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Four ways to rethink Annual Enrollment this year

Talent|Health and Benefits|Integrated Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Lindsay Stortz | July 13, 2020

The 2020 Employee Experience is like no other.

Most employees report anxiety and new financial concerns related to COVID-19, and those emotions will impact their benefits and program decisions during Annual Enrollment this fall. This creates an important chance for employers to understand talent concerns, provide meaningful decision-making support and communicate effectively before enrollment even begins. In short, it's time to rethink and respond to the critical importance of Annual Enrollment.

Current wellbeing implications

report at least some anxiety due to coronavirus
report at least some new financial concerns

Source: Willis Towers Watson Employee Opinion Norm Data (June 2020)

What happens if I or my loved ones get sick? Am I financially secure? Is my family protected if something happens to me?

These questions are not new to Annual Enrollment. Yet as employees face new financial, emotional, physical and social realities in the context of COVID-19, these concerns have taken on an entirely new meaning. They have created a far-heightened appreciation of employer benefits and the important role these play in their individual and families' livelihoods and wellbeing.

With uncertainty about what the future looks like, how can employers support employee decisions now, when our ways of life, individual priorities and circumstances are continually shifting?

It requires a significantly different approach.

The way employers reach and engage employees and support their decisions leading up to Annual Enrollment needs to take the current realities into consideration and, very likely, look markedly different than recent years.

Organizations' top benefits priority today is communicating about benefits and wellbeing programs.

Willis Towers Watson 2020 COVID-19 Benefits Survey, United States (May)

Benefits communications need to work harder for us this year. And this isn't just for organizations making big changes for 2021. Even those remaining "status quo" with benefit programs should use this season as an opportunity to reinforce their commitment to employees' health and wellbeing at a time when they're paying attention.

Approach Annual Enrollment as a moment that matters for your people.

Our Willis Towers Watson High Performance Employee Experience research reminds us – and proves – that organizations that focus on key moments in the Employee Experience are more likely to build trust with their people, inspire thoughtful decisions and drive meaningful change today and tomorrow. The HPEX framework gives us a unique point of view and helps us unlock how employers can navigate benefits communication and deliver a positive and consistent Employee Experience this fall.

This is a chance to make a meaningful impact on your employees' decisions and futures. Here are four things you can do to get it right this year:

  1. 01

    Understand your diverse audience, their situations and needs.

    In the context of today's environment, we know that different workforce segments are having different experiences. Essential workers kept working on-site while many others worked from home, faced reduced schedules and pay, or experienced furloughs and layoffs.

    In recent months, organizations have significantly increased their efforts around employee listening.

    Willis Towers Watson 2020 COVID-19 Talent Implications Survey, Global (April)

    Slowly, more employees are beginning to return to the workplace, whether in person or virtually – amidst a totally new environment. And through it all, employees are managing personal situations – from lack of child or elder care and supporting virtual learning, to anxiety about health or concerns about financial wellbeing, to loneliness and isolation. Layer on widespread social unrest – this has been an unbelievably challenging year.

    Now is the time listen and gather insights from your workforce.

    • Understand how they are feeling physically and emotionally, their perceptions and concerns, and what matters to them most right now. Consider engaging your workforce by gathering input through a virtual focus group (VFG) or pulse survey. You can ask employees about a variety of topics ranging from wellbeing, productivity, communication, manager support, leadership messaging, and suggestions on how their experience could be enhanced or supported.
    • Combine employee listening with multi-dimensional analytics (based on life stage, geography, health status, socioeconomic status, etc.) about your population to help you build a segmented and even targeted approach to this fall's Annual Enrollment communication.
    • Stay connected through employee listening and up-to-date information via both push and pull channels to continue to build trust with the organization.
  2. 02

    Be intentional with your messaging.

    Building off that deep understanding and segmentation of audiences, be intentional with the tone and positioning of your messages this fall. Are you making benefits changes and if so, what is the context? How should employees think about their benefits differently in the current environment? How should content change to contextualize the current climate or reflect individual concerns/priorities?

    Remember to keep it human. This is the right moment to think about storytelling – incorporate real life stories (and photos) highlighting how your employees are focusing on their wellbeing. If you offer a wellness program, this is a good time to remind employees about the value of any incentives – in a way that is clearly connected to employee health and wellbeing.

