The Loop

Employee Engagement Strategies

Filed under: Benefits

It’s one thing to describe the value of certain benefits during open enrollment and get more workers to sign up for them. However, it’s another job entirely to get workers to utilize those benefits throughout the year. In fact, a recent Voya survey found that 31 percent of workers say they do not fully understand the benefits they’ve selected.

Enrollment and engaged strategies have evolved dramatically over the past 20 years to keep up with consumer technology and the way people access information. That’s not just true among Millennials and Gen Z, but also for Generation X, Baby Boomers and even seniors who routinely use computers and smartphones. While written materials such as brochures, flyers, and  breakroom posters still have their role to play, technology has proven to be more effective in getting workers to access and better engage with employer-sponsored benefits.

Data Analytics

Because of this, employers can collect substantial data sets to help them learn which types of benefits appeal to, and are more used by, certain demographic groups. Data analytics, which is defined as the process of interpreting and modeling data to detect patterns, trends, and segments, can help employers make better benefit plan changes and decisions to meet workforce needs. 

Furthermore, compiling a database of worker preferences can help HR professionals develop communication strategies to match benefits and to develop the most effective ways to capture their attention, as well as track utilization. For example, there’s no point in launching a campaign to promote smoking cessation benefits to your entire workforce. Efforts are best targeted to those who use tobacco.

Filtering and segmenting different data points, such as age, marital status, income bracket, family or individual health plan, organizational role/department, and utilization of other benefits can help you categorize groups for engagement. Once you have this data, you can create segments to communicate specific benefits. For example:

  • Married workers between the ages of 18 and 30 may be most interested in student loan assistance, a short-term savings account, or family planning.
  • Workers with school-aged children are more likely to explore childcare resources, a college savings plan, or flexible work-from-home options.
  • Workers approaching retirement age are far more likely to appreciate retirement planning services, catch-up contribution reminders, and the option to purchase long-term care insurance.
  • Workers who take time off frequently to care for an elderly parent would welcome relief via eldercare resources, flexible work-from-home options, and long-term care insurance.

By defining segments of your workforce, you have a better chance of engaging them with specific benefits that are best suited for their needs. Instead of blasting all of your benefits to all of your workforce, targeting and tailoring can improve utilization numbers.

Quiz to Enrollment Platform

Some employers provide a “recommendation engine” as an engagement tool to help workers identify benefits that best meet their needs. This online resource operates like a quiz, asking workers questions about their health and financial situation to help establish priorities and needs. The tool processes a worker’s answers and then recommends the most suitable benefits for her and her family. The best-case scenario for a simple, seamless experience is for those recommendations to be directly integrated with the employer’s enrollment platform, allowing the worker to immediately begin the enrollment process.

Tailor Engagement Tactics

We all consume information in different ways, but generational differences make them even more pronounced. You might consider targeting specific content to specific audiences through specific channels. For example, Pew Research Center reports that 97 percent of American smartphone owners text daily. Moreover, Millennials and Generation Z use it as their primary communication tool.

If you rely on only one or two communication channels (e.g., print and website portal), you are not likely to engage the attention of your entire workforce. Consider testing various forms of media and requesting feedback from workers to help you establish which types of engagement tactics appeal to different segments of your workforce. For example:

  • Print: posters, postcards, brochures, newsletters, flyers
  • In-person: large group presentations, small group lunch and learns 
  • Electronic: e-mails, videos, podcasts, surveys
  • Mobile: text messaging, communication apps
  • Digital tools: health monitoring apps, fitness trackers
  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram
  • Web: internal portal for workers to log-in for specific benefit information; external website with basic information accessible to family members and potential job candidates; webinars; tutorials
  • Video: Zoom meetings; coaching sessions; virtual town hall meetings to communicate workforce benefits; live streamed events

Timely Engagement Messaging

Timely communication has become a significant factor during the pandemic. Workers need to know under what circumstances they should or should not go into work, and how to fulfill job responsibilities if they were unable to work onsite. You can use the same tactics you’ve deployed for critical work information for benefits engagement. For example, when the next pandemic comes along, HR can quickly react with messages about when it is appropriate to visit the emergency room for urgent care, and reiterate what types of facilities are better suited for certain conditions. Not only will workers benefit from more timely care, but both workers and the employer will likely experience greater cost savings.

 Another example of timely messaging relates to current news, such a dramatic decline in the stock market. HR may want to explain how that might impact worker 401(k) accounts and provide links to more information. The same could be applied when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, particularly for workers who may be shopping to buy a home or paying off credit card debt.

Education Seminars

Whether focused on health benefits, healthy living tips, retirement or college planning, seminars and workshops are a good way to engage workers with benefits so they understand their value – and learn how to maximize them. 

For example, you may invite a financial professional to teach basic investment concepts, such as the power of compounding interest, long-term tax deferral, and the potential risks and rewards of different investment options. At the end of the session, workshop attendees may have the opportunity to complete the 401(k) enrollment process, including contribution percentages and investment option decisions, with the assistance of a trained investment consultant.

Other types of financial workshops may appeal to specific segments of your workforce:

  • The best vehicles to save for a house, college, or other major purchase
  • How to manage money during an economic or personal financial setback
  • How to take a loan from your 401(k) plan, along with tax, penalty and repayment considerations
  • How to draw down savings during retirement, which types of accounts to tap first, and their tax implications
  • Older workers may benefit from a seminar on how to sign up for Medicare and integrate the program with current employer-sponsored health benefits
  • How to manage retirement plan savings when you change jobs

Auto Enrollment and Auto Escalation

Most US employers have adopted auto-enrollment for 401(k) retirement plans with a default savings rate of about three percent. Many also have deployed an automatic escalation plan, wherein the worker’s default wage contribution rate is increased periodically. In both scenarios, workers have the ability to opt out of these automated actions, but they must pro-actively make the effort. 

They also have the option to increase their deferral rate higher than the auto-escalation rate. Open enrollment season is a great time to push educational materials that compare various deferral rates and how they can help workers accumulate wealth over time. Promotions, job changes, and bonus periods offer another good opportunity to encourage workers to increase their income deferral rate.

Easier Access to Benefits

Seventy-six percent of employers have accelerated telehealth and virtual health offerings to their workforce since the onset of the pandemic. As it turns out, these options have become popular and highly utilized for their convenience, particularly for mental health and substance abuse services. Better yet, they are not any more expensive than in-person visits and health insurance policies now cover them, so most employers plan to make these offerings permanent.

Hybrid Workforce

Given the shift to work-from-home staffing models, HR departments have had to work closely with IT staff to develop secure internal networks and communication infrastructure. This close working relationship should continue in an effort to unite today’s fragmented hybrid workforce with a yearlong benefits engagement strategy. The ability to create timely, concise, and effective communications are key to recruiting, training, engaging, and retaining talented workers moving forward. 

The Great Resignation has launched a tremendous turnover rate, as workers seek new positions elsewhere. But while you’re scrambling to create attractive compensation and benefit packages for recruitment, remember to reward your workers who have remained loyal. They may feel like they are missing out on opportunities elsewhere, while watching new workers join the company with seemingly higher wages and more flexible schedules. Now is the time to upgrade benefits for everyone, and use a broad scope of engagement strategies to make sure they are aware of them, and to promote their utilization.

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