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Brokers: Help Your Clients Think Differently About Benefits

Quick look: As open enrollment nears, brokers should start guiding SMB leadership to take a closer look at their benefit packages, determining whether company benefits truly align with employee needs. The world has shifted – and brokers must help businesses keep up.

The 2022 Open Enrollment Period (OEP) is fast approaching. Though small- and medium-sized business (SMB) leaders are still grappling with the immediate effects of pandemic-related disruptions to revenues and business operations, the previously routine process of renewing employee health benefits is now under greater scrutiny from company leaders as well as employees.

As a broker, you can help SMB leaders manage this period more smoothly by reframing their focus and helping them get a head-start on open enrollment.

Make the conversation meaningful

SMB leaders have a lot on their plates right now, but open enrollment doesn’t have to be a grind. Help company leaders shift their thinking from OEP as a time-draining distraction to a valuable opportunity to make a positive change for their staff – and possibly their bottom line.

Get the ball rolling early with employers to discuss whether their existing employee health benefits are meeting their company’s needs and if they are getting the best possible pricing for their plans. This will require you to take proactive steps to help uncover where their existing plan falls short.

Provide company leaders with “apples to apples” quotes and walk them through the pros and cons of each option. Business owners appreciate having more lead time to make decisions and not feeling rushed into a knee-jerk reaction.

Protecting the bottom line with a PEO

According to a recent Skynova survey, 39% of small business owners surveyed offer health insurance, so employers recognize the value of offering health insurance to employees. But because health insurance is traditionally the employee benefit with the highest sticker price, SMB leaders are right to focus on premiums. Cost is always a concern, but pricing is especially important in this OEP as businesses work hard to recover revenue losses in 2020 and 2021.

Many small- and medium-sized businesses are missing out on the advantages of large group plans, paying high premiums for fair (but not great) coverage. This is where working with a professional employer organization (PEO) can change everything. Under the co-employment relationship, businesses can fold under the PEO’s large group insurance plans, enabling many SMBs to offer more comprehensive coverage for a lower price.

On your end, partnering with a broker-only PEO like ExtensisHR saves you a massive amount of leg work to compile plan information. The benefit experts at the PEO can pull together tailored options for you to present to clients and prospects.

Reimagine the employee experience

Business leaders have been so focused on keeping the company afloat, many have failed to envision what open enrollment looks like from the employee’s perspective. However, generating employee enthusiasm and obtaining buy-in are always critical in times of change.

Moving to a new health insurance provider has the potential to streamline the administration of this crucial benefit – or create additional disruption and backlash.

Today’s healthcare platforms are also easier and more convenient to access than ever before. Many offer easy-to-complete digital tools for enrollment. Work with company leaders or your clients’ in-house HR teams to evaluate the current process for enrollment, as well as the self-serve tools for insureds available from each healthcare provider. Consider the make-up of your client’s workforce as well as their company workflow: is there a higher demand for convenient mobile tools – or are their existing processes still heavily dependent on manual processes and paper trails?

Every company will have different needs, but the most important thing is to protect against radical disruption to employees.

Communication will be crucial

Employees may be hyperaware of benefits changes they perceive could create negative impact. Clear communication will be important during this time. You can assist SMB leaders or in-house HR teams by helping to create a communication strategy to connect with staff through multiple touchpoints throughout the course of the switchover. Framing all updates in a positive light will help minimize fear of change and incite curiosity about new benefits.

SMBs must tailor their communication plans to match the needs of their workforces. Some ideas for communicating change include company-wide email blasts, FAQs page on the company’s intranet, short video tutorials on enrollment, “lunch and learn” walk-throughs, and company town hall meetings.

You can help by offering to participate in content creation, holding staff QA sessions, and being available to answer questions from company leadership, HR, and employees.

Think beyond health insurance

Employees are becoming more vocal about the types of benefits and perks they want to see. Per Skynova’s report, 73% of employers feel employees always or often appreciate their benefits. That said, generic benefit packages are no longer an option for SMB employers who are trying to attract or retain top talent. Instead, companies with thoughtful benefit packages can reduce turnover and gain attention from qualified prospects. This is an area where small- and medium-sized businesses can compete with larger companies offering higher salaries

The annual open enrollment period is a good time for SMB leaders to consider overhauling their entire benefit packages. Two areas that deserve greater attention are benefits related to finances and work/life balance. The pandemic hit most households hard, so employees are open to more support managing their financial situations. Voluntary financial benefits like low-interest installment loans, student loan repayment programs with matching employer contributions, and bill payment programs to reduce debt are all attractive options for employees who have struggled financially recently.

The shift to working from home has also caused more employees to prioritize work/life balance, another area SMB employers can stand out with creative benefits and perks. Half-day Fridays, PTO for volunteer work, partnerships with mental health apps, local gyms, yoga, or dance studios can all help employees balance their professional lives with personally fulfilling activities, further enhancing satisfaction.

Share current employee benefits trends with SMB employers and see how their current benefits packages hold up. If the company has not updated their benefits in the last five years, it’s time to start thinking differently.

Make it easy for SMB leaders

Small- and medium-sized business leaders are not the only ones who should be thinking differently about benefits: brokers must update cumbersome, outdated processes with streamlined tools. Employers may require greater handholding at this time, which could be a challenge, considering the shift to remote work. What might have formerly been an in-person, on-site workshop for employers and staff must be tailored to virtual spaces.

Be proactive about organizing meetings, reaching out proactively to employers, and following up after you share benefits-related content. If you are not doing so already, start using digital resources such as eDocument signature tools, video chat, and screen sharing to be as present as possible, even if you’re not in the room.

The 2022 open enrollment period begins a shift back toward “normalcy” – but it is definitely not a return to pre-pandemic times. Instead, it’s an opportunity for brokers and business owners to think differently about how SMB benefit packages will support the employee experience as everyone embarks on the new future of work.

We’ve streamlined the RFI process to make it easier for brokers. Contact us today to request a quote.

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