Did you know that offering employees the opportunity to bring their pets to work is a current trend? It’s true! According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), nine percent of employers already have an office policy allowing pets. This includes some well-recognized employers-of-choice such as Google, Amazon, Salesforce and Workday.
The fact is that the percentage of workplaces with a pet-friendly policy has more than doubled in the past four years. Benefits experts believe that this percentage will continue to increase in the future.
Why you may ask? According to a business magazine called Chief Executive, the next generation of business professionals want it. A survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital found that more than 66 percent of human resource decision makers said that potential candidates asked if the workspace was pet-friendly during their interview process.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. A pet-friendly environment can benefit both the employer and the employee. The employer may see increased retention, loyalty, productivity, and morale in their staff. On the other hand, the employee may experience decreased stress and absenteeism, according to a recent study from the Virginia Commonwealth University. As an added bonus, when you allow pets in the office, employees may be more engaged and willing to work a full day. The policy eliminates their need to worry about rushing home to check-in on their pet.
If you already have a program like this or are looking to start one, consider effective communications a key element of its success. Here are some ways to make sure you’re engaging employees appropriately:
Make Sure Every Employee’s Voice is Heard
In order for a pet-friendly workspace to be successful, employees need to feel included. With this in mind, be sure to remember everybody might not have a pet or feel comfortable around animals. That’s why it’s important to find out where people are. Do this by talking to coworkers who might be worried about this implementation, are allergic, or have any questions or concerns. Engage them in a short online poll, focus groups or informal meetings to get their thoughts. Use what you learn to inform not only the program, but communications strategy. Arm managers with talking points so they know how to approach people on their teams who may be skeptical.
Design a “Frequently Asked Questions” Document That Lays Out Program Guidelines
One of the most important steps in creating this type of policy is making sure that the guidelines are clear. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are a user-friendly tool for distributing information in a way that can be scanned, easy to revisit, and quickly updated as questions come your way. Start with the questions you expect you’ll get the most. Write them in the way employees would ask them to make the information intuitive for search. Update often to aid in eliminating any confusion.
Get the Word Out Through the Appropriate Media
How you decide to spread the word to your employees is crucial. Are you going to send out a mass email? Post a flyer in the break room? Hold a company-wide meeting? Post it on your company’s intranet? There are many different ways to tell your employees about this new policy, but some may be more fitting for your company than others. The goal is to meet employees where you know they go most. This ensures that you are reaching as many people as possible. Even though younger workers tend to value this pet-friendly program most, not all want to receive information on line. Because we all learn differently, the best approach is to use a mix of approaches, from online to traditional. This guarantees that you connect with everybody somewhere.
Create Clear Messaging That Includes the Ground Rules
No matter how you decide to share information, remember that consistency is key. Reiterate the ground rules and key aspects of the policy often and through a variety of media so employees always know what to expect. If your message is direct, concise, and clear, employees are more likely to be receptive. Something to keep in mind is that when you begin to tire of the information, employees are just starting to get it.
Communicating the Pet-Friendly Policy in Recruitment
Your current workers aren’t the only ones who should know about this new policy. Promote it to job-searching millennials who, as we now know, are looking for pet-friendly offices. Talk to your Human Resources team to see how you can best communicate this policy in the recruitment process. That may include adding it to job postings on sites like Indeed or Glassdoor, putting it in the employee handbook and promoting it at job fairs. This could be a real deal maker for some candidates and in a tight job market, that counts!
As you can see, there are a lot of things to think about when educating your employees on how to embrace a pet-friendly office. Note that your communications strategy is crucial when explaining any new policy. Communicate well so you can set employees and your program up for real success.
Today’s workforce has many generations. To reach all employees, you need to consider each group has its own communication preferences. For example, Baby Boomers prefer to talk over the phone or in-person, says the Plainview Herald. Millennials, on the other hand, want to text, according to the employee engagement app, Crew.
Sandwiched between these groups, Gen X employees can be easily forgotten. Don’t let that happen with your communications. Gen Xers, as they are commonly called, were born between 1965 and 1980. They make up 60 percent of the American workforce, according to HR platform Rise. Understand and optimize the communication styles of Gen X employees and you’ll have more engaged employees.
You’ve Got Mail
That AOL call is nostalgic music to Gen X ears. These employees want to hear from you via email. After all, they are the first generation to incorporate email into their daily lives.
