Employee benefits are typically the largest expense for employers outside of salaries, and most Americans access insurance through their employer-provided benefits program. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, rising health care costs, complex insurance plans, uneducated employees, overworked HR teams and archaic systems and processes plagued the industry. These issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, accelerating the digital transformation that has been a long time coming in the benefits industry.
Employee benefits are more important than ever as employees want peace of mind that their loved ones are safe and protected. Employers understand this, and many companies are keeping employee benefits intact even as they furlough or terminate employees.
HR leaders – who already have enough on their plate – are now at the heart of their company’s COVID-19 strategy and response. HR professionals are scrambling to adapt to the rapidly evolving situation and maintain a balance between employee safety and organizational survival. Intuitive, mobile-friendly benefits technology provides a massive advantage in supporting employees and controlling costs.
Here are four ways that benefits technology plays a crucial role in the transformed work environment.
1. On-the-go access to benefits information and enrollment
- Open Enrollment is going virtual this year (whether we like it or not!)
- With many companies requiring employees to work from home, and other employees of essential businesses working in and out of trucks, hospitals and manufacturing plants, it’s critical that employees have access to their benefits and health insurance information virtually, from wherever they are and on any device.
- The workplace as we once knew it is permanently altered, and HR teams are going to have to prepare for a fully digital enrollment experience.
Many companies have traditionally relied on annual in-person meetings in training rooms and cafeterias – often led by their brokers – to walk employees through their options and provide basic education. Additionally, many use in-person benefit enrollers to explain in a one-on-one and personalized setting how these benefits work and why they are beneficial.
Without the ability to travel or conduct in-person educational meetings or one-on-one enrollment consultations, employers need mobile-friendly self-service benefits shopping, communication and enrollment technology for this year’s open enrollment to ensure that employees have the information they need to make educated decisions.
- Frictionless login via fingerprint, face ID or PIN makes managing benefits easier than ever
- The ability to upload required documents from photos snapped right from their phone accelerates processes with just a few simple clicks
- Access to benefits ID cards takes the stress out of doctor visits
- Mobile enrollment allows employees the flexibility to take that information home and discuss benefits decisions with their partner
Built-in decision support tools are very helpful for what is arguably the most important financial and health-related decision that employees will make for their families all year. Some platforms (including PlanSource) offer baked-in decision support tools to help employees compare and select the most appropriate plan type.
For a more robust experience, products like ALEX from Jellyvision offer an engaging and personalized benefits shopping experience from start to finish. The tool not only collects personal info to provide a personalized plan recommendation, but it also uses Jellyvision’s signature approach to create an engaging ‘human-like’ experience. ALEX will take the time to explain benefits concepts, answer basic questions and explain why it recommends a certain plan. The revolutionary tool has been proven to impact high-value HR KPIs, like HDHP enrollment and 401(k) contributions.
With COVID-19 increasing concerns over potential medical costs, many employers are opening up special open enrollment periods to allow employees to add these supplemental benefits outside of a traditional open enrollment period. Without on-site benefits enrollers, companies need an intuitive, easy-to-use benefits technology solution that allows employees to learn about and enroll in these important benefits outside of a traditional open enrollment period.
2. Educational resources for employees
We’ve known for years that employees generally don’t understand their benefits, but unfortunately we haven’t seen much improvement as benefits have grown more complex year over year.
Low health care literacy can lead to increased health care costs for both employers and employees - as much as four times the amount compared to someone with higher literacy! So it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure that employees are well-educated about their benefits offerings - especially now.
With COVID-19 increasing the volume of questions about what’s covered under benefits plans, there’s an added layer of complication as carriers and government regulations are changing the rules on how health plans work. It’s crucial for employees to have a good base of understanding about their medical plan in order to be able to keep up with the rapid changes.
Cramming before a test doesn’t help you remember anything, and the same principle goes for benefits enrollment. Employees need year-round education initiatives in order to get familiar with benefits terms and concepts, and they need access to a wealth of self-service educational resources so they can get up to speed in the moments that it really counts.
Here's some effective ways to educate employees on their benefits:
- Use educational videos: Find videos that are relevant for what employees need to know about now, like the advantages of using telehealth or Employee Assistance Plans for mental health resources.
- Offer a benefits website: Employees need a central place to access all of their benefits materials, and a benefits website is an affordable and effective way to provide on-demand access to important materials.
- Ask for feedback: Identify where the gaps are in your employees’ education and what benefits they have questions about with an employee benefits survey.
However, the number one way to ensure employees are aware about the educational resources at their fingertips is with effective communication!
3. Communication through any and all available channels
As many employees are forced to work remotely for the foreseeable future, companies need a way to communicate with at-home or on-the-go employees. A benefits technology with built-in communication tools allows HR teams to communicate specific benefits information to segmented groups of employees based on demographic and employment data.
Personalization means more than just using a name in an email; it’s a strategy of its own that you can integrate into lots of other communication channels. Tap into the data that you already have and target specific employee groups with information that’s relevant to them.
- Builds a deeper relationship with employees
- Provides relevant content
- Gives a face to HR
- Offers better recommendations
- Boosts engagement
- Drives enrollment and participation
Try Text Messaging
Text messaging is a great way to reach employees quickly and efficiently. 82% of text messages are read within five minutes, and 78% of consumers say that text is the fastest way to reach them for important updates. With open rates as high as 98% compared to just 20% for emails, it’s a great tactic to add to your communications toolbox.
Text Messaging Best Practices for HR:
- Be clear about what employees will get via texts
- Be aware of frequency
- Text during normal hours
- Provide value
- Use short and concise messaging
- Set up groups & personalize the texts
- Schedule texts
- Measure what works
Up Your Email Game
Email still has a powerful advantage that many channels don’t: creating valuable, personal touches at scale.
Apply email marketing best practices:
Use an attention-grabbing subject line. The subject line is the first thing employees will see in their inbox, which is already crowded! Experiment with different subject lines and have fun. If they don’t open your email, it doesn’t matter what’s in it! Also, use employees’ names in the subject line and keep subject lines concise.
Keep emails as short as possible; follow this simple outline: greeting, initial call-to-action, other important details, end with a final call-to-action.
Additionally, don’t try and include everything in the email—use helpful links instead.
Include short paragraphs and use bulleted lists whenever possible, and include a call-to-action with a deadline to create a sense of urgency.
4. Access to medical care via telehealth
The popularity of telehealth has grown in the last few years, but adoption of the technology has always been a challenge, as patients have historically preferred in-person visits with their physicians and didn’t have a strong incentive to change the status quo.
Telehealth is now a must-have as it has become the safest and most convenient way to get care. In March, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services lifted a variety of federal restrictions on the use of telehealth services, allowing patients to consult with doctors about everything from flu symptoms or a backache to a psychiatry visit.
Insurance carriers and companies are taking action to make telehealth less intimidating for employees and even more attractive financially. Some insurance carriers have waived copays for telemedicine and are accelerating the onboarding of customers so they can have earlier access to telehealth. HR leaders at companies that don’t currently offer telehealth are scrambling to add the benefit as soon as possible.
Telehealth providers like Doctor on Demand and Teledoc have been inundated with new customers looking for quick implementations.
Companies are also updating their benefit contracts with insurance carriers to waive copays for telehealth visits and offer those free online visits with local doctors, so employees can talk with their regular family physician rather than an unknown doctor in another state. Many HR leaders are also adding a telemedicine benefit for their employees that don’t currently qualify for benefits, such as part-time and seasonal employees.