    While emotional and financial wellbeing benefits are not typically the focus of Annual Enrollment materials, this season is the time to bring it all together for employees, helping them understand the bigger picture of how their wellbeing benefits and resources fit together to support them. We know that emotional and financial wellbeing are more top of mind than ever before.

    In addition, Annual Enrollment presents an opportunity to focus on specific areas of employee concern. With potentially lower use of health care, how can employees stay on track with preventive screenings and effectively use virtual medical options? With a lack of current childcare options, how should employees think about their Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account both now and in 2021? Will life insurance or other voluntary benefits, like critical illness, identity theft protection or the legal plan be more relevant this fall?

  3. 03

    Reach people where they are, individually, emotionally and physically.

    The days of the 48-page Annual Enrollment guide are over. This doesn't mean not making the details available, rather it means digital communication resources are more important than ever for making the "need to know" information accessible and clear, linking to the detail when people need it.

    At the same time, printed communication materials aren't dead. As many employees continue to work from home, this might be the year to bring back traditional print – with a creative, engaging, promotional piece to capture attention and drive employees online for more. When many employees are inundated by email, home mail is an important way to cut through the clutter and also reach spouses/partners who may be the key health care decision makers.

    Remote Work is Here to Stay

    Companies anticipate nearly one-third of their employees will still be working remotely at the beginning of 2021.

    Willis Towers Watson Reopening the Workplace Survey (June 2020)

    Employees and their families need to be able to find and use Annual Enrollment resources, tools and education without barriers. And as in-person meetings or support may be limited this season, virtual solutions are available to replace those mediums.

    Just as companies accelerated other (digital) solutions to support remote work in recent months, you should similarly take this opportunity to rethink how you engage with employees and their families in this moment that matters. Effective digital solutions include:

    • Portals – use your portal to convey personalized and targeted messaging about Annual Enrollment and relevant benefits. It's also a great way to aggregate information from across vendor platforms into a single place – simplifying the experience for employees.
    • Microsites – open sites, often focused on one topic or event, that are easily accessible for employees and their families from anywhere (no VPN, no password). If your microsite (or larger portal) has an app, all the better – quick, concise bits of information on a mobile device will help keep employees engaged and reading.
    • Videos – keep them short to inform and educate in a quick and engaging way. What are the key messages to highlight this enrollment? Put them to animation.
    • Text messaging – don't overuse it, but text messaging is a great reminder to drive action, communicate deadlines, link to mobile resources, take a quick poll, return a link to key information and more.
    • Virtual environments – replace your in-person meetings or benefits fairs by going virtual, creating a consistent and positive experience for employees no matter where they are (and no social distancing or masks and hand sanitizer required). Vendors can host booths with education materials, and can even interact with employees via live chats to answer questions.
    • Interactive learning modules – take employees through an overview of their benefits with scripted voiceover, or even use a module for HR or managers to prepare them for their important role in supporting Annual Enrollment.
    • Personalized and targeted emails to work or home email addresses – take individuals to the information or channels noted above, with options to send from relevant leaders, making people more likely to pay attention to their inbox.

    And consider your opportunities within existing virtual environments. For instance, could you complement your campaign with a Zoom or Microsoft Teams background that promotes Annual Enrollment?

    Keep in mind, the rich analytics from digital tools will give you great insight into what your workforce is or is not paying attention to and much more—a pot of gold as foundation for your ongoing communication efforts throughout the year.

  4. 04

    Demonstrate leadership empathy and equip managers to support wellbeing.

    Now more than ever, Annual Enrollment is an opportunity for leaders to continue to communicate their care and support. Managers and supervisors need to play a role in Annual Enrollment as well.

    Before we expect managers to support their people, we need to start by empowering them to help themselves. Employers must take the time to help managers build resilience, address their concerns and ensure they understand what's changing, why and how to optimize the available benefits and resources.

    For this reason, many employers are ramping up their manager communication, including toolkits and FAQs, as well as trainings – via live or recorded webinars, or online learning modules – about how to lead through change, manage remote teams, support employee wellbeing and more.

    Employers have demonstrated that they are up to the task thus far – stepping up their communication efforts, demonstrating empathy, support and genuine concern for employee health, safety and wellbeing in a way that builds trust.

    Yet, Annual Enrollment is going to be different. We all need to embrace a change in the way employees understand, appreciate and engage with their benefits. Even if you are not making big changes for 2021, use this moment that matters to your advantage, and to accelerate your communication strategy to create consumer-grade, digital materials that highlight real areas of importance.


Senior Director, Talent & Rewards

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