Cultural Competency and the Paperless Office

It’s not that computers are evil, and electricity is a scam… it’s the broad elimination of an accessible, physical option that can unintentionally cause negative impacts that affect employees’ abilities to engage with their healthcare and insurance information.

Though the eco-friendly candy coating may make going paperless seem like an obvious workplace ideal, it may actually be hurting your enrollment. There are a multitude of reasons that people from a wide range of backgrounds and demographics may more fully engage with physical copies of plan documents. From religion to neurodivergence, money to age, the diversity of those who would benefit from printouts may make you want to reconsider the purely digital enrollment paradise you may be envisioning.

Socioeconomics and numbers of devices

Remember back in the 90s when houses had a “computer room” with the family computer we all had to share, when the screech of dial-up barked at our heels and if anyone dared answer the phone while someone was on the computer, there was hell to pay? Despite the proliferation of smart devices, laptops, tablets, and other portable wireless devices, the assumption that digital = accessible simply isn’t true for many individuals and families. This is especially true for low-income workers, as some employees may have one or fewer digital devices at home and may lack a reliable internet connection and/or printer meaning that they cannot see or print their documents, if physical copies are their preference. If remote work and school has taught us anything, it’s that conducting important business exclusively online is not a sure-fire method for success.


Those with ADHD, people with Covid-related attention issues, and other neurodivergent folks may have difficulty engaging with digital mediums. For example, phones and computers are a world of distraction if you have ADHD: email, social media, streaming services, games, etc. are all available on a phone, computer, or tablet, and are often much more immediately gratifying than going through digital paperwork. It’s harder to focus when you’re scrolling through Facebook, have email notifications popping up, and text messages coming through. It’s much easier to focus on a task when eliminating digital distractions that are specifically designed to split your focus.


Other employees may not be able to engage with digital devices during certain periods like the Sabbath, which for those working a regularly Monday-Friday schedule is half of their time away from work, but also limits how and when they can engage. While one certainly might argue that the other six days of the week are still available for employees to research and address their policy preferences, employees' ability to participate in their healthcare options shouldn’t be limited by their religious beliefs, and providing physical copies of documents allows these employees the same flexibility enjoyed by their colleagues (dependent, of course, on their personal definition of “work” and how strictly they adhere to the parameters of the Sabbath).

Age and Disability

Let’s face it: technology develops and changes so rapidly that it can be hard to keep up, and therefore some employees may face challenges in navigating online portals and enrollment sites. This is especially pertinent for those who may not use tech so readily in their day to day life outside of the specific programs, software, and other digital mediums they use for work, and statistically is more likely to affect older employees such as those nearing retirement age, especially those in non-technical roles. Aside from age, there’s also the question of accessibility; many disabled people may find it difficult to access exclusively digital information, such as those who are unable to look at screens for long periods of time, who are blind or visually impaired. This is particularly so if they do not have screen readers and/or if information is conveyed through images or PDFs if they have not had optical character recognition (OCR) performed on them.

It’s not that computers are evil, and electricity is a scam; offering digital documentation and allowing employees to opt-in to paperless options are good options that can benefit many employees. However, it’s the broad elimination of an accessible, physical option that can unintentionally cause negative impacts that affect employees’ abilities to engage with their healthcare and insurance information, and ultimately impact their enrollment numbers as well. When it comes to communications, the emphasis on one method or format is less helpful than flexibility and accessibility.

These articles are prepared for general purposes and are not intended to provide advice or encourage specific behavior. Before taking any action, Advisors and Plan Sponsors should consult with their compliance, finance and legal teams.

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