Carrying out open enrollment can be a challenge for even the most conventional companies, but Spokane, Washington-based in-home caregiving company Embassy Management faces multiple obstacles each year.

As benefits manager, Tonja Lavelle oversees benefits for 4,000 fulltime and part-time workers who work with developmentally and intellectually challenged children and adults in nine states. Not only do employees primarily work out of their patients’ homes and do not have access to a work desktop or laptop, but the company also has a language barrier to overcome. A portion of its workforce speaks primarily Swahili, thanks to a large Swahili-speaking population in eastern Washington state.

To address the unique needs of its far-flung workforce, Embassy Management in July signed up with Benefitfocus to use its cloud-based benefits management platform for its 2017 open enrollment season.

“Benefitfocus gave us a platform that had an amazing communication capability and a mobile app for employees that don't have email on a computer,” Lavelle says.

Employees signed up for their benefits via their smartphone with an application they could download from the Apple App Store.

Embassy offers benefits to all fulltime and part-time employees who work more than 30 hours per week. Lavelle says that a “large portion” of its full-time workforce have signed up benefits, but she declined to give enrollment numbers.

For Embassy Management’s Swahili-speaking workforce, Benefitfocus was able to create a series of custom-made videos that explained the new benefits to its employees who speak the African language. Embassy employees also have access to a Swahili-speaking interpreter if they need more details via the Benefitfocus call center.

Besides services for non-English speakers, Benefitfocus provided other communication materials during Embassy Management’s open enrollment periods, which ended on Nov. 28.

“We try to have video, and paper-based educational materials posted everywhere but it is a struggle every year. It really depends on the level of engagement of the employees,” Lavelle says of the remote workforce. “This is a moving target and there is a lot of turnover in this industry. We don't have the luxury of having a lot of facetime with employees.”

Ease of use
Lavelle says that Benefitfocus’s automation of benefit and open enrollment notifications sent to employees’ handheld devices every day eased a key part of her workday. ”Not having to manage that has made a huge difference in getting that message out and the ease of use for the platforms has been amazing. Even our COO said how cool it was because she could just sign up for new benefits in a couple of minutes,” she says.

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With a new benefits provider, Embassy Management decided to conduct an active enrollment for the first time during this fall’s benefit signup. Unlike previous years with a “passive enrollment” where an employee was automatically enrolled in the same plan they had the year before, Embassy insisted that employees enroll to ensure that they had clean data — correct names, contact information, social security numbers and dependent information — in the Benefitfocus system.

“We have asked every employee to go into the system and either enroll or decline their benefits. We wanted people to be aware of this amazing platform.”

Adding a new array of employee benefits, Embassy Management chose Aflac’s voluntary benefits and the company will continue to use ADP for its HR, payroll and 401(k) oversight services. Lavelle says the company looked for benefits that helped fill the economic gaps with its lower income workforce, such as providing HSAs to offset the costs of its high-deductible health plans, and more robust workplace accident policies.

“Believe it or not, people were really stoked about us providing health insurance for pets. Not every child is two legged, and most of our population does not have discretionary income,” she says. “Those are real life issues for everyone.”

Along with signing up Embassy Management, Benefitfocus has also added Herbalife, OneBeacon, and BCforward to its roster of clients this year. Benefitfocus is seeing larger clients trying to do more with modestly-sized HR and benefit staffs.

“Benefits have become more complicated and we have seen the change in the number of benefits that have to be supported. The shifts are occurring where employees are asked to take on more responsibility for their care,” says Tom Dugan, vice president of product management for Benefitfocus.

“It is one of the mindboggling things when you look at the numbers, a benefits team of three people is supporting 30,000 employees and the scale is changing, but it’s not like they are doubling their team,” he says.

Lavelle knows this firsthand.

“Even though we are a for-profit, we are structured like a non-profit agency. We don't have a large HR staff. So to partner with Benefitfocus and their dedicated service center, and to layer that on top of my team, helped us assist with employees’ questions and being in all these states where we have language barriers.” she says. “To have an additional team to support over 4,000 employees, that was the bow on the package for us.”

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