“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.
We hear stories every day about the perils of identity theft. It can not only impact a person’s credit, but in some cases, their entire lives.
ID theft is not an isolated incident. In fact, identity theft was the number one complaint consumers made to the Federal Trade Commission for 15 consecutive years.
Do you offer your employees a robust identity theft protection plan as part of their benefits package? About 36% of companies offer some form of ID theft protection services as an employee benefit. This voluntary benefit is a great way to distinguish you as an employer who cares. Employees have a sense of security when they know they have a plan to protect their finances and future.
If enrollment in this benefit is not as robust as it could be, maybe it’s time to beef up your communications.
Promote the Need for Identity Theft Protection
Your employees may have questions about identity theft protection services. What exactly is ID theft? How is it different from credit card fraud? Why do I need ID theft protection? Communications should seek to solve these concerns.
Lay out the stakes. Credit card fraud is a quick and deliberate attack that’s solved with a phone call to the credit card company. Identify theft is more complicated since it’s designed to duplicate a person’s identity. The thief’s goal is to take as much as they can until they are caught. If employees are not protected by a solid ID theft plan, they could potentially lose everything
In today’s world, most hackers launch network attacks where they attempt to crack weak passwords. Add to the benefit and point employees in the direction of training to learn about safe data management practices. These include the use of strong passwords and the avoidance of suspicious email links and websites.
Communicate About ID Theft Protection During Open Enrollment
During open enrollment, your employees feel overwhelmed as they try to navigate through all the options. After learning about their other benefits, they might not have the bandwidth to process more information. Identity theft protection is usually an employee-paid benefit. So, use your communications to emphasize its worth.
Make it easy with targeted pieces of information about ID theft protection services. Lay out what the benefit entails and why it makes sense. Recovering from identity theft is a stressful process that takes time and money. A protection plan assists with some of the associated costs. These can include phone bills and postage, notary fees, costs of obtaining credit reports, and maybe legal fees. Of course, each carrier’s benefits will differ.
Carriers will have resources you can mine for data, so why make more work for yourself? Use those materials for source information and to answer common questions. Attach downloadable fact sheets to videos, place flyers in gathering spaces like lunchrooms and copy rooms and ask managers to distribute materials in meetings.
Engage with Real-Life Stories About the Value of ID Theft Protection
Engage employees with real-life scenarios that show the benefit in action. Stories add credibility behind the value of the ID theft protection benefit and create connections. Employees love to read about their co-workers and how the company’s benefits make a difference in their lives. Use stories throughout your various communications— newsletters, videos, even posters with pictures.
Helping employees stay safe and secure and protect their personal information is a great service. Thorough communications help employees appreciate the value of this benefit.
I’ve worked in employee benefits communications for almost a decade now. As a graphic designer and communications expert, I’ve seen and created my fair share of pieces. These include guides, newsletters, postcards, posters, narrated videos and more. Benefits are complex and the stakes are high, so I feel good about helping clients deliver meaningful and visually appealing materials.
Not everybody has the luxury to work with a professional communications services firm to design their campaigns. If you’re in a DIY situation, this blog post teaches best design practices to improve benefits communications.
Best practices show a thoughtfully constructed layout combined with well-crafted text results in better comprehension. So remember to spend some time on design as you prepare to talk about your company’s benefit programs.
Employees rely on you to educate them on new offerings, changes to their current plans, or any perks that may be available. Design is a strategy to grab their attention and make it easier to navigate complicated information.
Here are five best design practices to give your materials that visual edge.
1) Have a Focal Point
At first glance, your piece needs a visual focal point. In a newsletter, for example, use a catchy headline in a bold font to reel in your employees. If you’re introducing new cost-saving benefits this year, make them stand out with a headline that reads something like: “Guess What’s Coming in 2018? New Benefit Offerings to Help You Save Money!” A visually striking headline is one best design practice that will make your employees want to read more.
2) Use Quality Photography
Quality stock photography is another best design practice that improves benefits communications. Select photos that help personalize your messages. You could take it a step further and use photos of your own employees to communicate your company’s benefit offerings. Balance text with memorable images to spark employees’ attention and communicate in a visually pleasant way.
3) Pick a Color Scheme
Simplify your newsletter with a minimum of two to three colors. If your company has a specific color palette or branding guidelines, add some of those elements to create best design practices. This insures the “look and feel” is compliant.
A color scheme brings a sense of harmony and balance to the layout. If you want to direct your employees to take action on a specific task, you could apply your company logo color to a call-out box. This draws more attention to the eye and helps guide your employees to take action.
