HRE’s number of the day: benefits wakeup call

49%: Percentage of employees who say the pandemic is a wakeup call to invest more time researching and selecting the best coverage options for their situation.

Half of employees say they’re willing to devote more time to the open enrollment process this year because of COVID-19, according to Aflac. The carrier surveyed 1,200 benefits decision-makers and 2,000 employees across the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic

What it means for HR leaders

The number represents a significant shift in employee behavior, considering that the vast majority of employees (92%) choose the same benefits year after year and, on average, spend just 33 minutes on the task. However, in light of COVID-19, about half of employees say the pandemic is a wakeup call to invest more time researching and selecting the best coverage options for them and their families.

“Choosing benefits is one of the most important actions people take each year. And for the past 10 years, our survey found that employees are on autopilot when it comes to the choices they make,” says Matthew Owenby, chief HR officer at Aflac. “However, COVID-19 has inspired important conversations taking place about the current healthcare crisis and growing concerns about financial security.”

Related: COVID-19 is changing how employees view their benefits

That new focus puts more pressure on HR and benefit leaders during this year’s open enrollment. Because employees historically don’t know enough about their benefits—and don’t spend time finding out about them—it’s important HR leaders ramp up education and communication to help employees get the information they need. A number of employers say they will make open enrollment a bigger priority than in years past because of how important benefits are during the pandemic.

Jonathan Bennett, head of group benefits at The Hartford, recently told HRE that it’s key for employers to communicate and remind employees about available resources in preparation for open enrollment season this fall.

“Communication is crucial,” he says. “HR departments need to be engaging their workforce. A moment like this reveals things that a lot of people haven’t thought about or considered but now reveals what needs to be done.”

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