Benefits Communication: 7 Proven Strategies
August 2, 2016

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Employers offer benefits to recruit and retain valuable employees. But all that money you spend on employee benefits is useless if employees don’t know about the benefits, don’t appreciate the value, or miss out on open enrollment periods and other important deadlines because benefits communication was ineffective.

But ineffective benefits communication seems to be the rule, lately, rather than the exception.

The statistics are damning. According to a recent survey by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), only 19 percent of employers report that their employees have high-level of understanding of the value of the employee benefits for which their employers are paying.

1.) Leverage on-demand video. Many companies find it difficult to get all their employees in the same room at the same time for an in-person benefits workshop and briefing – even if they hold multiple events at multiple sites. If this is you, consider videotaping it and making the vid available for employees to view later.

You can use a shared file system at work, but this doesn’t help workers who aren’t routinely at a workstation with a computer. Alternatively, you can post the video on your company YouTube channel. You don’t have to make it visible to search engines – you can post content privately.

That’s what Cannon Construction did – and the Lakewood, Washington-based, 130-employee contracting company found that their video was downloaded more than 300 times – solid evidence that even blue-collar employees are hungry to learn about their benefits packages.

Using video to supplement employee communication efforts in this day and age seems obvious. But only 29 percent of employers are actually doing it, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans.

2.) Communicate year-round. Benefits cannot be an afterthought. They are a vital part of your overall compensation and HR strategy. And so communications about employee benefits cannot be an afterthought, either. Don’t wait until open enrollment to sell your benefits package and to educate your employees about it. Push information out on a regular basis. Do it quarterly, at a minimum.

3.) Communicate by life stage. In addition to your year-round communications efforts, try articulating your message more finely. Items of interest to a 60-year-old exec making $200,000 per year are not going to be the same as items of interest to a 25-year-old graphic designer in the marketing department. Target employees by age, career stage/seniority/position, marital or parenthood status. Have useful content on things like child rearing, education benefits, student loan repayment assistance programs, retirement planning, pension, paid time off, medical, disability and long-term care benefits, and the like.

The good news is that 81 percent of employers who have tried this approach report, according to the IFEBP.

4.) Create an employee benefits communication microsite. This is a handy intranet page that serves as a convenient clearinghouse for all your benefit information. You can link back to it from emails, texts and other media and use it to reinforce your messaging.

5.) It’s ok to be redundant. “Employees want to receive benefits communications through multiple channels. And some expect to see six or more options,” writes Jennifer Weatherly, president of Write On Target, an employee benefits communication outsourcing company based in Centerville, Ohio.

“Think demographics,” she advises. “Text messaging is a great way to reach millennials, but boomers still prefer print pieces. And don’t forget to include channels that will reach the spouse, a key decision maker during enrollment.”

6.) Develop materials in multiple languages. All your employees speak English? That doesn’t mean all their spouses do – and as Ms. Weatherly notes, you need spouses to understand the employee benefits package, too. It may even be more important for them to understand the package than it is for your employer.74 percent of employers surveyed reported that communicating in multiple foreign languages was a successful strategy for their organizations.

74 percent of employers surveyed reported that communicating in multiple foreign languages was a successful strategy for their organizations.

7.) Keep it simple, stupid! The time-honored K.I.S.S. principle is vital to employee communications of all kinds. Simplify, simply, simplify! Find ways to impart the information graphically. Omit needless words! Root out and destroy jargon! Be ruthless! HR workers are accustomed to hearing terms like “defined contribution plan,” “PPO” and “guaranteed issue.” But most other people don’t necessarily know these terms on first reading. Take the information down to the most basic level – at least at the initial stage of communication. Follow-up materials can have more detail.

72 percent of organizations report that simplifying complicated benefits content was a worthwhile effort for their companies, according to the IFEBP survey.

Finally, here’s a message for the executive suite: Employee benefits must be resourced and budgeted appropriately. But most organizations fail to do this. 65 percent of organizations report that they make employee benefit communications a high priority. But only 40 percent of them actually budget money specifically for benefits communication, per the IFEBP. No wonder most employees don’t grasp the value of their benefits!