Open Enrollment: Help Employees Envision Their Future

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Sep 6, 2016
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Looking toward the future of open enrollment and employee benefits, "I see the emergence of an exchange platform where employees pick and choose the benefits that are most important to them," said Rick Unser, a Los Angeles-based consultant with Lockton Retirement Services, in an August podcast he hosted with Joe Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab research program.

But Coughlin suggested that this flexibility would come with risks. "It's going to be very difficult to put on the shoulders of employees the knowledge of what to choose, how to allocate their resources," he said. "While I see flexibility probably becoming the new normal, I see a lot of room for individual error. And we will not see the mistakes that were made until 10, 20, 30 years out, when it's too late to fix."

Coughlin likened the challenge facing benefits plan sponsors to the Red Queen effect, named after the character from Alice in Wonderland who said it was necessary to run faster and faster simply to stay in place.

"It's a huge challenge and cost for employers," he said, to balance the need "to try and lighten the cost" of a benefits program against "the struggle to maintain good workers, talented workers, knowledgeable workers" who are essential to the enterprise.

A Message Beyond Dollars

More sophisticated communications will be the key to helping employees navigate increasingly complex benefits, Coughlin said. "All the generations are looking for [information] bites," not big, time-consuming meals, he noted. "They want a text, if it's urgent. They want an e-mail, if they need to park it. They want the face time, as well, for those things that are truly vital."

"You have many generations that are short on time, short on attention and short on patience," he added. "So we need to have very short communications, across all modes, to allow the employees to choose what they need and when they need it."

Unser agreed that changing the way employers communicate is important, but he felt the messages themselves also need to change.

"The measure can't just be about [saving] dollars," he said. "We have to help employees envision what their lifestyle will be. What will they do for leisure? Where will they live? What will they do after they retire? I think helping employees create their own vision could motivate them to take better care of their health and save more so they can enjoy that vision."

Related SHRM Article:

Open Enrollment Tips for the Coming Season, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2016

Transparency, Decision Support Are Next Wave in Benefits Self-Service, SHRM Online Benefits, August 2016

SHRM Resource Page:

Guide to Benefits Open Enrollment Season, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2016

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