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.
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.
As summer wraps up, thoughts turn to open enrollment. Now, more than ever, you need effective benefits communications. But, what makes audiences step up and take notice? Communications that answer their pressing questions. Incorporate the 5 W’s into your messaging for a successful open enrollment.
Who is the target audience for your open enrollment communications? That’s easy, you might say. It’s my employees. And, you would be correct.
Yet, you may need to drill down even further. Effective communications sometimes requires you to target specific audience members. You can deliver information to people who are uniquely affected (targeting folks enrolled in a particular plan to let them know it’s going away). You can develop audience personas that allow you to segment people with shared characteristics into groups. These approaches further define your messaging and approach.
For example, do baby boomers know they can make additional contributions to their 401(K) plans? Do employees who take public transit to the office know they can set aside pre-tax money through a commuter reimbursement account? Do parents of pre-teens know the dental plan offers orthodontic coverage?
You get the point. Find the message that speaks to each demographic.
What is the most important thing you need to convey? This could be a universal message across employee groups (e.g., Open Enrollment is coming!) or it could vary based on population. Either way, identify the core messages you need employees to know so they can select the right plans and enroll successfully. Then, communicate, communicate, communicate.
For example, are you introducing a High Deductible Health Plan? If so, explain new concepts, like a health savings account and how employees can use it to their advantage.
Are premiums going up? Don’t be afraid to be transparent and show employees the true cost of their benefits. 41 percent of respondents to a recent poll did not know their contributions, employer contributions, and the cost of services make up the total cost of healthcare. Give employees tips for saving money. Show how they can use covered preventive screenings or tobacco-user discounts to their advantage.
Where do your employees go for information? Online? Their home mailboxes? The shared breakroom? All of the above? You need to provide communications that meet them at each of these places. That’s a 21st century best practice for a successful open enrollment.
Even in today’s digital world, there are people who favor a printed Guide (52 percent, according to a Jellyvision poll). Yet, many others will look elsewhere for the tips and tools they need to choose and use their benefits. Make information available both inside and outside firewalls, so spouses and other dependents can access it.
And don’t forget in-person meetings. Face-to-face communications will always be the most powerful way to share information. Create the time and space for employees to ask questions about their benefits. If you can, bring in representatives from your carriers so employees can learn from them, too.
When will you deliver your message? If you’re not being strategic about timing, you risk missing the boat. Too many people wait until the week before enrollment starts. That cuts it too close.
Instead, do a drip campaign two to three weeks in advance that tells employees enrollment is coming. Teach them how to prepare for it. Then, when the season is in full swing, send frequent reminders to employees to take action.
Create a marketing plan three months before open enrollment and draft communications two months before. Thoughtful collateral takes time to write and design. Outsourcing to a benefits communications firm, like Trion, can give your pieces that professional touch. And you’ll focus your energy on other necessities.
Why should your employees pay attention? Your communications need to give them a reason.
Resist the temptation to lead with what’s in it for the company. Instead, stay focused on what’s in it for the employees —or the “WIFFM.” Include a call to action in your communications. Make the next steps obvious.
Share employee success stories and testimonials that show how folks have made smart benefits choices. This not only makes benefits tangible, but promotes the idea that employees trust each other. They will use the stories as guideposts for making their own decisions.
Employees want help picking their benefits. Lay out the pros and cons of the choices available and how each works. That will help employees understand the benefits offered and make good choices. Ditch the jargon. Instead, use simple language. Write like you talk and be conversational. Benefits terms may be second nature to you, but, when it doubt, spell it out.
And the bonus question: How?
How do you know what employees want from the open enrollment process? Ask them! Poll your workforce on their preferred methods of communication. Ask if the frequency and timing of messages work for them? Do they feel rushed to make decisions because the timing is off? You will gain actionable insights by simply talking to your workforce
Of course, there is no such thing as a worry-free open enrollment. But if your communication strategy addresses these 5 “W’s”, you have a better chance of a successful open enrollment. Good luck!
Most of your younger employees don’t think that a life insurance policy applies to them. For the most part, they’re still healthy. For another, many haven’t yet married or had children, and see an investment in life insurance as a waste of money.
And yet, the truth is life insurance can be meaningful for everybody, no matter their age or stage of life. The challenge is to help them see how they can benefit from a life insurance policy when they’re not convinced they need it just yet.
That’s where effective communications come in. Use the right strategy and tactics to encourage younger employees to take a look at life insurance. Help them see its value and embrace that idea that it may not be as expensive or unnecessary as they think. To the contrary, buying a plan now may very well save them money down the road. Here are four tactics to get your younger employees to consider a life insurance policy.
1. Remind Them Insurance Protects Their Loved Ones In Case Of The Unexpected
While nobody ever wants an accident or injury to happen, the fact is it does at any age. That’s why your younger workers should consider a life insurance policy. It protects their family members from having to worry about paying for a costly funeral. If employees are aware of this huge expense it could sway them to buy a plan. Then they wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving those expenses up to someone else.
2. Convey That Plans Are Affordable
Let them know that you, as their employer, already offer them a basic life insurance policy. Show them the value of buying supplemental life insurance on top of it.
If your company doesn’t already offer it, think about adding supplemental life insurance to your voluntary benefits. Your employees will appreciate the convenience of one-stop shopping for benefits. Supplemental life insurance normally only costs healthy people in their twenties a couple pennies to the dollar per month. It is worth the investment to buy supplemental coverage, as it will not put a dent in their pockets.
3. Promote Now, Save Later
One of the easiest incentives for your younger employees to consider life insurance policies now is that they’re less expensive. Although they may not feel they need life insurance right now, they know they will need it later in their lives. This is a great selling point. Use side-by-side comparison charts and coverage examples in your communications to show them the value of buying when they’re young.
4. Show Them the Stakes
Most younger employees don’t consider the stakes involved in not having life insurance coverage. The risk of disease and death is lower for the young and healthy, but the unexpected can happen. And if it did, how would their loved ones fare? Employees need to understand life insurance offers them and their families’ important protection. Their families won’t go into debt paying for their care or funeral expenses.
Younger employees should consider other expenses too. If a parent co-signed on a private student loan, they would be responsible for the balance. That can be a hefty sum.
Employers should communicate to younger employees that life insurance is indeed for everyone. Help them see the wisdom of buying a life insurance policy at an earlier age. It is an important way for employers to help their people stay healthy—physically, mentally, and financially.