The Loop

How to Enhance Your Benefits Communication Efforts

Filed under: Benefits

Many company human resource departments spend a lot of time and energy negotiating a wide range of benefits for their workers. They may even use boilerplate materials provided by outside vendors to help communicate how the benefits work.

Unfortunately, workers do not spend their days learning about these benefits like HR professionals – so they cannot be expected to understand them as fully. In fact, they are often overwhelmed by a smorgasbord of benefit materials – too much to read and comprehend, especially when bombarded with them all at once. It is likely that most workers set them aside to read, but that time never comes.

Consequently, all they know is that they have a bunch of materials that they can refer to when they need them. However, if workers don't know what they have, they won't know when to use them. For example, let's say you offer an employee assistance program (EAP) – a commonly misunderstood and underused program. You could have any number of employees dealing with family issues such as trouble in school, elder parent care, substance abuse, emotional worries, legal disputes, or even marital problems. These concerns can weigh heavily on a worker's mind, impacting his mental and physical health as well as productivity at work. What could help immensely is knowing he has resources at his fingertips to help deal with these personal problems. Instead of spending hours on their own trying to manage a specific situation, workers could tap these employer benefits to resolve the problem quickly.

Even if workers read their materials and understand they have these benefits, they may not remember to use them during stressful situations. This leads us to two important considerations where benefit communications are concerned: 1) Repetition all year-long is important, and 2) the more they value their benefits, the greater their loyalty, appreciation and productivity on the job.

That second consideration impacts your bottom line, both in terms of output and turnover – and all that entails. Lost job knowledge and experience can increase costs for recruiting, onboarding, and training. Thus, dedicating effort and resources to enhancing communication initiatives can, in fact, improve operational margins.

Do your workers know the true cost and value of their health and welfare benefits? If you don't know, ask them to complete a survey. Here are a few questions you might include:

  • Do you understand how your medical plan works?
  • Do you know what the terms copay and coinsurance and deductible mean?
  • Do you understand what it means to have guaranteed issue for life insurance?
  • Do you understand how your disability insurance works?
  • Do you know how your 401(k) match works?
  • Do you understand why it's important to save for retirement on a regular basis, particularly starting at a young age?
  • Do you make benefit and healthcare decisions with your spouse?
  • Provide space for workers to write-in specific questions about benefits – this will give you a place to start for communication initiatives.
  • Ask for positive and negative experiences with benefits, so you know both strengths and trouble areas that need attention.

The thing about communicating is that we can always do a better job of it. The key, however, is to find out what people know and what they don't, what's their preferred way of receiving information, and where to go if they have additional questions.

Consider these guidelines:

  1. Make benefit communications a year-round initiative. Focus on a single benefit at a time; perhaps launching a new theme each month to demonstrate how a variety of benefits support a certain situation.
  2. Get workers' attention by illustrating the "benefit of a benefit". For example, don't just provide a bullet for "Eldercare resources." Ask the question: "Are you responsible for the care of an elderly family member? We can help you find support." The same goes for after-school care, a homework tutor, legal advice or give an example of savings using pet insurance.
  3. Present information in a clear and concise format. Use easy-to-understand graphics to reiterate key points. Use examples, especially ones that compare and contrast benefits when they must decide between multiple options.
  4. Keep workers engaged by making the information relevant to their specific situation. You can accomplish this with interactive communications, such as offering a few questions for them to answer to help clarify needs. Provide a brief quiz that leads to a general recommendation or resources for more information based on their answers.
  5. Keep it simple. Don't inundate communications with a load of bullet points. Promote one benefit at a time, via an email, social media post, flyer or breakroom poster. Keep the message short, but always provide resources to find more information.
  6. Show, don't tell. For example, it is more effective to demonstrate how "Sharon saved $400 on her son's ACL knee surgery by using our healthcare plan decision-support tool" versus telling workers to be "smart healthcare consumers".
  7. Make it timely and personal. For example, when a worker receives a pay increase, send an email featuring the value of periodically increasing 401(k) contributions. After returning from maternity leave, offer insights into how new moms can and should take care of their health, sleep tips, etc. during a newborn's first year.
  8. Consistently post communications across a variety of access points in order to reach workers via their preferred mediums. Consider themed materials – like vaccination awareness month, the importance of dental check-ups or how much income a 401(k) can provide in retirement. Provide lots of ad hoc materials to support the theme, including links to news articles and studies.
  9. Get creative – think outside the box. For example, how is it that everyone seems to find out when there's free cake or pizza in the breakroom? Perhaps the best way to launch a new benefit monthly theme is to offer free cake or pizza in the breakroom. Let them come to you.
  10. Make resources evergreen and accessible via online summaries and on-demand webinars.
  11. Use technology for widespread reach to both workers and their spouses, such as a one-stop website portal for benefits information. Constantly drive workers there for more information in all of your benefits communications. Give it a short, clever, easy to remember name and icon.
  12. Train frontline managers on how to advise their direct reports on benefits. They don't have to explain them, but they should be able to direct workers to the correct resource for information. It can be very discouraging to get up the nerve to ask for help, only to be told: "I don't know. Didn't you get that information at the enrollment meeting?"
  13. Pay attention to which benefits get the most interest and questions, and focus your communication efforts on them. The goal is high appreciation with as little hand-holding as possible. Use third-party administrator reports to track this information. If you don't get these types of reports, ask for them. Choose external vendors that are committed to helping you effectively promote benefits and monitor utilization.
  14. Enlist the expertise and resources of your marketing department for ideas on how to run a comprehensive communications campaign.

Another way to convey the true value of benefits offered is to provide a compensation statement. It can be general, explaining that employer benefits comprise anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of each worker's compensation. If you have the resources, customizing a benefit statement for each worker can make it even more impactful.

All the time, money, and effort invested to create a strong, competitive benefit package is wasted if it is not appreciated by your workforce. Moreover, workers won't value benefits if they don't use them. Perhaps the most important goal of benefits communications is to help workers choose and use the benefits best suited for their situation.

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