This is the second of a two-part series. Read the first installment here.
After reading part one, hopefully you understand the value of investing in employee benefits communications and how to create a budget. The good news is you don’t have to wing it or leave benefits communications to chance. You can get help with high level strategy and planning and with executing those plans. A benefits communication firm can put you on the right track.
Yes, a benefits communication firm can be more expensive than creating communications in-house or outsourcing to a general communications firm. The value is in the expertise. Benefits communicators understand the complexities of benefits. They also understand communication best practices and they know the most effective way to share your messages. Your benefits communication team can create customized solutions that match your unique goals to your budget.
Outsourcing Helps Your Team
It’s not surprising that many human resource professionals are challenged by how to invest their dollars for maximum impact. With limited internal resources, they’re looking to get the most bang for their buck. It makes sense, then, when it comes to benefits communications, they’d partner with specialists who know how to get the job done. These firms work with impact and efficiency because it’s what they do every single day.
There are so many reasons to outsource your benefits communications to proven experts. For one, they’re trained professionals in the area. For another, outsourcing frees your internal team to focus on other, equally important tasks and initiatives. All of which contributes to savings over the long run.
Here are 3 questions to ask when engaging with a benefits communication firm:
- Do they understand benefits? Can they work with your external vendors to convey messages appropriately? Will they use the right media mix and get you the most bang for your buck?
- Can they provide you comprehensive services? That includes collaboration with other providers and stakeholders, as well as your internal team. They should conduct a communications audit; develop an employee-listening program; develop and implement a branding program and identify an overall effective strategy. A benefits communication firm should execute that strategy with writing, research, design, measurement, production, translation and other services that yield results.
- Does their pricing align with your needs and expectation? Does the cost match the overall market for similar services? Are they willing to be transparent? Is everything a la carte, or are they willing to create packages? When you go into pricing conversations be realistic about what communications cost and the time and resources involved.
Get the Most from Partnership
Once you’ve engaged with a benefits communication firm, what can you expect? A worthy communications partner will conduct a thorough needs assessment. This allows you to work together to set tangible goals for internal communication. You’ll work together on strategies, tactics, messaging, media, measures, and a timeline for achieving them. They’ll help drive actionable communications that give your employees they information need to make good benefits choices year round. Then you can focus on other business.
Here are 3 tips for getting the most out of collaboration with a benefits communication firm:
- Know when you need help. For example, you may need help promoting Open Enrollment, a new Consumer Driven Health Plan, a wellness program, or a change to your health plans or processes as a result of merger or acquisition. These are all good opportunities to get messaging out to employees. Be honest about what you need and how much you have to spend.
- Don’t worry about “solving the problem.” Share as much information as you can with your partner about your challenge and your overall objective. You may be certain you need a specific piece [newsletter, video, mailing to home] to achieve your goal. But many times something entirely different would work best. Trust the benefits communication firm to figure out the best how to get you where you want to go.
- Spend time planning and reviewing materials. After all, you are the ultimate subject matter expert regarding your company and employees. You and your communications vendor are partners, working together to achieve the desired results.
Collaboration across internal and external teams is essential for success. A trusted partnership with outside experts can give your communications a fresh perspective that leads to actionable outcomes.
This is the first of a two-part series. Check back Wednesday for the second installment.
How well do you communicate with employees? Do you give them information to help them choose their benefits? What about using those benefits throughout the year? Do they understand cost-effective ways to get the quality services they need?
If you’ve answered “not well” or “no” to any of these questions—or you’re not sure—it might be time to rethink your benefits communications. How well employees understand and use their benefits dictates how well they view you as an employer.
Communications Equals Perception
A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows health benefits achieve strategic business goals. That includes attracting, retaining and engaging talent, and improving productivity, among others. Yet without investing in benefits communications, can your employees understand the benefits you offer?
According to the MetLife U.S. Employee Benefits Trends Survey, less than half of employees “strongly agree” benefits communications help them understand how much services cost. That uncertainty can make them think your company doesn’t have their best interests at heart.
When it comes to communicating effectively, the stakes are high. Forty percent of employees believe benefits communications are easy to understand. That leaves a lot of employees scratching their heads.
Employees aren’t the only ones struggling. You might relate to our clients, who wonder how to distribute messages in a way that supports workers and reaches them where they are (in the field, at home, at their cubicle, etc.).
Set Your Budget
It’s important to plan ahead. You need to create a dedicated budget for your employee benefits communications. Thirty-eight percent of member organizations in the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans have a specific benefits communication budget. Communications made up three to ten percent of the total spent on benefits. Only you can determine the size of your budget.
