5 Generations Of Employees Share Their Real Open Enrollment Wants And Needs

If you had to guess, how much time would you say it takes to prepare for open enrollment every year?

Your answer probably sounds something like, “Too many hours to count.” The brokers I work with will spend the next several months crafting benefits guides, reminder emails, and Powerpoint presentations, all in an effort to support their clients with the right tools to promote their benefits offerings for the year ahead.

And while all of those are pieces of a much bigger benefits communication plan, they’re not consistently driving smarter benefits decision-making or behavior changes. Employees are confused by an overwhelming amount of information, and don’t have access to personalized recommendations. So more often than not, they stick with the plans they know instead of the ones that will give them the best coverage at the right cost.

So as we approach this year’s open enrollment, it’s mission-critical for benefits pros like us to change our strategies. Because put simply, the world looks a lot different than it did a decade ago. With five generations in the workforce for the first time ever, our same old, one-size-fits-all benefits communication plans aren’t going to cut it anymore. Gen Zers are working alongside grandparents, which means no two employees will choose or use their benefits in the same way. They need—and deserve—a more personalized approach that supports them at every stage of life, no matter if they’re paying off student loans or saving up for retirement.

That’s why my team here at Jellyvision surveyed over 900 real-life employees to ask them how they feel about their current open enrollment experiences. We learned what’s working, what’s not, and how we can improve our benefits communication strategies before this year’s open enrollment begins. Here’s what we discovered.

We’re starting from scratch

If you’ve been in the broker space for a long time, you’ve probably heard the phrase “open enrollment” ad nauseam. It’s our Super Bowl, and we could rattle off a definition for this important time of year in five seconds flat.

But for young employees, that’s not necessarily the case. According to our research, 32% of Gen Z employees aren’t sure they know what open enrollment is, and are less likely to be confident in their benefits understanding than their older counterparts.

So as a new generation enters the workforce, it’s important to get back to basics this open enrollment. Remember that for some employees, you may be introducing the concept of benefits for the very first time. Be sure to provide lots of quick, simple definitions for common terms, and never assume your audience knows what you’re talking about. Think “Benefits 101,” especially for clients with a younger staff.

Be everywhere at once

Do you ever wish you could clone yourself during this time of year? If only we could visit all of our clients at the same time, give a stellar benefits presentation and call it a day.

Unfortunately that technology doesn’t exist yet, but employees still expect us to somehow be everywhere at once. We asked survey respondents how they’d most like to receive benefits information during open enrollment, and their answers were scattered across the board. An interactive tool was the most popular option for all ages, followed by emails, one-on-one conversations with HR, and conversations with coworkers.

And while it might feel outdated, baby boomers were the only generation to say they’d still prefer a pamphlet or brochure. So we can’t say goodbye to paper yet, especially because the aging employee population is growing. This open enrollment, a multi-channel approach is our best chance to ensure all employees get the right message on the platform they prefer.

Do you do house calls?

As a broker, you’ve probably never been asked to knock on doors, visiting employees at their homes to personally explain all of their benefits to them. But that’s exactly where employees said they’d most like to study up on their health plans during open enrollment: 67% of employees want to learn about their benefits at home.

No, I’m not expecting you to suddenly become a door-to-door salesperson. But there is an important takeaway here: employees are dispersed around the country, and aren’t necessarily going into an office to work anymore. Plus, they’re likely making benefits decisions in partnership with their spouse, parents, or other dependents. So it’s important that we find virtual ways to connect employees with the right benefits—through videos, emails, texts, and interactive tools.

No employee left behind

If our survey revealed anything, it’s that employees’ open enrollment preferences are a big old mishmash. So that leaves us with one big, overwhelming question: how do we build a more inclusive open enrollment experience that provides every employee with the resources they need, in the way they’d most prefer to receive them?

First, we need to better target our messaging. Thirty-five percent of employees said they only want to learn about the benefits that matter to them. In other words, if a benefit isn’t relevant to them personally, employees would rather keep it out of sight and out of mind. So we need to be thinking about ways to personalize our communications to each demographic, and make our recommendations specific to each individual employee.

Second, we need to consider the whole family when we put together our benefits promotions. Eighty-four percent of Gen Zers say they consult with their family when making benefits decisions, so it’s important that we make open enrollment materials available and easy to share with folks outside of our clients’ organizations. And don’t forget: the “typical” household isn’t so typical anymore—so benefits communications should consider non-traditional family makeups (think blended families, single-parent homes, LGBTQIA+ relationships, and more).

Last, we need to do better when it comes to aging employees. We haven’t traditionally offered much guidance when it comes to Medicare selection. But as employees live and work longer, it’s time that we incorporate Medicare education into our open enrollment communications. Over half of employees aged 51 or older said they know very little about how to choose or enroll in a Medicare plan. So don’t forget to add a few unbiased, helpful resources to your benefits materials this year.

A better open enrollment experience for everyone

As I reflect on what our survey respondents shared with us, one theme stands out: benefits guidance requires empathy above all else. It’s perhaps our most important job as benefits pros: to put ourselves in employees’ shoes, understand what they most want and need from us, and offer a guiding hand in the right places and times.

And unfortunately, there’s no singular, right way to accomplish that goal. Everyone is different and comes to the table with different health concerns, financial situations, and family makeups. So as our approach to open enrollment continues to evolve, it’ll be all about providing each generation with the resources that are most relevant to them, on the platforms they prefer most.


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