Two of the most critical functions of benefits communications are to educate and empower employees to choose benefits that suit their needs. The challenge is to present the right type and amount of information. You need to both hold their attention and ensure they have the information needed to make the best benefits-related decisions.
And yet, how do you know if you’ve done this effectively? For some employers the answer lies in crossed fingers and the measure of fewer calls to Human Resources. For others, it means you anticipate employee FAQs about benefits and proactively address them.
Never is this more critical than when you introduce a new benefit (e.g., plan design, product, service, etc.). Here are some things to include in your messaging to employees.
How Does This Benefit Work?
This seems simple but you’d be surprised at the number of benefits communications that lack a concise explanation of the benefit’s purpose. For example, if your company plans to offer a commuter benefit, make sure to explain in your employee FAQs what that benefit covers (i.e., public transportation and parking passes but not tolls or fuel costs).
Not sure if you’re getting your point across? Ask co-workers who are unfamiliar with benefits to read your explanation and summarize how they think the benefit works. Take this feedback and don’t be afraid to draft multiple revisions until the message is direct and clear.
How Much Does This Cost?
For some employees, this will always be the single most important FAQ about benefits. It isn’t always easy to answer, though. In the case of certain benefits, such as life insurance, the cost to the employee depends on a variety of factors (ie. age, health, desired level of coverage, etc.).
A good strategy is to be clear about whether a benefit is company-paid, a shared cost, or employee-paid. In the first case, spell out, “This benefit is provided by the company at no cost to you.” In the latter two cases, refer employees to additional documents or a decision-making tool that provide more specific cost information.
If you can’t immediately answer the cost question, make it easy for employees to find the information for themselves. Some of Trion’s clients use ALEX by Jellyvision benefits communication software to walk employees through their options and offer personalized recommendations. This is a helpful addition to your toolbox to answer common employee FAQs.
What Do I Need to Do?
A clear answer to this routine question prevents a frequently declared statement: “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that!” This is particularly important with open enrollment communications. Let employees know early and often if they need to take specific actions. Your communications shouldn’t be negative or threatening. But, it’s significant employees understand how their coverage could change if they do not participate in enrollment.
If employees have more questions that need detailed responses, resist the temptation to cram that information into your core message. A better option is to create a separate Frequently Asked Questions document. Put a call to action in your main communications to drive employees to that FAQ about benefits. Be proactive and you’ll take a big step toward reducing those panicked calls and emails from employees.
“I’m more of a visual learner.”
How often have you heard people use this phrase to describe the way they learn? You may have even said it in reference to yourself. A popular definition of learning styles labels people as either Visual, Aural, Read/Write, or Kinesthetic (VARK) learners.
The idea that each person has a single “learning style” that ensures they retain the greatest amount of information is popular. It’s also a concept that researchers dispute and journalists pronounce dead (some might say gleefully).
It can be hard to turn back the tide of public opinion. The idea learning styles matter when you communicate has mass appeal. A 2014 survey of teachers found that 96 percent believed in learning styles. This creates a culture where school teachers, university professors, and corporate trainers try to cater to what they perceive as students’ dominant learning styles.
What people traditionally classify as learning styles are personal preferences to receive information. The truth is, we have the capacity to learn using any or all of our functional senses. After all, looking at a picture of a lemon does nothing to teach you what it smells like.
Difficult or detailed concepts, such as employee benefits, require a multi-faceted communications approach. This will increase comprehension and retention. Keep these three ideas in mind when you help people learn about their benefits.
1. Use the whole toolbox
A frequent criticism of the theory that learning styles matter is that it limits the way presenters share their materials. The popular assumption that most people are “visual learners” might explain the prevalence of PowerPoint presentations. Make an effort to diversify the way you communicate about benefits. Include tactics that connect with people who prefer to read or listen to content rather than passively watch a presentation or video.
2. Rely on repetition with variation
While you want consistency among your messages, look for ways to vary your content to keep people engaged. Take a set of PowerPoint slides and re-work the information into an eye-catching infographic or a script for a podcast. Don’t forget to let people know that these other forms of the information are available. This creates continuity and gives employees a choice for how they consume content.
3. Never neglect the message.
Perhaps the best thought on how to help people learn comes from Neil Fleming, the New Zealand researcher who developed the popular VARK learning styles questionnaire: “VARK tells you about how you like to communicate. It tells you nothing about the quality of that communication.”