Once you decide how much to invest in benefits communications, consider your business goals. Is it educating employees during open enrollment? Is it introducing a new benefit? Is it increasing participation in voluntary benefits?
Think strategically about how to allocate money for optimal results. Will a printed and mailed-to-homes guide give you the best return on investment? Is investing in a social media strategy a smart bet? Would your employees be more receptive to educational videos?
Conduct a communications audit to examine what worked in the past. Create a simple survey of your employees to ask their communications preferences. Compare to actions. Did that email campaign lead to increased enrollment in critical illness insurance? Did more people use the EAP after receiving an informational postcard? Don’t forget to rely on providers for help. Communication materials from carriers can stretch your budget and let you devote time and money to the programs that need an extra boost.
Yes, communication about employee benefits is an investment. But that investment is a smart financial decision that can positively impact your bottom line.
If you watch television you may have noticed commercials from financial institutions that encourage retirement savings. There’s one, in particular, that stands out for me. A financial expert gives people ribbon. Each person stretches the ribbon as far as it’ll go across a timeframe laid out in the grass.
The goal is to show how far the money they’ve saved for retirement will—or won’t—last. Sadly, most only have enough saved for five or six years!
The commercial’s concept may be goofy, but its underlying message is scary. It highlights an important message when it comes to our collective financial wellness. According to a recent survey by GoBankingRates, almost half of all Americans are on track to retire with less than $10,000.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says only 16.5 percent of people have more than $300,000 saved for retirement, and folks age 65 and over spend about $46,000 a year.
We could all be in trouble, unless we do something. As an employer, you can encourage retirement savings with communication. Educate your employees on what they need to know (e.g., Social Security probably won’t be enough). Help them set themselves up well for the future, when they’re no longer working.
Highlight the Power of the 401(k)
The 401(k) plan has been around for decades as a retirement savings tool. Many Americans still don’t know how it works or why they need to participate. Show them. Targeted campaigns illustrate to employees all these plans offer them and their families. To increase engagement and encourage retirement savings, promote tax advantages and the company match, if appropriate.
Highlight and expand on those “what’s in it for me” points when you describe your plan. If your offer a company match, make sure your employees know how much to contribute to get it. It’s one the most powerful savings growth tools available to your workforce. If employees ignore the company match, they ignore free money.
Promote Retirement Planning Tools
Saving for retirement can be intimidating. Many people don’t know how much they’ll need to save and where. Planning tools, like Financial Engines, which is available to us at Trion, can help if people know they exist. Put them front and center in your communications and remind employees how to access and use them to encourage retirement savings. There may be some cost involved to maintain these tools, but the payoffs in employee goodwill and financial security could be enormous.
Highlight Other Savings Opportunities
If your company offers deferred compensation, employee stock purchase plans, pension plans, profit sharing, money purchase plans, or other retirement savings vehicles, point them out in your benefits communication. Teach employees as where they go for more detailed information. Provide links to carrier documents where they can learn more.
Saving for retirement is about more than stocking away money in a 401(K) plan. Use your communications to make sure employees take advantage of all savings opportunities. That way, they can have more funds to put towards their retirement contributions. Show how they’ll pay a lower copay with a visit to an urgent care clinic versus the emergency department. Describe the money-saving benefits and efficacy of generic drugs. Remind them how a covered bi-annual dental visit can prevent costly problems.
Employees may not be aware of everything you offer to help them save money. Show employees you’re serious about helping them build a nest egg for their futures. Encourage retirement savings with your communications so sure they know what you’ve got, and how to get it.
As summer wraps up, thoughts turn to open enrollment. Now, more than ever, you need effective benefits communications. But, what makes audiences step up and take notice? Communications that answer their pressing questions. Incorporate the 5 W’s into your messaging for a successful open enrollment.
Who is the target audience for your open enrollment communications? That’s easy, you might say. It’s my employees. And, you would be correct.
Yet, you may need to drill down even further. Effective communications sometimes requires you to target specific audience members. You can deliver information to people who are uniquely affected (targeting folks enrolled in a particular plan to let them know it’s going away). You can develop audience personas that allow you to segment people with shared characteristics into groups. These approaches further define your messaging and approach.
For example, do baby boomers know they can make additional contributions to their 401(K) plans? Do employees who take public transit to the office know they can set aside pre-tax money through a commuter reimbursement account? Do parents of pre-teens know the dental plan offers orthodontic coverage?
You get the point. Find the message that speaks to each demographic.
