Despite benefit plans being valued now more than ever, according to Harvard Business Review only 41% of employers feel their employees are qualified to select a benefits plan that is best fit for them. Furthermore, only 35% of employers feel that their employees are knowledgeable about the quality and cost of health care. It’s clear that there is an employer-employee disconnect regarding benefits. This gap can be bridged through effective employee benefits communication.
What is employee benefits communication?
Employee benefits communication refers to the process that employers use to communicate information to employees about their benefits package – like the value and cost of benefits plans, information about enrollment, and how to make the most out of their coverage.
Current state of employee benefits communication
The current state of benefits communication is not engaging enough for people to be inclined to educate themselves on their benefits. The reality is long standing norms in communication like booklets and seminars are not meeting the current workforce where they are, and the language used is full of jargon and complicated breakdowns of plans that people don’t understand. In a day-in-age where benefits are now used as leverage to attract top talent in an increasingly difficult job market, one might think that that the delivery of benefits information would be better than ever. Unfortunately, this is not the case; employers and employees alike still struggle with employee benefits one way or another.
What can be done?
To get the message across, first acknowledge that the commonplace communication channels for benefits information are not doing a good job at keeping people engaged. Instead of using the usual jargon filled booklets, seminars, and meetings, try meeting employees where they’re most receptive to the message. The best way to reach employees today is through their inbox. This isn’t just exclusive to email, as mobile phone text messages and teams chats are also just as effective. Employees may prefer one method of communication or the other, so it’s recommended that a mix of communication channels is used to deliver benefits information.
With the right channels of communication in place, employees will begin to engage with your message. But, the language in the message must be easily understood in order to keep employees engaged. Benefits are complicated; however, benefits information can still be shared in a way that is concise and easily understood.
The best way to avoid confusing people is not to use jargon. Keep it simple by assuming employees do not have a good understanding of benefits terminology, because they don’t. According to Rutgers University, only 14% of Americans understand basic insurance terminology like premiums, deductibles, and maximum out-of-pocket expense. Similar to jargon, using acronyms may also confuse employees. Take a moment to explain what the program is, rather than using the full name of the program instead.
For example, instead of saying “we offer an EAP”, say something like “your benefits include a counseling resource you can contact for assistance”.
The next key aspect to engaging employee benefits communication is presentation. People don’t want to look at tons of words; bring your message to life by using visual imagery, videos, color, etc. Make sure to incorporate your brand image in the communication presentation. This not only keeps the copy consistent with a company’s brand image but will offer a sense of familiarity for employees. Think about a time you saw an advertisement for a brand you like. You probably engaged with the advertisement, because you’re invested in that brand. The same applies for a company brand, it’s much easier for employees to engage with a brand they’re familiar with, rather then branding of health care companies.
Employee benefits communication strategy
Knowing how to keep your employees engaged is great, but there needs to be a purpose behind why you want their attention. Communicating about benefits for the sake of it won’t get you anywhere. Instead, set clear goals for what kind of outcome you need from your communication strategy. For example, are you trying to prepare employees for open enrollment? Or do you want to encourage employees to enroll in your 401(k)? Keep your message specific to a certain outcome to avoid confusion on what to do next.
Employees aren’t all at the same place in life, so it’s important to avoid using generic pain points in the copy. Again, the name of the game is engagement; there’s nothing less engaging than reading things you can’t relate to. The best way to address the needs and concerns of everyone is to segment the audience into different personas. Personas can be spouses/partners, younger employees, managers, etc. For example, when discussing 401(k) enrollment, it may be better to leave newer employees out of the conversation, as they likely won’t be eligible to participate for a while.
At first, deploying a benefits communication strategy is like a game of darts. You aim for the center, but sometimes you miss the target. Sometimes the kind of messaging and channels used will be effective, other times they won’t. Although this might sound discouraging, it’s actually an opportunity to figure out what’s working and leave behind what’s not. Using email as an example: if an email campaign was sent out, check out the click-through and open rates to see how much engagement there was. A communication strategy is one that changes over time. There will undoubtedly be roadblocks along the way, but every setback is an opportunity to learn and improve.
Benefits operate in a cycle throughout the year, so the communication strategy should as well. Iteration can help you improve your communication strategy and make ever evolving benefits easier to handle if you incorporate it into your planning process.
An iterative process may look like this:
- Deploying (and ending) a strategy.
- Set goals and objectives.
- Segment audience and behaviors.
- Encourage action with messages.
- Measure outcomes.
- Reflect and refine.
Along with data, employee feedback is another avenue for improving a benefits communication strategy. Employee feedback is essentially the best insight into how effective a communication strategy is – employees are the audience after all. When it comes to collecting feedback, there are multiple approaches you can take. HR teams can send out employee surveys before and after enrollment, for example. However, while there is valuable knowledge to obtain from this, having an actual conversation with people provides a much deeper understanding of their opinion. Everyone wants to be heard, and effective leaders know that listening is one of the most important parts of their job. This is why one-on-one interviews are so effective. Interviews are a great way to get honest, thorough feedback.
When conducting interviews, avoid asking leading questions. A leading question is one that elicits a desired answer. Here’s an example of a leading question: “Is a wellness benefit a good way to look after your health?” Reframe the question by asking “How do you feel about our wellness benefit?” This question allows the interviewee to think and give a thoughtful response. The interviewer should be knowledgeable on the topics covered to ask meaningful questions.
Like developing personas for messaging, it’s important to be strategic with who is interviewed or surveyed. Avoid asking questions that aren’t relevant to certain groups of people. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to ask the entire organization about parental leave. Instead, it would make more sense to ask questions about parental leave to those who have recently returned from leave.
There is no shortcut to a successful communication strategy, but the time spent on perfecting the message is well worth it in the end. Investing in healthcare is a major expense for organizations of all size, so it’s critical to educate employees on their benefits. If employees do not understand the offerings they’re presented with, too much money may be spent on offerings that aren’t valuable. A consistent and effective communication strategy can help HR with curating a benefits package that truly knocks it out of the park for employees.
Employee benefits technology is great for communication. Technology provides in-depth, easy to understand tools like glossaries, plan comparison, and even deep analytical tools that help employees understand their benefits options. Learn more about how ebm can help foster strong benefits communication in your organization.