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Open Enrollment: Understanding the New Employee Mindset

In the wake of a pandemic, expectations of the modern workplace have shifted and employees are paying more attention to their benefits – from financial protection to mental health support. Here’s a look at what’s most important to employees, and how HR leaders can meet those needs.

Stress and anxiety related to work have left more than 40% of employees feeling burned out, exhausted or hopeless. In their efforts to pursue positive change, employers are increasingly prioritizing benefits as one of the most important tools to help workers adapt to new work and life realities. Before the pandemic, many employees were not particularly engaged in open enrollment and felt intimidated or confused by the process. A 2020 survey found that 44% of employees had a difficult time understanding what their medical plan would cover and how much they would pay out of pocket.

The uncertainty of the global health crisis has heightened the focus many employees are paying to reevaluating their benefit needs. They’re now more aware and interested in their benefit offerings and are willing to spend extra time and money to ensure they’re covered. Here’s a look at what’s most important to employees, and how HR leaders can meet those needs – amid the pandemic and for years to come.

An Expanded Desire for Security and Protection

In 2020, 66% of employees surveyed said medical issues were a key contributor to bankruptcies, with 40% of Americans saying they were unable to cover a $400 emergency expense. And while it may seem that budget concerns could affect how much employees spend on benefits, the opposite is true: people are focused on coverage now more than ever, looking to ensure their family is protected should the unexpected happen.

Of course, the desire for ample coverage as well as increasingly accessible and sophisticated digital offerings goes beyond unexpected medical emergencies. Consumer use of telehealth services jumped from 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020, partly due to the lockdowns and distancing of the pandemic but also because telehealth appointments tend to be less expensive than in-person care.

But accelerated digital rollouts of financial have been accompanied by news coverage of increasingly damaging ransomware attacks and data breaches – which has elevated the perceived threat of identity theft. In response, some companies are offering free breach coverage for a trial period, after which employees could fully subscribe during open enrollment.

Additional Resources for Addressing Mental Health and Burnout

The prolonged isolation and beleaguerment of the pandemic have pointedly illustrated the long-underestimated need to prioritize mental health and wellbeing support. Women, in particular, have been adversely affected by the pandemic, often having to balance work and childcare or, in some cases, having to leave the workforce entirely.

Employers are increasingly aware of the added stress their employees are contending with and recognize that offering workplace benefits can play a big role in supporting employees.

However, it is not just about spending money and rolling out a slew of health apps. To create real resilience, a true and demonstrated commitment to employees’ wellbeing – and thus their personal and professional success – must be embedded within an organization’s culture.

Personalized Communication and Enrollment Options

There are now five generations in the workplace, so a one-size-fits-all benefits package is no longer an option. More employers are diversifying by offering supplemental benefits, and it’s crucial for HR leaders to determine how to communicate these benefits and educate employees on the options available to them. Doing so effectively requires understanding their employees’ preferences for accessing information. For example, while some people are comfortable using QR codes or online self-service platforms to access information, others still prefer paper guides or letters.

Knowing this, it can be helpful for employers to construct different personas to plan how to effectively market and deliver benefits to specific employees. Information is engaging to people only if they can relate to it and know what’s in it for them. This makes communication one of the most important parts of open enrollment. Employers should have a recognizable open enrollment campaign around everything related to benefits, along with a variety of information organized in bite-sized chunks to quickly identify information that's most relevant to them. They should also be highly responsive to employees’ questions.



Having already gone through open enrollment in a pandemic once, many employees are becoming more engaged in the process to ensure they’re choosing the right benefits to meet their changing needs. Recognizing this, employers can continue to support, educate and engage employees to ensure positive outcomes.