When crafting your email, don’t forget WIIFM—“What’s in it for me?” That question is important across all generations. However, Generation X is especially curious about the personal impact of benefits. Gen X is also cost conscious, considering they lived through two recessions. Use your messaging to show the value of benefits, especially buy-up perks, like critical illness insurance or voluntary life insurance. This group reacts negatively to “hard sell” communications. See your role as a consultant. Give Gen X employees the facts they need to make smart benefits decisions.
The Social Network
While you may think social media and Millennials go hand in hand, Generation X spends its fair share of time online. One AdWeek survey found 75 percent routinely use social media, with Facebook being their preferred network. Do you take advantage of social media as an employee communications tool? Encourage your Gen X staff to follow the company. Or, consider creating private groups for employees and post need-to-know info.
Beyond social media, this group watches online videos. Almost 79 percent of Gen Xers stream or download at least one video each month. Keep the communication styles of Gen X employees in mind when preparing communications. A brief explainer video about a new benefit could be the ticket to educate these workers.
Hey, Mr. Postman!
While Gen X values digital, they are also receptive to printed communications. In a white paper from Independent Agent, 75 percent call pieces mailed to home valuable. A study from the US Postal Service found 60 percent of Gen Xers look for their mail every day, compared to 43 percent of Millennials.
When planning your communications mix for Generation X, include printed materials. This tactic also reaches their spouses, whom research shows both use benefits and are highly influential in choosing them. With 70 percent of this group married, spouses can play a big part in getting your message across.
I’m Going to Need for You to Come in on Saturday
What’s one way to lose a Gen X employee’s attention? Unnecessary meetings. This generation doesn’t respond to long, in-person sessions and prefers a no-nonsense attitude. Since other groups like face-to-face sessions, meetings are unavoidable. For the most effective cross-generational meetings, remember the adage, “Be brief, be bright, be gone.” Before organizing a one-on-one encounter with a Gen Xer, ask if you could convey the message via email instead.
While it’s important to appeal to Gen X workers, you need to consider the communication styles of the entire workforce. The good news is that there’s often overlap. Most groups like to be reached through a diverse mix of media. They respond well to messages that focus on how they’ll benefit. If you keep these things in mind, you’ll be well-suited to reach all audiences, including Gen Xers.
Gen X has called itself the forgotten generation. Don’t leave them behind with your messages. Concise, educational communications that emphasize value are the way to get their attention.
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.
Poor communications results in an average of $62.4 million wasted per company every year. There are many factors that contribute to poor communications. One notorious example is excessive use of business buzzwords. Such jargon consists of technical terms that are so overused that they have lost meaning, such as “ideate” and “disruptive.” Many business buzzwords started as industry terminology, but have lost substance through widespread use.
Why Do People Use Jargon?
Approximately 65% of American workers use jargon at least two to three times a week. People use this language to emulate how others in their industry talk or shorthand for communications. However, more common reasons for why people actually use business buzzwords are:
- They want to sound professional or intelligent.
- They want to hide unpleasant messages or dodge questions.
- They are trying to be politically correct.
- They find it easier than thinking of a more precise word.
Why Should You Stop Using Jargon?
Jargon results in in vague messages. In a 2017 survey by American Express, 88% of respondents admitted they only pretend to understand office jargon. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of this group also said that they use such phrases frequently. “The single biggest problem in communication,” said playwright George Bernard Shaw, “is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Avoiding buzzwords in business writing can be beneficial. Your communications will have a greater impact:
- You will sound more sincere. A study by New York University found that subjects perceived complex sentences with jargon to be less truthful than clear and concise sentences.
- You will minimize confusion. With so many ways to interpret jargon, it is likely that your recipient walks away with a different understanding of what you had intended.
- You will connect more personally. Using jargon with someone from outside your industry can make them feel excluded. Overuse of jargon can also make you sound robotic and inhuman. Even in business, people expect a more conversational tone. Meet employees where they are.
- You will sound less pretentious. Jargon-filled language can seem annoying and fake. If your messages are filled with double talk, employees might not be receptive. That can lead to a breakdown of trust.
How to Improve Your Communications
For heavy users of jargon, changing your ways won’t happen overnight. Start to pay closer attention to what you say or write. Often, a second look will help you avoid buzzwords in business writing.