To put it another way, the best starting point for any communication is a clear, strong and consistent message. Once you have that in place, concentrate on presenting the information in a variety of ways. That enables employees to choose their preferred way to receive your message.
America’s growing opioid addiction crisis affects all areas of life, including the workplace. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the economic impact of opioid addiction is more than $78.5 billion a year. This estimate includes costs of healthcare; lost productivity; addiction treatment; and the involvement of the criminal justice system.
While the monetary cost is immense, the toll on human lives is more concerning. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that every day an average of 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. Drug overdose has become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, a group that forms the core of the workforce.
Addressing the opioid epidemic is a sensitive topic for many employers. They may fear legal ramifications from mishandling an employee suffering from addiction. However, silence or reactive company policies will not yield the changes needed to reverse current trends.
Here are three suggestions to safely and proactively address the opioid crisis with your employees.
1. Educate Employees on the Risks
Misinformation is a major reason the opioid epidemic remains a persistent problem. Many employees continue to associate opioid addiction with illegal narcotics, such as heroin. In 2015, an estimated 591,000 people in the United States suffered from a heroin-use disorder. By comparison, over 2 million people suffered from prescription opioid-related addiction. Communication pieces that effectively educate employees on the dangers of prescription opioids are essential.
2. Empower Employees in Prevention Efforts
Encourage employees to have open conversations with their primary care physician. Employees have a right to question their healthcare provider if he or she prescribes an opioid. They should learn about alternative ways to treat and manage pain. Your company’s prescription drug carrier can provide resources about covered alternate pain medications.
3. Provide a Path to Recovery
For many employees who struggle with addiction, the biggest barrier to recovery is not knowing how to take the first step. Your company can provide this essential resource in the form of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The National Safety Council notes that 70 percent of all U.S. companies provide EAPs. Yet “many employees don’t understand the value or may fear negative ramifications if they seek help.” An EAP connects employees with the best resources for addiction recovery that are aligned with your benefits program.
Your messages can minimize the stigma of addiction and encourage employees to prevent opioid misuse. Then your company will provide a vital contribution to the ongoing struggle against opioid abuse.
In annual open enrollment communications, many organizations must explain why employee contributions have risen and coverage has changed. In our work with our clients, we see firsthand the tensions of benefits professionals. They try to offer the highest quality benefits while preventing higher costs from passing on to employees. This challenge of getting value for the money is echoed in many areas of employees’ lives outside the workplace. There is a widening gap between income and expenses that everyone is trying to address.
Fortunately, companies and employees alike are embracing Voluntary Benefits in greater numbers. Voluntary Benefits allow employers to offer a more robust benefits package to their employees. In effect, they help them “mind the gap.” They give employees the positive feeling of customization. Employees pick and choose the specific benefits that meet their needs. Coverage options range from life insurance to pet insurance to dental and vision plans; identity theft protection; even legal services and financial counseling. Voluntary Benefits are employee-paid but employees conveniently pay premiums through payroll deduction.
If your organization offers Voluntary Benefits, you should put extra effort into communicating their value to employees. You can raise awareness and increase participation in these valuable parts of your benefits offerings.
Help Employees Mind the Gap
If your employees don’t closely track their household finances, they might not understand certain life events could impact their budget. It’s important to emphasize the overall increase in the costs of services for everything from an x-ray to an hour of legal counsel. When presented with the total, employees may see a need for additional protection.
Explain How Each Benefit Works
Take a look at the average company’s benefits communications and you’ll see its medical plan(s) front and center. Once employees wade through information on deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, fatigue might set in when they reach the Voluntary Benefits section. It’s important to connect Voluntary Benefits, like critical illness or accident coverage, to your company’s medical plans. The location of such messages in your benefits booklets can remove some of the effort to create the connection for employees.
You should also consider creating additional, separate communications emphasize your Voluntary Benefits offerings. This will give you the opportunity to explain how each benefit works in more detail. This is a great opportunity to reinforce how each Voluntary Benefit fits into your company’s overall benefits philosophy. You want to use positive associations to help employees view Voluntary Benefits as possible solutions to the income/expense gap.
One of the strengths of Voluntary Benefits is that they provide great value when compared to the cost that comes out of an employee’s paycheck. Give employees scenarios in which the benefits could potentially help cushion the impact caused by a life event. Call attention to the coverage amounts so that employees understand what would be available in each situation. If you are able to paint a clear picture, you increase the chances the scales will tip in favor of employees enrolling in the benefit.
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.