Human Resources and Benefits

4 Positive Open Enrollment Changes Resulting from the Pandemic

open enrollment changes

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many learning opportunities for organizations as they have pivoted and learned how to be resilient during uncertain times. The 2020 open enrollment season was one such opportunity, and many employers have risen to the challenge by exploring new ways to engage and educate their employees about their benefits.

With open enrollment approaching and hybrid/remote workplaces still a reality, as an employer you can use last year’s experiences to shape your open enrollment planning and processes for this year. Here are four key lessons other employers learned from last year’s insurance open enrollment season that can increase plan participation this fall.

1. Employees Want—and Need—Holistic Benefits

As the name suggests, employee benefits work best when designed to provide holistic employee support. Unfortunately, many benefits offerings are not created with holistic support in mind. In the past, you could only offer basic, one-dimensional benefits. Those days are now long gone, and the pandemic was likely the turning point as it negatively affected employees’ mental, physical, and financial wellness. You have a unique opportunity to support your employees and make it easier for them to get help through their insurance benefits.

Beyond needing holistic support, employees might be expecting new benefits, particularly if their plans changed very little in the past year. According to a survey from WEX, 85% of employers said they didn’t change their 2021 insurance offerings due to the pandemic. It appears many employers kept their benefits packages during an uncertain year.

If you are ready to revamp the benefits you offer, the following are the top perks employees are looking for right now:

  • Telecommuting
  • Flexible or hybrid scheduling
  • Greater compensation
  • Mental health resources
  • Caregiving benefits
  • Developmental opportunities

If you are unsure about what your employees want, consider surveying them or encouraging managers to discuss insurance open enrollment during one-on-one meetings to better understand how your employees are doing and which insurance benefits they find most valuable. Employers’ overall goal should be to establish meaningful offerings and resources for current and prospective employees.

2. Open Enrollment Planning Needs to Begin Sooner

The most successful open enrollment campaigns engage employees months before enrollment opens. That means organizations need to start reviewing their offerings sooner rather than later so there’s ample time to develop and execute a successful open enrollment strategy or campaign. During the pandemic, employees leaned heavily on employer-sponsored mental health resources, employee assistance programs, and other virtual resources. Simply put, benefits mattered even more to employees last year. This year, you can showcase the available perks as soon as possible to thoughtfully engage and retain employees.

Furthermore, there’s a massive wave of turnover expected by the end of 2021. That’s even more reason for you to start early and get ahead of potential turnover by previewing new or enhanced benefits with your employees. The pandemic allowed many people to rethink their values and make major life changes like finding new jobs or changing fields of work. Many employees are staying in their current roles to collect a steady paycheck and keep household finances stable — until the pandemic is over, that is. Workplace stressors worsened by the pandemic are likely to blame for this turnover. Additionally, compensation, benefits, and work-life balance are top reasons why employees are job hunting this year, so it’s critical for you to offer competitive insurance benefits.

Don’t worry about communicating too soon about open enrollment. Research shows repetitive messaging and reminders increase the odds of an employee seeing enrollment information and understanding the upcoming benefit changes and how they work.

Open enrollment this year provides a fantastic opportunity for your company to combat turnover by proving you have gone above and beyond to support your employees with top-tier benefits offerings. This year especially, the earlier you can start the open enrollment process, the better the participation and potential employee retention will be.

3. Virtual Open Enrollment Tactics Are Effective, Regardless of Remote Work

The pandemic undeniably pushed many employers to digitize open enrollment processes. Consider the following WEX survey results:

  • For 2020 enrollment, 67% of employers delivered open enrollment education differently due to the pandemic. Tactics included virtual open enrollment fairs, live webinars, and online chats during scheduled times to help address employee questions.
  • Of those employers that added virtual engagement methods to their open enrollment strategy, 85% said they will continue to do so in the future.

Virtual open enrollment fairs successfully educated and engaged employees, both remote and on-site. Employees have embraced many activities and processes as they’ve gone virtual or digital, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that employees have generally accepted virtual enrollment as well.

This is good news for organizations that offered virtual open enrollment opportunities, as they can optimize and improve for this coming season. To determine your employees’ appetite for information and enrollment details, you might consider surveying them for feedback on virtual enrollment. Survey results can drive not only enrollment communications but also any ongoing benefits education throughout the year. Show up year-round for your employees to keep them engaged and supported in the workplace, potentially increasing their satisfaction. If your company uses a hybrid workplace model, you may also yield great results by offering both in-person and virtual open enrollment events.

If you don’t have an existing benefits website available, you may consider building an internal digital destination so employees have a year-round benefits resource. HR departments can post evergreen partner resources and continue to share any other relevant benefits updates.

Furthermore, if you haven’t switched to virtual open enrollment but plan to, you should plan on allowing extra time to properly implement new technology or platforms ahead of open enrollment. Focusing on your employees’ experience can help keep them engaged in the enrollment process and keep morale high. Benefits administration technology can help streamline decision-making and other processes, explain benefits, and thoughtfully guide your employees as they make the best choices for themselves and their dependents.

4. Open Enrollment Should Be More Personalized and Interactive

Now more than ever, employees want to know you care about them. Don’t make the mistake of viewing open enrollment as a transaction. Everyone has unique personal needs and physical, mental, or financial challenges brought on or amplified by the pandemic. It’s also essential for you or your benefits provider to make yourselves available so you may quickly address any individual employee questions and help guide your employees through their available options and the open enrollment process. This personalized touch can help you increase benefits utilization.

Gamification is also proving to be a popular way to personalize open enrollment. Employees are ready for personalized help from tools or people to guide them through the process and select the right benefits after a tough year. For example, employees may be interested in a benefits calculator to help decide which plan is best for them.


Although the 2020 open enrollment season presented considerable challenges, it also provided valuable lessons to better engage and support employees. Now’s the time for you to review these general lessons and your workforce’s specific needs and wants. Start thoughtfully planning and communicating your next open enrollment to increase plan participation and potentially combat future turnover.

Reach out to your Leavitt Group insurance advisor for additional open enrollment support, including enrollment guides, employee communication resources, and more.

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