Many companies pride themselves on their benefit plans. But a quick look at their messaging may tell you otherwise. Communications often give employees mixed signals about the value of those benefits.
Some companies unleash a tidal wave of information before open enrollment then a trickle for the rest of the year. Or, worse yet, they distribute boring and uninspired communications. Employees may not even recognize those messages came from their employer.
As someone who helps clients communicate effectively every day, I can tell you there is a better way. Make sure your benefits communications are relevant and align with your company culture. That culture makes you stand out as an employer and emphasizes your values. Your benefits should do the same, but if communications are lackluster, there could be a disconnect.
Here are 4 tips to help combine company culture with benefits communications.
1. Build the Branding Bridge
A benefits brand makes a difference. Ask yourself if your benefits brand fits comfortably among your company culture. Try this simple test. Give a co-worker a stack of communications that includes one from your benefits department and the rest from other parts of your company. Can they identify the benefits communications item at first glance? If they can’t spot your benefits brand, it might be time to re-evaluate it.
2. Make the Right Match
Is your company culture based on creativity and collaboration? A plain text email with a link to 40 PowerPoint slides is not the best way to combine company culture with benefits communications. Match your communications to the elements that define that culture.
Think about the aspects of your company that make people passionate. What would they tell a friend is the best thing about working at your company, besides the benefits? Apply that same logic to how you communicate what’s great about your benefits.
3. Watch the Wording
Liven up some of the language used in benefits communications. Even we can admit that Flexible Spending Accounts don’t set off fireworks in most people’s minds. Get creative with headlines. Spice up a few sentences in an otherwise dull document.
Avoid anything that sounds forced, or long, academic and boring. Remember, we live in the digital age, where attention spans are tenuous at best. A Jampp study found that human attention spans decrease by 88 percent each year. At the end of the day, your employees still need the facts. They’d prefer them to be short, simple and easy to understand.
4. Find the Fit
There are lots of ways to help remind employees about their benefits as part of a larger conversation about your company culture. Is your organization particularly passionate about innovation? Share new ideas from carriers, like apps to download, other tools to help employees, or tips to save money.
Benefits are an important part of how both employees and the wider industry perceive a company. Everyone should easily identify how your company’s benefit plans are a natural part of what makes it a great place to work. Keep benefits communications reflective of your company culture so employees will recognize the total value you provide.
Benefits are important to employees. Sometimes, they can be game changers if an employee stays with your company or leaves. Employee benefits are continually evolving. As we turn a new page in the calendar, are you ready to remain an employer of choice? You need a comprehensive and up-to-the-minute benefits package to keep current staff and attract talented new hires.
Adding to your benefits package is great. But, as the saying goes, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it happen? Communicating about improved benefits is essential. Here are three predictions for employee benefits in 2019 and our tips for when and how to communicate them.
1. Benefits Customization
Why is it that we can customize our cars, houses, and vacations, but not our benefits? Good question. We can! The days of cookie cutter benefits are going away. In their place are improved benefits packages tailored to specific health and financial needs. Cafeteria plans give employees a set dollar amount to buy the benefits that best meet their needs. You need to show employees how to do it.
To communicate about benefits customization, target the right audience. You might start by surveying your employees on the benefits most useful to them. Respond to what you learn with clear, user-friendly communications that lead with the “What’s In It for Me?”
If employees receive the information relevant to their preferences, they will be more likely to pay attention. Consider that 73% of employees say customized benefits increase their loyalty. And 83% would take a 3% pay cut in exchange for better benefits choices.
It’s clear workers crave personalization. Employees in one study ranked paid parental leave, commuting cost reimbursement, and leave to care for elderly relatives as the top 3 personalized benefits they’d be most likely to choose. Hopping on trend would put you in good favor. It’s up to you to communicate about improved benefits to show employees how you meet their needs.
2. Rise of Telemedicine
More companies now provide this benefit. From 2014 to 2018, the percentage of mid-size and large employers offering telemedicine rose from 18% to 80%. Telemedicine is a financial win for employees, as copays are often less than a visit to an urgent care clinic.
It can reduce absenteeism and promote good health. According to one survey, 86% of workers would cancel a preventive care appointment due to work pressures. If employees could use telemedicine for some of those check-ups, they wouldn’t feel guilty about missing critical time in the office.