What is the most important thing you need to convey? This could be a universal message across employee groups (e.g., Open Enrollment is coming!) or it could vary based on population. Either way, identify the core messages you need employees to know so they can select the right plans and enroll successfully. Then, communicate, communicate, communicate.
For example, are you introducing a High Deductible Health Plan? If so, explain new concepts, like a health savings account and how employees can use it to their advantage.
Are premiums going up? Don’t be afraid to be transparent and show employees the true cost of their benefits. 41 percent of respondents to a recent poll did not know their contributions, employer contributions, and the cost of services make up the total cost of healthcare. Give employees tips for saving money. Show how they can use covered preventive screenings or tobacco-user discounts to their advantage.
Where do your employees go for information? Online? Their home mailboxes? The shared breakroom? All of the above? You need to provide communications that meet them at each of these places. That’s a 21st century best practice for a successful open enrollment.
Even in today’s digital world, there are people who favor a printed Guide (52 percent, according to a Jellyvision poll). Yet, many others will look elsewhere for the tips and tools they need to choose and use their benefits. Make information available both inside and outside firewalls, so spouses and other dependents can access it.
And don’t forget in-person meetings. Face-to-face communications will always be the most powerful way to share information. Create the time and space for employees to ask questions about their benefits. If you can, bring in representatives from your carriers so employees can learn from them, too.
When will you deliver your message? If you’re not being strategic about timing, you risk missing the boat. Too many people wait until the week before enrollment starts. That cuts it too close.
Instead, do a drip campaign two to three weeks in advance that tells employees enrollment is coming. Teach them how to prepare for it. Then, when the season is in full swing, send frequent reminders to employees to take action.
Create a marketing plan three months before open enrollment and draft communications two months before. Thoughtful collateral takes time to write and design. Outsourcing to a benefits communications firm, like Trion, can give your pieces that professional touch. And you’ll focus your energy on other necessities.
Why should your employees pay attention? Your communications need to give them a reason.
Resist the temptation to lead with what’s in it for the company. Instead, stay focused on what’s in it for the employees —or the “WIFFM.” Include a call to action in your communications. Make the next steps obvious.
Share employee success stories and testimonials that show how folks have made smart benefits choices. This not only makes benefits tangible, but promotes the idea that employees trust each other. They will use the stories as guideposts for making their own decisions.
Employees want help picking their benefits. Lay out the pros and cons of the choices available and how each works. That will help employees understand the benefits offered and make good choices. Ditch the jargon. Instead, use simple language. Write like you talk and be conversational. Benefits terms may be second nature to you, but, when it doubt, spell it out.
And the bonus question: How?
How do you know what employees want from the open enrollment process? Ask them! Poll your workforce on their preferred methods of communication. Ask if the frequency and timing of messages work for them? Do they feel rushed to make decisions because the timing is off? You will gain actionable insights by simply talking to your workforce
Of course, there is no such thing as a worry-free open enrollment. But if your communication strategy addresses these 5 “W’s”, you have a better chance of a successful open enrollment. Good luck!
Most of your younger employees don’t think that a life insurance policy applies to them. For the most part, they’re still healthy. For another, many haven’t yet married or had children, and see an investment in life insurance as a waste of money.
And yet, the truth is life insurance can be meaningful for everybody, no matter their age or stage of life. The challenge is to help them see how they can benefit from a life insurance policy when they’re not convinced they need it just yet.
That’s where effective communications come in. Use the right strategy and tactics to encourage younger employees to take a look at life insurance. Help them see its value and embrace that idea that it may not be as expensive or unnecessary as they think. To the contrary, buying a plan now may very well save them money down the road. Here are four tactics to get your younger employees to consider a life insurance policy.
1. Remind Them Insurance Protects Their Loved Ones In Case Of The Unexpected
While nobody ever wants an accident or injury to happen, the fact is it does at any age. That’s why your younger workers should consider a life insurance policy. It protects their family members from having to worry about paying for a costly funeral. If employees are aware of this huge expense it could sway them to buy a plan. Then they wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving those expenses up to someone else.
2. Convey That Plans Are Affordable
Let them know that you, as their employer, already offer them a basic life insurance policy. Show them the value of buying supplemental life insurance on top of it.
If your company doesn’t already offer it, think about adding supplemental life insurance to your voluntary benefits. Your employees will appreciate the convenience of one-stop shopping for benefits. Supplemental life insurance normally only costs healthy people in their twenties a couple pennies to the dollar per month. It is worth the investment to buy supplemental coverage, as it will not put a dent in their pockets.
