As Delta Concerns Grow, Workforces Are Rethinking Open Enrollment

The new variant is causing some employers and employees to reconsider their priorities for 2022 benefit selections.

As open enrollment season approaches, employers and employees are facing a new hurdle: the Delta variant.

According to a new survey of 1,000 full-time employees from Haven Life, a digital life insurance agency owned by the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual), COVID-19 and the Delta variant remain top of mind for employees, with 71% of workers stating their concerns about the variant. Forty-five percent of workers also said Delta and other variants would impact their benefit selection this year.

“The Delta variant is weighing heavily on the minds of employees this open enrollment season,” says Ben Newland, head of product for direct-to-consumer at Haven Life.

Newland says one potential impact of COVID-19 on overall benefit selections could be an increase in the amount of insurance coverage purchased by employees. He notes that the Haven Life survey found 14% of employees said they plan to purchase more coverage this open enrollment season, compared with what they selected prior to the pandemic.

Additionally, 13% of respondents are planning to purchase even more coverage in 2022 than what they did this past year. “As the pandemic unfolds, many are continuing to purchase additional protections,”€ Newland says.

A focus on improving mental health and financial wellness also continues to affect what benefits employees are considering. The Haven Life survey found that 74% of respondents said mental health considerations will impact their benefit selections this season. Among the benefits that would positively impact their mental health, respondents voted favorably for increased retirement contributions (50%), a one-month sabbatical after five years of employment (42%), flexible summer schedules (34%), student loan reimbursement or support (27%) and a travel stipend (19%).

Newland says there are several steps employers can take to help employees select the right benefits for them. The first is to improve employee communication, he says. According to the survey, two-thirds of employees (65%) rely on their human resources (HR) team to get information about their benefit options. However, most employees (51%) say they don’t or only “somewhat” understand the benefits being offered by their employer, how they can enroll or what is covered.

Affordability is a critical consideration, as well. While 45% of workers in the survey say they believe they should spend less than 10% of their paycheck on benefits, 59% said they currently spend more than that amount.

Employers should also ensure that the benefits they offer reflect what employees actually need and want, Newland adds. Thirty-seven percent of employees said their company does not currently offer enough employee benefits. Despite the desire for more, three-quarters of employees anticipate that their employers’ upcoming benefit offerings will be “about the same€ as last year.”

Newland says employers can expand their benefits by offering alternative forms of financial protections for employees, for example. Forty-two percent of respondents said that in the event of an unexpected event, their loved ones receiving a recurring payment equal to their monthly paycheck for a defined period would give them a greater peace of mind than a traditional one-time life insurance payout.

“Fortunately, there are some easy ways employers can expand their benefit offerings to meet the needs of their employees, which are often about more than just protecting their own physical health and extend to financially protecting their loved ones,” Newland says.