How employers can help younger employees struggling with open enrollment

Register now

In many ways, this year is unlike any other. Seven months into the pandemic, millions of employees are still struggling to get their footing in this new way of life. At the same time, many feel more anxious than ever about their financial health, with recent research showing that many Americans feel more financial stress now than they did before COVID-19.

For this reason, many U.S. employees are placing greater emphasis on the decisions that impact their financial health this year, like the benefits election process, with nearly half (48%) of employees stating that open enrollment is more important this year than it was in 2019, according to MetLife’s 2020 open enrollment survey.

The trouble is, younger employees are feeling particularly stressed and insecure when it comes to making decisions around their benefits — more so than their older counterparts — and many have insecurities about their finances more broadly. In fact, one in five Gen Z and millennial employees say they feel insecure when it comes to making decisions during open enrollment, while one in four say they felt stressed the last time they signed up for benefits.

Amid the pandemic and a volatile economy, this is a problem — particularly as these younger employees make up the majority of the global workforce. Therefore, as we enter open enrollment this fall, it will be critical for employers to support their employees — and their younger employees, in particular — by keeping the following key learnings in mind:

Focus on clear communication

There has long been a gap between employees who understand their open enrollment benefits and those who don’t, but this is proving particularly true of younger employees this year. In fact, nearly half of Gen Z and millennial employees don’t even know what open enrollment is (compared to 30% of all employees) — which is ultimately leaving them more insecure about their benefits decisions, and their finances in general.

To help the younger generation of employees feel more confident in their decisions, it’s important that employers help them first understand the enrollment process, at large. Employers can help dispel confusion by promoting clear internal communications around the open enrollment window, and by encouraging open, frank discussions between younger employees and their family, friends, and employers about how to leverage employer-offered benefits. Employers should also keep in mind that Gen Z and millennial employees are much more likely to favor digital resources like news articles, social media posts, videos, webinars, podcasts and blogs. By understanding these key differentiators, employers will be able to help younger employees meet their short- and long-term financial goals – especially as those goals may have changed in the current environment.

Show them they have options

Because employees often first think about health insurance when it comes to their employer-offered benefits, they don’t always think about the other valuable offerings they could be taking advantage of – like voluntary benefits – that help bridge the gaps not covered by traditional health insurance, or provide financial support for other expenses life presents. The trouble is, not understanding the open enrollment process can lead to younger employees not always choosing the right benefit options for them.

In fact, more than half (56%) of Gen Z employees and nearly half (49%) of millennial employees regretted not enrolling in certain benefits last year – more so than the rest of their counterparts (34%). For younger employees to feel empowered in the decisions they’re making around their benefits, they need to first understand their options —allof them. Employers can help by providing information around offerings like critical illness insurance, legal plans, pet insurance and disability insurance — which younger employees may be less familiar with, but may prove helpful to them in the event of the unexpected.

Encourage them to take their time

By taking the time to understand their benefits and choose the ones that meet their specific needs, younger employees can protect themselves — and in some cases, their families — from financial precarity and stress down the road. Yet, many employees spend only a few minutes reviewing their options; in fact, MetLife’s 2020 open enrollment survey found that two-thirds of Gen Z and millennials spent more time on other activities, like choosing a TV show to watch or where to order dinner, than on their benefits last year.

Choosing the right benefits can seem time-consuming and confusing — especially during times like these — but itisimportant, especially for younger employees who may be working long hours for smaller salaries. Employers should help younger employees maximize their benefits and get the most out of open enrollment by encouraging them to take their time and review the tools and resources offered by their employers before making a decision. This is particularly important as three in 10 prioritize information from HR professionals and benefits counselors, according to MetLife research.

In the end, against the backdrop of the widespread instability our country is facing, it has become critical that employers help younger employees stabilize their finances through a more thorough understanding of their benefits, and subsequently, more empowered open enrollment decisions.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Open enrollment Employee benefits Financial stress