the catalyst that pushed group plan providers to pivot benefits communications during open enrollment, focusing on support for the consumption of employee health plans on virtual platforms. Though there were headaches, there was also excitement. Now, 2021 provides the same virtual challenges, but in a different environment where agents need to be aware of a client workforce that is more fatigued, and often looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Clients have one last chance to prove to their employees that they care through not only the package that they have chosen, but also how effectively they can deliver the benefits information to a user base that has low benefits-literacy rates. And, despite agents working to ensure clients retain their informational expertise, many aren’t fully informed on everything their plans offer. Synthesizing that information is even harder as the marketplace has pushed away from consolidation of benefits to one carrier.

Additionally, it’s become clear that the agent community must prepare to support yet another virtual enrollment season as many of their clients will remain on a remote or hybrid schedule and continue to demand on-demand virtual presentations. Not only does this impact the employee population, but also the overall client selling process, as virtual presentations can be easy to disengage from in a one-sided screen environment.

So, what can group benefit agents do to give this open enrollment season their best chance of success?

Be aware of the unique challenges the 2021 season presents and address them in the delivery of your benefits offerings to potential new clients and incumbent partners.

Here are six ways to make open enrollment work better.

1. Personalize your approach.

In general, clients are overwhelmed by messaging. They need consultative partners who can approach them with solutions that are suggested based on their employee demographics, conscious of their company’s budget and provide measurable goal points that can be communicated effectively to a C-Suite in order to justify the investment. If an agent shows their client general solutions, or ones that aren’t feasible for their circumstances, their clients will quickly lose confidence in their partnership.

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2. Focus on what’s new and changed, but don’t stop there.

Too often agents will promote the “no changes” or “new medical benefit” without much more education. But just because a client has an existing plan doesn’t mean their employees fully know how to use them or what they have available. Which brings us to our next bit of advice.

3. Point out lifestyle benefits.

It’s often easier to simply focus on the major value components of a group plan to a client.

Many client employees, however, may be paying for a therapist, dietician or gym membership out of pocket, not knowing that they may have a stipend or medical benefit to help offset the cost.

Similarly, they may be enrolled in an accident plan that offers cash bonuses for preventive care visits they aren’t reporting, be offered legal insurance yet not think of it when they are facing legal troubles, or even have fringe benefits that can cover their streaming account memberships.

Your offer of support for client virtual open enrollment presentations must make it a point to highlight how your benefits package offers significant differentiation by highlighting these benefits in order to peak employee interest and encourage organic engagement.

I4. Keep technology at the forefront.

2020 forced many group plan agents to digitize their means of communicating with clients. This complemented the increasing trend of offering on-demand digital educational tools for employees to learn and share their benefits information with their families. Now, the same digitization is an expectation due to the continued remote workforce as opposed to an adaptive novelty like it was for many last year. In this new environment, the need to offer technological education continues, but it has to be more refined.

5. Don’t count out email communication.

Many agents have been pushing to find other solutions to communicate benefits plan information, and though multi-modality is important, it should be in addition to a traditional campaign. Despite the stigma, many clients’ employee populations still prefer to receive email communication for key company programs, even if it takes an extra nudge to remind them to look at it.

6. Put in effort.

Clients can tell when something wasn’t treated like a priority. If supporting the Open Enrollment period feels like it was put together at the last minute, clients won’t feel that their agents find the event important enough to invest time into preparing for. Set the tone down from the very beginning of the process, and don’t be afraid to involve others in the organization as directed by the client’s leaders.

No open enrollment season is without challenges, but this one is particularly unique and unprecedented with regards to market and labor conditions, as well as how pivotal proper execution of virtual benefits communication will be in retaining talent. 2020 shifted the expectations of our client market, and now that clients and employees have settled into the new normal, group benefit professionals must understand the specific work dynamics of their clients so they can adapt and execute success.


Nikolina KosanovicNikolina Kosanovic is manager of engagement and communications at OneDigital.