The presence of many generations in the workplace creates its share of challenges for employers. Organizations feature blends of Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials, with the first members of Gen Z joining the team.
It’s tempting to focus your benefits communications on those in the early stages of their careers. Here are three tips to ensure that you don’t forget the needs of your older employees when you communicate about employee benefits.
1. Put the “youth movement” in perspective.
No one can dispute the critical importance of the Millennial generation to the future of the global economy. Researchers speculate this segment of the population could make up 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025. Each day brings us closer to that reality, but there is still a need to speak to the other generations that make up your current staff. It’s a good idea to review your benefits communication tactics to ensure they are an accurate reflection of your workplace. Pay attention to everything from the images you select to the tone of your messages.
2. Match your message to your usage.
In a data-driven age, use the available tools to determine employees’ preferred method to receive messages
. But be cautious about using certain tactics across your company. Social media
is a growing area of benefits communication. An organization that has a high percentage of employees over age 60 may want to stick to more traditional tactics to reach this group, though
As for the message itself, consider which segment of your employee population is most likely to use a particular benefit. For example, if you have a greater number of older employees, you may want to emphasize the highlights of your company’s prescription drug plan.
3. Help older employees reach their goals.
While each generation in the workplace has visions of retiring one day, older employees have the finish line in sight. With a greater number of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age each year, address both their pre- and post-retirement needs. This could include info on how a 401(k) works after retirement or the portability of certain employee-paid voluntary benefits. As employees become eligible for Medicare, you can explain the differences between Medicare and employer-provided health care.
Employee benefits are routinely cited as a key part of a company’s talent retention effort. Make sure your communications deliver an engaging message to both your current MVPs and the rising stars that will one day fill their roles.
In a few weeks, another open enrollment season will be upon us. Benefits communications professionals here at Trion will brainstorm ways to persuade your employees to register for benefits.
Yet pushing out similar content each year is a drain to both the writers and the audience. Shaking up the content is necessary to make sure the message comes through loud and clear. But how to clear those mental cobwebs and spark that creativity? A change of scenery is just the thing!
Sitting is the new smoking
You may have heard siting is the new smoking. That phrase seems like an exaggeration, yet many studies show the connection between a sedentary lifestyle and health risks, like:
- Greater risk of colon cancer
- Greater risk of diabetes
- Greater risk of obesity
- Increased back and neck pain
Not good! Yet Americans self-report their activity levels are currently their lowest point.
Taking short breaks to stand and walk around the office is a good first step to get up and moving. Ideally, you should at least stand up and stretch every hour.
But there is a way to get the benefits of motion that will boost both your physical and mental well-being. All you need to do is step outside.
Take control of your health
Walking in nature is the ideal inverse to sitting in your cubicle for eight or more hours each day. It can lower those risks for cancer, obesity and diabetes. Besides the obvious physical perks, studies show waking outdoors brings mental health benefits, like:
- Less risk of anxiety
- Less risk of depression
- Less self-reported stress
No matter your industry, I know you’re busy . Time fills with deadlines, projects, meetings and the endless to-do list. But as little as five minutes of outdoor exercise produces positive effects on your mood and psychological health.
If that does not convince you, here’s the kicker: Being outside spurs creativity and decision-making ability. In other words, it can make you better at your job.
I came up with the idea for this blog post during a walk. Exposure to nature improves your ability to think expansively. It can be the perfect way to spark a new concept that revives those employee communications.
Being in a natural environment also replenishes our ability to problem-solve and multitask. It also boosts attention span. Writers and editors will be especially pleased to hear that exposure to nature can lead to improvements in proofreading. Sounds like what the doctor ordered during the chaos called open enrollment season!
Heading outside for a few minutes during the work day can also make you a better colleague. It boosts feelings of connectedness, making community and generosity priorities over personal advancement. Walking outside also helps us be less impulsive and more focused on the future. This technique is useful when we set long-term goals, like strategic plans for our organizations.
Not everyone works an office where green space is easily accessible. A task as simple as placing a few plants around your workspace can boost mental health. Yet the most benefits come with physical activity. So if there’s no walking trail or park near your office, take the time to find one close to home. Spending a few minutes there will spark your creativity.
As summer draws to a close, I’m gearing up for open enrollment season. Communications consultants and HR staff face the brunt of challenges during the season.
As a designer, I manage much of the production, print fulfillment and mailings. Designers don’t develop tactics, answer employee questions, or oversee a large campaign. We have our own challenges to face. Let’s take a look at what goes into creating client campaigns throughout the season.
Our communications team talks to our consultants to discuss which clients are returning. We review how those clients received last years’ tactics. We ask what we can do to improve those tactics or propose fresh ideas to install for their new campaign.
Have any of our clients had any major changes to their business? Mergers, growth, down-sizing? Do any of the clients’ materials need a refresh? We could discuss with them the possibility it’s time to consider a major campaign update. As clients update brand guidelines and add new benefits, does their content look like a hodge-podge of updates? Also, we take stock of what new clients have knocked at our door. Out of all the proposals we made over the winter and spring, which client looks promising? What is the possibility of new clients that we never even took into account?
As we get deeper into August, we begin to get a better view. We fill in spreadsheets with more detail and assign staff to clients. Clients start to confirm their open enrollment dates. We talk to our printers and ask for revised quote, trying to get better prices and securing press space. By now, all last year’s files have been cleaned up and are ready to go. We hold weekly meetings to bring new team members up-to-speed and discuss the tactics and concerns of our clients.
