Encore Electric’s open enrollment strategy has always centered around quality, in-person interactions with employees—but that’s not possible this year due to COVID-19. Benefits Manager Cathy Emerson shares how ALEX is helping her team maintain strong relationships with employees from afar, communicate new mental health and wellness resources, and drive greater benefits understanding and use.
Cathy Emerson is the Benefits Manager for Encore Electric, Inc. where there is an employee centric-culture with safety and customer (employee) service at the forefront. With over 20 years in Human Resources, Cathy has developed a passion for helping employees recognize, utilize and make the most of their benefits. Focusing on how to create a total wellness foundation—from nutritional care to mental wellbeing—keeps her motivated and directed to listen and investigate all aspects of wellness movements.
I’m Danielle Zuckerman. I’m an Account Manager here at Jellyvision. And for the next few minutes I’ll be talking with Cathy Emerson, one of our lovely customers that I work with here at Jellyvision. Cathy is the Benefits Manager at Encore Electric, a small business with about 875 eligible employees based in Denver, Colorado.
And today we’re going to talk about Encore Electric and how they’re approaching the challenges of open enrollment in this very strange year, and how they’re continuing to support employees and help them manage the added health and financial stress of a pandemic. So thank you so much Cathy for talking to me today.
Alright. So we can go ahead and jump right in. We’ve worked together for a couple of years, but when we’ve talked about Encore Electric you’ve always talked to me about this idea of an employee-centric culture—and how you have an active open enrollment each year. So what would you say are the three biggest challenges that you and your team are facing when it comes to running an open enrollment during the pandemic, and how are you planning on tackling them?
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Yeah, absolutely. A good question. It is going to be really hard this year because we’re used to having really hands-on open enrollments, where we’re out there among all the employees, helping them out. So this year it’s going to be a lot more virtual. We’re going to have a big town hall virtual meeting, where everyone is going to hopefully attend and then follow up with questions and answers.
It’s going to be hard answering all the questions around enrollment, and that’s why we’re really glad to be partnered with ALEX. It’s really going to help us out this year, especially. And then we’ve got to make sure that the message gets out to employees to log in and sign up for their benefits. We’re not going to be there in person to remind them. So again, we’re going to rely heavily on ALEX and then a couple other newsletters and emails.
Great. So it sounds like this is the first year that you’re trying anything like a virtual town hall. And then you mentioned ALEX as well. What are some of the biggest benefits that you’ve found about having ALEX as being a central part of your education and your communication strategy?
I think the biggest part and what I always tell people is that ALEX is something that employees like. It’s not like going even into BeneTrac where they sign up for their benefits. It’s interactive. They find it interesting. They don’t think that it’s a chore. They really like to interact with ALEX.
So that’s just a big plus for us. That means they use it. That means they go in there, they find out information that they need. And especially again this year, we’re going to have more information on ALEX for them to look at, listen to and use.
Yeah. And we know just based on conversations that we’ve been having with other employers and actually employees as well, we know employees are sitting up and leaning into benefits this year more than they ever have in the past.
In fact, we recently conducted a survey and we found that three in five employees are planning on paying more attention to benefits in the current climate. So it’s great that you’ve thought about this virtual town hall and the active enrollment that you have each and every year. But I’m curious to know, how have you adjusted your messaging around open enrollment communication or programs that you’re hoping to highlight this year?
Yeah. We’ve had to adjust our messaging almost totally. Everything, again, is going to be virtual. We are going to try and put out more mental health information this year. We’ve been actively seeking out better mental health providers, because with the pandemic going on, it’s become really apparent that it’s a struggle for a lot of our employees and they’re experiencing more stress and anxiety. I keep reading more about depression and that kind of thing. So we’ve gone with a couple new mental health vendors.
And we’re going to rely again on ALEX, on newsletters, emails to get the information out about the new EAP, that’s a really beefed-up EAP that does a lot more…for one thing, it has five sessions that they can use for free counseling sessions rather than three, which has been the standard with us. Plus it does a lot of other interactive things.
Right now childcare isn’t a real problem because a lot of parents are at home. But for instance, [the new EAP] will actually find a childcare provider for them. And then, it’ll go as far as to find out if they have openings, which is really a good thing.
Then we’re going to go with Talkspace, which is a virtual mental health counseling option.
And again, we need to get this information out to them. It’s going to be new for them, and we definitely want them to use it. It’s going to be a company-provided benefit, and it’s just going to benefit them.
And a couple other things we wanted to communicate this year to support the employees is that we aren’t changing their contributions this year. And to us that was really important, because enough is changing and going on right now that we thought that could be a highlight.
And we’re adding something really simple, but we think the employees are really going to like it and enjoy it. We’re adding massage therapy this year. So those are some of the new messages that we want to get out.
Yeah, so it sounds like not making a ton of changes in terms of core benefits, but really wanting to make sure that employees are feeling supported this year in light of the added stress that everybody has been taking on, and making sure that they are aware of all of the wonderful resources that Encore Electric is providing.
So this is going to be your fourth year with ALEX. Last year you had ALEX Basic, which was just the Benefits Counselor piece, with the addition of the retirement component. And the main difference between that and what you’re using this year, ALEX Complete, is that Encore Electric employees are now going to have access to a library of 16 ALEX tips that are focused on consumerism, everything from HSA’s and telemedicine to mental health and EAP. Why did you decide to implement ALEX Complete this year? And what are you hoping that the platform is going to help out with the most?
Again, employee support. There’s a couple of things I can think of right off the bat. When I was approached about ALEX Complete, one of the things that was highlighted to me was use of an HSA plan. If we’re going to add something like massage therapy, it’s great to have ALEX tell them that’s going to work for the co-pay for this. It just all fits together. It all blends together really nicely.
Plus, if they need to seek out other counseling that we’re providing for them, again the use of an HSA, FSA—just how to use their plan properly can be conveyed through ALEX. And honestly I think they listen a little better to ALEX than they do to me just talking about it. So that’s what we’re hoping for this year.
Yeah. Well, certainly I think that the addition of those tips is going to help with communication specifically around HSAs, as you mentioned. And of course we’ve been working together for a couple of years. I know that you are a very positive person in your approach to benefits, in your approach to communication with employees. I’m wondering, is there anything that you and your team do to stay sane as you prep for everything? Anything that you do to kind of let off steam or any bonding that you might do?
It’s kind of hard right now because we’re not even all together. I’m in the office, most of my coworkers aren’t. They are still working from home. I’ll just say communication. I mean, talking. We make an effort to have meetings regularly with each other, so you don’t lose that personal interaction and we enjoy each other’s company. So that’s what we’ve been stepping up on is teams meeting. We’ve been trying them all out. Something just to stay together as a team.
Perfect. Well, it’s wonderful to put in the extra time to make sure that your team and your employees are on the same wavelength and sharing that positive energy that you have. So I just want to say thanks again for sharing with us a little bit about how you’re taking on open enrollment, Cathy. We will be here every step of the way to make sure that it’s a success and that employees are engaging with ALEX.
And to anyone who might be facing similar education, communication hurdles this open enrollment, make sure to visit jellyvision.com to learn more. Sign up for a demo and in a matter of weeks we can get you set up and ready to go.