3. Promote Now, Save Later
One of the easiest incentives for your younger employees to consider life insurance policies now is that they’re less expensive. Although they may not feel they need life insurance right now, they know they will need it later in their lives. This is a great selling point. Use side-by-side comparison charts and coverage examples in your communications to show them the value of buying when they’re young.
4. Show Them the Stakes
Most younger employees don’t consider the stakes involved in not having life insurance coverage. The risk of disease and death is lower for the young and healthy, but the unexpected can happen. And if it did, how would their loved ones fare? Employees need to understand life insurance offers them and their families’ important protection. Their families won’t go into debt paying for their care or funeral expenses.
Younger employees should consider other expenses too. If a parent co-signed on a private student loan, they would be responsible for the balance. That can be a hefty sum.
Employers should communicate to younger employees that life insurance is indeed for everyone. Help them see the wisdom of buying a life insurance policy at an earlier age. It is an important way for employers to help their people stay healthy—physically, mentally, and financially.
The face of benefits has changed. As costs continue to rise, companies introduce new benefits, like consumer-driven health plans. Traditional PPOs or HMO’s enjoyed by our parents and grandparents are now prohibitively expensive. Terms like deductible, coinsurance and health spending accounts are part of the vernacular. All this represents a seismic shift in thinking for your employees.
Do you know what your employees think about this new world of benefits? How do their perceptions reflect on how they feel about you as an employer?
Employees may perceive benefits changes as the company not caring about what they think—or need. That’s a dangerous path that creates workers who are resistant to communications.
Remember WIIFM in New Benefits Introductions
How employees receive new benefits information depends on how well you communicate it. A solid communications plan puts “WIIFM” –What’s In It For Me— first. It can swing workers in the right direction and support them in making benefits decisions that offer them valuable coverage.
Communications that miss the mark, or worse yet, minimize employees’ pain risk falling on deaf ears. This decreases the level of appreciation for the benefits you do offer and your efforts to save employees money.
So, how can you manage everybody’s health care spending without alienating your workforce?
Make an effort to understand what employees think about new benefits. And that starts with listening.
Ways to Listen as You Introduce New Benefits to Employees
When you introduce new benefits to employees, there will be many questions. Be prepared to answer them through a variety of communications. Note commonly asked questions as cues where to focus your communications. Remember, delivery method matters. If you mail postcards to workers who’d rather get a text, your message could end up in the trash.
Here are four ways to get your message into the minds of employees and introduce new benefits successfully. They include both conventional and out-of-the box options. Chose one or a combination of two or more, whatever works best for your needs and audience.
1) Focus Groups and Surveys
There are a few conventional methods, like, focus groups and surveys to help you learn what employees think.
They’re best used to complement one another. Surveys and quick pulse polls are good at getting answers to broad surface questions. Focus groups are excellent for digging down deeper into a single issue.
2) Engage Employee “Listeners”
While there’s many ways to communicate these days, the most effective remains face to face. Non-verbal cues determine whether 93 percent of communications are effective. In-person conversations are an essential tool for reading employees thoughts about new benefits.
Appoint trustworthy, likeable, approachable, and influential employees as “Listeners.” Arm them with some questions and send them to “Listening Posts” in high-traffic areas. There, they can approach passing employees and ask them question or two about what they think about the introduction of new benefits.
You decide how in-depth you want the questions to be. Promise anonymity to encourage honesty. Potential questions to ask include:
- Which aspects of the new benefits plan are unclear to you ? Where do you have questions?
- How do you prefer to get your communications?
The “listening post” process shouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes. You could even give a small gift to anyone who participates.
3) Create How Are We Doing? Cards
Create a comment card style survey and place stacks of them near comment boxes around the workspace. Craft the questions to be open-ended and offer anonymity as an option. If you get any workable suggestions—and you likely will—be sure to attribute them to the program.
4) Hold Q&A Sessions
Often, workers don’t take advantage of the benefits they’re offered because they don’t understand them . Provide employees with an opportunity to participate in an open forum where they can ask their questions and get answers.
You can even offer separate sessions for separate groups, to provide new benefits information targeted to their unique needs or concerns. For example, one session can be for millennials just off their parents’ plans, another can be for new or expecting parents, and another can be for employees with chronic conditions, like diabetes.
Focused attention shows it matters what employees think when you introduce new benefits. As a bonus, you may get ideas for improvement you hadn’t already considered.
It’s crucial to strike the right tone in your communications that introduce employees to new benefits. These listening methods will help you refine your approach, benefitting both workers and the bottom line.