HRE’s Number of the Day: virtual open enrollment

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63: Percentage of HR leaders who say their company’s open enrollment strategy will depend more strongly on online resources this year due to COVID-19.

Well over half of employers say their company’s open enrollment strategy will depend more strongly on online resources this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research from The Hartford, which polled U.S. workers and human resources and benefits decision-makers in early March, just before the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., and again in mid-June. Smaller employers–those with fewer than 50 employees–are the least likely to depend more strongly on online resources (42%), according to the study.

What it means to HR leaders

It’s coming up on open enrollment season–always an important time for HR professionals, but in many ways even more vital due to the pandemic. Benefits have been an essential strategy for employers in helping employees navigate COVID-19, and experts say communication and education of available offerings during enrollment need to be particularly strong.

“Communication is crucial,” says Jonathan Bennett, head of group benefits at The Hartford. “HR departments need to be engaging in their workforce.”

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Related: COVID-19 is changing how employees view their benefits

And with the majority of employees now working from home, benefits communication and enrollment will largely shift to virtual and digital options. Some of those methods include live and pre-recorded webinars, digital tools and online education hubs, which include information on available benefits and costs and allow employees to enroll in benefits online. It’s a trend that’s important during the pandemic, Bennett says, but also will continue to increase in relevance even after the crisis is over.

“With many workers not in the workplace, not able to access benefits like they have historically, these electronic options are going to be very significant,” he says. “The pandemic is accelerating something that was beginning to manifest, and we’re going to see it move even faster in the future. I don’t think it will abate when we get past the deepest part of the crisis. I think it will be a continuing trend. Employers and employees will find remarkable convenience in the capabilities.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.