Not only is the pandemic increasing the risk of mental health issues, it’s also making people more financially fragile. Millions of households have lost income, and “due to the flexibility offered by the federal CARES Act, people have taken a significant amount of money out of their 401(k) plans, endangering their retirements,” according to Rob Hecker, Unum’s Vice President of Global Total Rewards.
In this environment, benefits that help protect people from the financial costs of illness, injury or loss of life are more important than ever. Unfortunately, the pandemic is making benefits enrollment harder, too. According to a new study by Eastbridge Consulting, nearly nine in ten (87%) benefit enrollers said their top concern is that the pandemic will reduce enrollment opportunities.1
With so many people absent from their normal workplaces, the normal enrollment methods — like benefit fairs, in-person group meetings and live one-to-one benefits counseling — simply won’t work this year.
Employers we recently surveyed were planning to meet this challenge with a variety of socially distanced approaches, such as virtual group meetings (76%), online educational materials (52%), and virtual one-on-one meetings with a benefits counselor (42%). If these methods are successful, some experts feel they will become the new normal, with things like in-person benefit fairs fading away.
Virtual group meetings
Online educational materials
Virtual one-on-one benefit meetings
Printed educational materials
In-person group meetings
Virtual benefits fair
In-person one-on-one benefits meetings
In-person benefits fair
Still, what’s most important is how benefits are communicated. Employers play a key role in educating employees about all the ways benefits can protect them.
The decision to purchase benefits is the most important financial decision
an employee makes in a typical year.
Senior Vice President of Field
and Market Development at Colonial Life
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“It’s important for employers to make sure employees get the chance to pause and reflect about each benefit they’re being offered,” Shaffer adds. Active enrollment can provide this opportunity for reflection, by requiring employees to indicate whether they do or do not want a benefit, instead of just receiving last years’ benefits if they don’t say otherwise.
A little more than a third of employers we surveyed (36%) plan to hold an active benefits enrollment for employees in the next six months. About one-quarter (28%) plan to use a combination active/passive enrollment process, and 23% plan to use a passive enrollment process. (Automatic enrollment can also help nudge employees to enroll in the benefits they need.)
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1 Eastbridge Consulting Group, Inc., Enroller Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic and Voluntary, Aug. 2020.