Telemedicine pays off only if employees use it. Communication plans should focus on education. Telemedicine can be intimidating, so create brief videos that walk employees through the process of using it. Cold and flu season would be a great time to send out communications that remind staff about the benefit. Employees with chronic conditions that require monitoring are one population that you could target with materials that promote telemedicine.
The number of workers who use telemedicine is relatively low. Just 20% of companies with the benefit have utilization rates of 8% or higher. Yet, satisfaction is high among telemedicine users. Sixty-two percent rated their experience as an 8, 9, or 10.
A clear communications plan to show employees the WIIFM of telemedicine is a great first step to increase participation. Communicate about this improved benefit to position yourself as an employer whom cares for employees’ well-being.
3. Student Loan Assistance
With the average student loan debt at more than $37,000, this financial burden weighs on your workforce. Employees are putting off retirement savings, home buying, and starting families because of their debt. Currently, about 23% of companies offer some form of student loan help. This improved benefit would make you an employer-of-choice, especially with Millennials and the upcoming Gen Z.
Communications about a student loan relief benefit should begin with the recruitment phrase. If your company has booths at university career fairs, create and distribute marketing collateral to attendees. Mention the benefit in job ads to attract potential employees. Include it in on-boarding communications for new hires who may have missed the message.
No matter how you chose to provide student loan relief, communicate the benefit early and often. Don’t neglect your current employees when you craft messages. 86% of workers would remain with their employer for 5 years if they got help with student loans.
The benefits you offer go a long way to make you an employer that talented employees gravitate towards. With unemployment rates low, we’re in a buyer’s market for jobs. But if you don’t communicate your offerings, current and potential employees won’t see you as an employer of choice. Create a plan to get the word out about your improved benefits and you’ll make 2019 a successful year.
A healthy work environment is one that considers all aspects of employees’ well-being. This includes physical, mental and yes, financial wellness.
If that last one is a surprise to you, check the pulse of your employees. Many of them want guidance through tough financial situations. Are giving them they support they need?
Holistic financial wellness for employees goes beyond offering them a 401(K). A recent study showed a gap between programs employers think they should offer and what employees think should be available to them
For example, student loan debt is a well-known financial hurdle. The average borrower graduates college with $37,000 in debt. It can prevent younger employees from buying homes or achieving other financial milestones. Survey results show 46 percent of employees want their companies to help them pay off or finance student loan debt. 18 percent of bosses agreed.
You may have heard the financial mantra that you need an emergency fund that covers three to six months of living expenses. Unfortunately, according to a Bankrate survey, 23 percent of Americans have no emergency savings. In fact, 22 percent have only saved enough to cover fewer than three months.
It follows, then, that 44 percent of workers want their companies to offer them help to create that emergency fund. Only 22 percent of employers agree they should offer such help. With an emergency fund part of an overall budget plan, 36 percent of employees would also like assistance to maintain their budget.
Let’s Talk About Money
They are more examples of this divide, but you get the idea. Employees are looking to you, as an employer of choice, to throw them a financial life raft. We recommend using employee communications throughout the year to give workers support. Here are a few ways to get you started:
- Use pay increases to as a time for a financial wellness conversation. Communications can encourage employees to tuck that extra money into their emergency fund. Create an infographic that shows even small increases can have big impacts. Show them how even a three percent raise on a $50,000 salary offers them an extra $1,500 per year. Total rewards statements help employees see the whole picture of their compensation. They will understand and appreciate the employee value proposition and you as an employer.
- Create a savings account guide. This is a communication that lays out all the ways employees can save money. They’re no longer limited to stowing their money at their local bank. Online savings and money market accounts offer better interest rates. Or, your 401(K) provider may also offer a savings vehicle with a good rate of return. Show the pros and cons of different account providers. Teach employees where they can learn more about savings options.
- Use communications to show employees where they’re leaving money on the table. Does your company match 401(K) contributions? Explain to workers how that’s essentially “free” money. Send year-end reminders to workers enrolled in flexible savings accounts so they remember to a use funds before expiration. Create a handy checklist of eligible expenses.