We begin to research new clients to interpret their brand guidelines and capture their aesthetic . Working with clients’ design, marketing, branding and HR staff , we create templates for their new content.
For current clients requesting a re-design, we put the finishing touches on their revised look. The team is familiar with clients’ previous challenges, letting us to prepare the changes that will come to their plans.
Most importantly, we rest and take time off, while things are still calm.
Once Labor Day passes, the pace has begun to change, rapidly. More and more emails go between consultant and client. Things are begging to go into layout. Drafts pass back and forth. Printers and quantities are confirmed. Postage estimates start to come through. Finally, by the middle of the month, you realize open enrollment is here.
The first few campaigns make their way to press and mailing invoices need to be paid ASAP. Small, inevitable delays in production cause jobs to be sent to press a day late. But, our always savvy printers have already taken delays into account and fulfill requests by the mail date!
When I first came onboard, open enrollment was described to me as a wave. Just before it comes to shore, there is a drawback, then a small surge, then before you know it you are riding the crest of the wave. Before you know it, the wave has dissipated and you are back in the calm again. It’s really the best analogy I’ve ever heard for the period.
By now we are riding the crest of the wave. If you have done your homework and worked your best to prepare, it’s a blast. While everything is down to the wire, the rush of rapid turnaround does not leave any time for indecisiveness. We make decisions quickly and hammer out projects with speed and efficiency. It’s not unheard of to have daily deadline. Hundreds of emails that need your attention and response flood your inbox. The headset of your phone is permanently attached to our ears as we call printers with last minute changes and updates on any delays.
As October closes, things begin to wind down. We still ride the wave, but it’s lost much of its energy. Final jobs make their way out the door. We see print samples and mailing seeds. Our focus moves from communications to the implementation of employee benefits by the end of the year. Campaigns draw to a close and by Thanksgiving, things are ‘normal.’
Of course, with all our prep, our open enrollment season will be text book perfect! I’m prepared, are you?
As with everything now, there’s a new term that describes what I am: a foodie traveler – someone who travels for food. As such, I value (and take) every one of my vacation days. I have used my vacation days to taste crawfish in New Orleans, crab cakes in Maryland, smoked ribs in Texas, and pasta in Italy, with time for sight-seeing. Even at this moment, I’m researching top BBQ restaurants in North Carolina for an upcoming trip. But, I appear to be in the minority.
According to a study from Project: Time Off, 54 percent of Americans did not use all their vacation days in 2016. That left a total of 662 million unused days. Reasons employees gave related to concerns about their employer’s perception of them, including:
- Fear that taking vacation could make them appear less dedicated at work (26%)
- Do not want to be seen as replaceable (23%)
- Worried that they would lose consideration for a raise of promotion (21%)
However, the managers surveyed in this study agreed:
- Improves health and well-being (82%)
- Boosts morale (82%)
- Alleviates burnout (81%)
- Improves employees’ focus upon return (78%)
- Renews employees’ commitment to their job (70%)
Where’s the Disconnect?
The same study discovered that two-thirds (2/3) of American employees receive none, negative, or mixed messages from their company about taking time off. A majority of managers recognize the benefits of taking time off, but many do not engage with their employees about vacations. This lack of communication creates an unintentional “vacuum where negative perceptions thrive”. In fact, 76 percent of employees said if they felt fully supported and encouraged by their boss, they would be likely to take more time off.
Why Should This Matter to Employers?
“Why should I care if my employees don’t want to take any time off? It’s their decision.”
There are many reasons why employers should care that their employees take time off. There are benefits to both the well-being of the employee and the company’s bottom-line.
- Improved Productivity: Logic says employees are more productive when they’re in the office working and not on vacation. Yet working for long periods without time off hurts concentration, creativity and productivity
- Improved Health and Well-being: Taking a break lets employees recharge, reduce stress and lower the chance of developing depression or heart disease. This can help cut down on sick days and employee burnout
- Increased Job Satisfaction: Project: Time Off’s State of American Vacation 2016 found employees whose bosses supported vacation were more happy with their jobs.
- Reduced Liability on Company’s Balance Sheet: In 2016, there was a $272 billion vacation liability sitting on the balance sheets of American companies. With employees not taking vacation and rolling their unused paid time off to the following year(s), this liability continues to grow.
What Can Employers Do?
Employers and managers have a significant role to play in ensuring that their team members take time off. Here are some things you can do:
- Engage Your Employees About Vacation: Talk to your team. Ask them about upcoming vacations or plans. Discuss the value of taking some time off. Let them know that you are supportive of it.
- Take Time Off: There’s no better way to lead than by example. Start taking time off and your employees will follow.
- Limit Carry-Over of Paid Time Off: A hard deadline for using vacation days may encourage more employees to take vacation now instead of continuing to push it off.
- Reward Employees with a Day Off: After the completion of a huge project or a busy season, reward your hard-working employees with a day off so that they can recharge.
Go Big or Go Home
Some companies have implemented company-wide policies to ensure that their employees take time off. Here are examples of what some companies are doing:
- TED closes for two weeks every summer.
- Salesforce offers seven paid volunteer days a year to employees.
- HubSpot enforces a minimum two-week vacation for all employees. Salespeople are allowed to reduced their quotas twice a year so that they feel comfortable using their two-week vacations.
- SteelHouse offers $2,000 a year for their employees to use for travel expenses for vacation.
If you’re still eyeing that cruise to Bermuda, now might be the time to take it. For me at least, I know there are definitely some Las Vegas buffets in my future.