4)Use Enough White Space
Allow enough space in between paragraphs, columns, images and text boxes to help identify where content belongs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across pamphlets or brochures where the text from one column ran into another. This is clearly not a best design practice! When text and imagery are spaced proportionately on a page, it makes it easier to read and understand the material.
5) Keep Your Fonts Simple
Just as the context you’re communicating is important, your font choice is just as crucial. I typically stick with two fonts, at a minimum. Too many different fonts make your newsletter feel cluttered and turns away readers.
A helpful way of incorporating good font usage in your newsletter is to use a typeface from a font family such as Arial or Franklin Gothic. This enables you to apply a bold, italic or semi-bold font from the same family and not go overboard with competing font choices. This best design practice will improve your benefits communications
These simple adjustments to your designs will win over your employees. They will stay engaged and interested in learning the value of their benefit programs.
Happy Spring! As we look ahead to warmer weather, is your company looking ahead to a mid-year open enrollment? Then it’s time to focus on ways to stop employee procrastination. A comprehensive communications strategy that uses these 4 “S’s” will ease employee stress in the coming months.
Set a Goal
Begin with the end in mind. What actions do you want employees to take this year? What problem would you like your enrollment communications to solve? Maybe you’d like workers to get a biometric screening? Maybe you’d like people to know you’ve switched dental carriers? Maybe you’d like employees to sign up for benefits through a new website?
Whether the news is big or small, find the reason your employees need to pay attention and stop procrastinating. That reason will be the focal point of interactions.
Spell it Out
What does this mean? Benefits communications is full of acronyms: FSA, HSA, HRA, HDHP, PPO, HMO, STD, LTD, FMLA, PCP and QLE. This alphabet soup is enough to make anyone lose their appetite!
Be careful if, how, and when you use these abbreviations or you risk losing employees’ attention. If they can’t grasp the concepts, then it’s easy for them to ignore the central message. That’s when employee procrastination kicks in.
Effective communications defines these must-know terms and uses them sparingly. Remember, not everyone is surrounded by benefits all day. Try to write as if you’re explaining them to your mom, your neighbor, or anyone outside the industry. State the most important facts in broad terms as early as possible.
Attention spans in this digital age are brief, so don’t bury the lead. Workers will want to know exactly what they need to do and when, so tell them ASAP.
Select the Ideal Reader
If you have different audiences with various plans and needs, you should target communications. The goal for a manger could be different from the goal for worker on the factory floor. Or, the goal for an employee in his first job out of college could be different from the goal for an executive looking ahead to her retirement. If you speak to workers’ specific needs, it makes it less likely they will ignore the message and start that pesky procrastination cycle.
Take a cue from the marketing industry and craft audience personas or profiles of your readers. Get into the minds of employees who will receive your enrollment communications. How can you best convey your messages to these different groups?
Don’t be afraid to try new delivery methods beyond the standard benefits newsletter or presentation uploaded to the intranet. Maybe your workers will respond to a postcard or flyer they can thumbtack in their cube as a visual cue. Maybe on-the-go workers and/or spouses will appreciate a video they can access from their smartphones.
Female spouses are key allies in your fight to end open enrollment procrastination. Women in America make 80 percent of their household’s healthcare decisions. Target them with at-home mailings and online content available 24/7 outside of the company firewall.
Schedule Message Delivery
Consistent communication is important to stop enrollment procrastination. Start communicating before the open enrollment period. Small reminders that enrollment is coming up will stop employee surprise.
Once the season begins, communications is not a one-and-done strategy. Pace the rollout of your messages. Well-timed reminders throughout open enrollment will keep everyone on track.
As much as you try to prevent employee procrastination around open enrollment, some workers will sign up for benefits at 11pm on the last day. A final communications push at the end will keep that date fresh in their mind. After all, one of most common questions workers ask is, What’s the deadline?
These tips apply whether your open enrollment begins in June, October or January. A balanced communications strategy will stop employee procrastination.
Ever wonder why some communication materials get more attention than others? If the message is solid and the delivery method matches your employees’ preferences, your collateral should hit the mark. Does it have your logo? Check. Does it use the company colors? Check. It should grab employee’s attention, right? Well, does it include five design standards?
Although “art” can be subjective, good design is not open to as much interpretation.
Good design plays an important role in educating employees about benefits. This is especially true for “visual learners,” folks who prefer to learn by seeing, versus hearing or touching. Whether you create the design or approve a design produced by a vendor, you should understand how various elements work together. These design standards are valuable to engage the workforce with your collateral.
As a designer who has developed benefits-related and other types of communications for more than 20 years, let me share five design standards for your communications. They’re presented in an infographic, of course.
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.