Awareness is the First Step
Open enrollment is another logical time to support workers to make wise financial choices. Encourage employees to choose plans that get them the care they need at a price they can afford. For example, HDHPs can be a vehicle for financial wellness for employees. These plans take a smaller chunk out of paychecks. In your communications, illustrate that difference. Employees can funnel the money they save from making smart benefits decisions towards student loan or other personal debt.
Workers might not know money in health savings accounts, which go hand-in-hand with HDHPs, grows tax-free. That money is theirs forever; it travels with them when they change jobs. And when employees are 55 years old, they can sock away an extra $1,000 annually. Create targeted, forward-thinking communications for baby boomers. When they retire, they can use their HSA to pay for covered medical expenses. Tell them that saving now can stop headaches in the future.
Encourage smart financial decisions in year-round communications. Your employee intranet is a smart place to house on-demand financial education. You can poll your workforce on the financial worries that keep them up at night (anonymously, of course!) Then, create and post short, educational videos, infographics, and fact sheets on those topics. Develop a mix to appeal to various learning and communications preferences. If time or resources are tight, you can link to educational videos and podcasts from outlets like You Need a Budget.
Personal financial stress affects all areas of life, including work performance. Help your workforce shine at home and at work. Use communications to show you look out for employees’ physical, mental and financial wellness.
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.
The average American accesses over 30 apps on our smartphone each month. We use them to do everything from learn a new language to look up movie times.
But has your company considered the powerful role apps can play to engage employees in their benefits? Don’t be afraid of an apps-based open enrollment. It may be just the thing to target tech-savvy, time-crunched employees.
Enrollment at Their Fingertips
Did you know Americans spend more time interacting with smartphone apps than watching TV? Sure, some of that time might be spent playing Fortnite or Minecraft, but there are more productive uses of app time.
There’s a strong chance the third-party software you use for open enrollment has an app. Instead of selecting and monitoring benefits from their computers, employees chose them from their smartphones. This may be the secret to reach today’s busy, on-the-go workers. If a large portion of your workforce isn’t deskbound, an open enrollment app makes benefits selection easy.
Apps are key to educate employees about their benefits. Trion’s iBenefits app puts control right in employees’ hands. They can securely view their plan information whenever they want and contact carriers with a simple click.
Meet employees where they are (on their smartphones) and they will value you as an employer. Take the time to communicate the ease of use of these enrollment apps. They help employees stay engaged in their benefits.
Employee procrastination can be a challenge to meeting deadlines. Why not give employees the nudge they need? Some third-party apps send push notifications to remind staff about important open enrollment dates.
Do it Yourself Apps
If you want more control over the features of an open enrollment app, or if you are feeling adventurous, you can create your own app. Proprietary app development is more expensive and time-consuming than using off-the-shelf employee benefits apps. Yet, it offers some convincing pros.
Customized apps offer greater security and easier integration with your existing software. If your employees’ make benefits choices through your company intranet, then a complimentary app may work best. With a DIY app, you control the features and maximize how you engage employees in their benefits.
For the highest quality results, hire a professional app developer. Search for developers with knowledge of employee benefits and experience creating similar apps. The upfront expense of someone with app-building expertise ensures all the kinks are ironed out upon launch.
Communicate About Carrier Apps
After open enrollment, continue the conversation around apps. Do your employees know most carriers offer an app? They can access ID cards, find doctors and schedule appointments, check HSA or FSA balances, and more. Apps aren’t limited to medical carriers. Employees can check and adjust 401(K) balances, get supplemental life insurance quotes, and book conversations with EAP counselors from the palm of their hands.
Your role as their employer is to teach them about these options. Create educational pieces, like short, instructional videos that walk through the apps’ functions. Or, combine in-person and digital education and host a meeting that showcases how to download and access the offerings. Teach employees how they can stay engaged in their benefits with apps throughout the year.
You always need to consider the communications preferences of all your workers. An open enrollment that’s only apps-based would not work. Add apps to the mix of communications options, like online guides and printed booklets and face-to-face meetings. You know your staff best. Tailor your open enrollment communications approach to meet their needs.
It may be too late to introduce apps for this year’s open enrollment. However, it’s not too early to think ahead to next year. What do you want the future of enrollment to look like?
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.