When you create communications, remember the following tips to better connect with your audience:
- Know your audience. If you are talking to a technical audience about a technical subject, then, of course, incorporate technical language. However, if your audience is a mixed group or if your communication is about a non-technical matter, keep it simple. No matter whom you’re talking to, nobody wants to have to read your sentences twice in order to understand them.
- Use simple language. Be clear and concise. Limit your use of jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations. A good rule to follow for general communications is to make sure that a ninth grader or lower can understand you. Popular media, like Reader’s Digest, is written at that grade level. Microsoft Word will tell you the reading level of your document.
- Take a communication audit. Look at the last email that you sent. Do you spot any of The Hartford’s “60 Business Buzzwords to Delete from Your Vocabulary”? If so, maybe it’s time for a change.
Think carefully about your word choices. Don’t isolate your audience with business buzzwords.
A benefits content calendar helps you communicate to employees about their benefits. As a communicator, a content calendar also helps your sanity. This document organizes all the messages you want to deliver this year in a single place. This makes collaboration easier. You won’t struggle for ideas or skip important milestones.
A benefits content calendar is a great way to plan for the future. It’ll keep you on track to send information year round. You determine what employees need to know and when. Create messages that educate and involve employees in how to choose and use their benefits.
This is crucial, because you want employees to make smart decisions. The results of a recent study Maestro Health survey of 1,000 people found just 33% completely understand their health care coverage. You, as a communicator, bridge that gap between confusion and knowledge.
If you don’t already have a one, there are lots of ways to create this document quickly and easily. Here are some tips for building your benefits content calendar.
First, create a structure for your content calendar that works for your team. Spreadsheets are a simple yet efficient option. Or you can try a collaborative online program with more features, like Asana or Trello.
Think of each column header as a step to complete on the road to final delivery of your message.
Step 1: Topics
Take the time to create a list of the topics you want to cover. Next, match them to specific times of the year. For example, messages around how to use new benefits should be communicated early. By January, employees may forget about the benefits they signed up for in October. If you have grace periods for flexible spending accounts, add reminders when building your benefits content calendar to create messages about those March deadlines.
You can also tie the calendar to outside health and wellness events. May is healthy vision month, a great time to remind your employees how to use their vision benefit. If you offer a critical illness voluntary benefit that includes incentives for certain health screenings, add reminders to distribute information during the appropriate months. For instance, communications on the importance of mammograms are a good fit for breast cancer awareness month in October. Skin cancer screening reminders can go out in November, which is healthy skin month. If you struggle over what to write, consult your calendar.
Step 2: Channels and Audience
Choose your delivery methods wisely. Would the message be better received in an email? A desk drop flyer? An article on the intranet? Make sure you reach employees where are.
Who is the intended audience? Some communications are for everyone and some have specific niches. Determine which segment of your population you’d like to reach. Don’t forget about spouses, who, research has shown, play a significant role in benefits decisions.
Step 3: Delivery Dates and Responsible Parties
A benefits content calendar keeps you on track to know when to send certain messages. It also tracks who does what. Remember everyone who needs to touch the content. Does your graphic designer need to create images? Do insurance carriers need to review the language? Include all the steps in the workflow so no details are missed.
Include space for each responsible person to initial when they’ve completed their work. If don’t use a program that automatically alerts the team when a task is completed, ask people to send a notification email. Then the next person in the chain knows to start their task. Once the final person signals their approval, it’s time to publish.
Step 4: Track Performance
A calendar saves you from wondering, ‘Did we already promote this benefit?’ However, publishing is not the last step. When building your benefits content calendar, be sure to include a column for analytics. Track how different pieces performed. Partner with your carriers to obtain utilization data. See if there was an uptick in employee actions after they read certain messages.
If you didn’t get the desired results, add a note to your benefits content calendar to push out the message in another channel. Remember, employees have different communications preferences that affect how they process information.
Step 5: Repeat
Sprinkle important messages throughout the year. Once is often not enough, repetition is key. Psychologists refer to the mere-exposure effect. Repetition leads to familiarity and familiarity leads to preference. Hearing or reading pertinent information multiple times leads employees to make choices. And choice puts benefits control in their hands
It’s rare that employees will understand information on the first pass. They need to hear it and see it many times and in many different ways. In other words, when you start to get sick of the message, they’ve just started to get it.
Strong communicators understand the importance of to-do lists and deadlines and metrics. Your content calendar helps you organize all three. Stay on top of messages to create clear, focused communications that teach employees the value of their benefits.