Employers Should Exhibit Ongoing Focus on Employee Well-Being and Engagement
Workspan Daily
November 16, 2022
Key Takeaways

  • Year-long cycle. When open enrollment is viewed as a year-long continuum, focus is squarely on enhancing the overall employee experience and enabling employees to feel a true sense of being valued, included and supported.    
  • More focus on employees. The impacts of the pandemic brought employee well-being needs to the forefront. The pivot to remote and flexible work, additional caregiving responsibilities, and increased stress and burnout in work and life have affected employees across the board, at all levels and in every industry. 
  • Wellness benefits. To encourage employees to engage with the benefits process, the rewards offered need to speak to their needs directly. A holistic approach to wellness that recognizes the interconnectedness of employee needs is fast becoming a must-have for employers. 
  • Financial health. Providing the right support and benefits to help employees overcome financial pressures means getting to the root cause of employee well-being and addressing their holistic financial needs. 

Open enrollment has traditionally been seen as a discrete phase in a work year: an opportunity for employees to review their benefits options and make selections for the year ahead. But the new realities of how we work and the impacts of COVID-19 call for an evolved approach. 

Forward-thinking companies are transforming the benefits process and turning open enrollment into a thoughtful year-long focus — starting with listening intently to employees’ wants and needs. 

This approach overhauls the conventional notion of open enrollment as simply a distinct point in time. That model, while packing a load of information into a finite period of time, often leads employees to make quick uninformed decisions without much preparation or knowledge and puts employers at a loss when it comes to truly understanding their employees' needs and driving engagement and utilization.  

Instead, when open enrollment is viewed as a year-long continuum — founded on an employer’s commitment to thoughtfully listen to and address employees’ pain points and needs, roll out the right mix of benefits, and assess and adjust ongoing as needed — the focus is squarely on enhancing the overall employee experience and enabling employees to feel a true sense of being valued, included and supported.   

Here’s what the process looks like when employers and HR teams approach open enrollment as the pinnacle of a year-long cycle: 

  • Before open enrollment: Actively listen to employees and their pain points. Work with your broker and solution provider partners to curate the right benefits options, plan variations that best align with a diverse set of employee needs and look for opportunities to provide new innovative benefits to address any potential gaps.  
  • During open enrollment: Roll out the benefits you've carefully curated for your employees and actively connect and communicate with them in order to drive enrollment, engagement and benefits utilization. Help employees make the right benefits selections for themselves and their families.  
  • After open enrollment: Conduct clear assessments of what worked and what needs to be recalibrated for the coming year. Collaborate with your broker and solution provider partners to adjust and refine your benefits offering to provide more value and better meet employee needs.  

Additionally, leveraging the power of brokers and benefits solution providers as strategic partners through each phase of the process can help boost the success of open enrollment over the course of the entire year.  

A Clear Opportunity  

The benefits landscape had already started evolving prior to COVID-19, with a focus on accommodating diverse needs around such areas as fertility, family planning and caregiver responsibilities. But the impacts of the pandemic brought employee well-being needs to the forefront. The pivot to remote and flexible work, additional caregiving responsibilities, and increased stress and burnout in work and life have affected employees across the board, at all levels and in every industry. Here’s a view into some of what employees have been experiencing these past few years: 

  • Worsening mental health: 51% of employees reported worse mental health since the start of the pandemic, leading to struggles at work including reduced motivation (49%), low team morale (45%), decreased productivity (44%) and poor work/life balance (30%).  
  • Increased financial stress: 72% of U.S. employees are stressed about their finances and 88% of employees expect their employer to offer financial support. Inflation is certainly playing a role: 87% of Americans report that rising prices of everyday items are a significant source of stress.  
  • Mounting caregiving responsibilities: Due to life expectancy changes, the impacts of the pandemic on eldercare, and more employees (63% of which are women) in the position of caring for elders, many are facing innumerable challenges: 26% are having trouble juggling work with caregiving and 33% are burned out.  

A Cultural Shift 

These challenges point to a cultural shift — employees are focused on their personal and family health and well-being, and they’re directing their energy to what brings a sense of purpose, meaning and belonging in their lives, not just in their work. Employees find themselves seeking to improve their work/life balance and are looking to their employers for additional support. Among the top 10 reasons employees left their jobs in 2021 according to Pew Research, benefits were paramount. Forty-three percent left to seek a role with a company that offered better benefits.  

The Power of Wellness Benefits 

Considering the pressures that today’s employees face, they are feeling squeezed on all fronts: from physical to mental and financial to social to career. To encourage employees to engage with the benefits process, the rewards offered need to speak to their needs directly. A holistic approach to wellness that recognizes the interconnectedness of employee needs is fast becoming a must-have for employers.  

Two fundamental connections are having marked impacts on employee wellness at present and can result in consequences for the business: finances and inclusivity. 

The Weight of Financial Pressure 

Financial stress has a direct impact on employee engagement, productivity and overall well-being. Today, with inflation at a record high and increased economic uncertainty, we’re seeing the profound effect of financial stress on employee mental and physical health. This is hurting engagement, performance, and by extension, business success. A benchmark study found that even pre-pandemic, employee financial stress could cost U.S. employers up to $250 billion annually

Providing the right support and benefits to help employees overcome financial pressures means getting to the root cause of employee well-being and addressing their holistic financial needs, including debt management, saving, investing and retirement planning — supported by digital tools, advice and education. But it’s also about recognizing that employees have different financial needs depending on their life stage — and being able to meet them where they are with the right support and resources. 

One key opportunity for employers is to tackle financial literacy. Those with higher financial literacy are more likely to make ends meet than those with lower financial literacy: they spend less than their income (53% vs. 35%); set aside emergency funds; and understand their retirement savings needs (52% vs. 29%). But underrepresented populations in particular tend to lack the education to take such steps and be able to tackle financial pressures.  

For instance: 

These kinds of discrepancies can erode a culture of inclusion and belonging in the workplace, as one segment of the employee population may be under far more pressure and stress than another — resulting in disengagement and low morale. Without much-needed access to financial guidance, tools and resources to help level the playing field, the employee experience can be negatively impacted, a company’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts may be hampered, and valuable talent may feel unsupported and choose to leave. By tailoring benefits offerings to the unique needs and circumstances of all employee populations, employers and HR leaders can address these gaps in a more effective way. 

A Year-Long Continuum  

When employers and HR leaders stay close to their employees, continually listen with empathy to their needs, and strategically work with their broker and benefits solution provider partners to thoughtfully address those needs, they foster a culture of care and demonstrate a human-centric approach to employee well-being.  

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics: 

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