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.
Do you have an employee recognition program? If so, you’re in good company. According to a recent Society of Human Resource Management/Globoforce study of 738 human resources professionals, 80 percent of organizations do as well. Fifty-six percent said their program has a positive impact on recruitment and 68 percent praised its value for retention.
With those benefits in mind, it makes sense to promote your employee recognition program internally. After all, employees want to be praised. Praise yields higher productivity, innovation, and job satisfaction. A study by Cicero found recognition to be the most important driver of employee performance. At 37 percent it ranked higher than increased pay or promotions.
As with many programs, communications is the key for success. Messaging should be clear. It’s important to make sure key stakeholders are on board from the start. Doing so shows high-performers that you’re paying attention. It also engages and informs your staff around the idea that employees are valued for their contributions.
Here are five ideas on how you can communicate the value of work well done.
1. Create a Brand for your Employee Recognition Program
Branding your program adds credibility. Employees are more likely to view content branded from the company versus content branded from your carriers, says a study from Prudential. The brand of your employee recognition program should connect staff with what you need them to think, feel and do have a successful program. Once your brand is in place and recognizable, your employee will want to be a part of the program.
A brand is a look and feel that is unique to your company. It could be as simple as a catchy tag line or a logo that connects employees with the vision and values of your employee recognition program. Incorporate the brand in emails, posters, publications, postcards, employee handbook, company branded website, videos, webinars, intranet, etc. Communicate about the employee recognition program often. Repetition is the key to retention.
2. Publicize your Employee Recognition Program
Make it easy for people to get involved or apply to the employee recognition program. Help them to understand what’s required to earn recognition and how they can be successful. Highlight examples of past high achievers and invite employees to share their stories.
Announce employee recognition activities in team meetings. Keep communications consistent and as frequent as possible. This will keep the program front and center for all employees.
3. Provide Tangible Rewards
Inspire managers to personally recognize employees for their efforts. Employees often keep personalized company-branded plaques and certificates on their desks or walls. Those materials may inspire their co-workers.
Your employee recognition program may include monetary rewards, like cash or gift cards. Other rewards include extra time off, tickets to sporting events, accessories like watches or new electronics like headphones or tablets.
Pair all rewards with thank you notes. Research out of Harvard Business School found authentic thank you’s from leaders motivate employees. 180 employees watched short videos that personally thanked them for contributions. Compared to a control group that didn’t watch videos, those employees had a 7 percent increase in performance.
4. Showcase Success Stories
Employees love to read about their colleagues – and to be inspired by them. That’s why it’s great to showcase those high-performers who make a difference. Feature them in organizational publications, on intranets, and other media as appropriate.
Schedule a specific day each month to launch and broadcast these communications. Create social gatherings to promote your employee recognition program. For example, every third Wednesday is employee recognition day. Your company can provide snacks in a common area. The tangible rewards, mentioned above, can be distributed in front of colleagues. Seeing their peers lauded may encourage other workers to put forth extra effort.
5. Get Leadership Sponsorship
Employees like the continued support of upper management. Yet, a Gallup poll of over 30,000 workers showed only one-third received praise for a job well done over the past week.
Have leaders promote your employee recognition program so employees know management is on board. This helps the employees understand that the company is invested in their growth and recognizes their contributions.
Make sure your employee recognition program is honest, authentic and aligns with your company’s values.
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.