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.
The presence of many generations in the workplace creates its share of challenges for employers. Organizations feature blends of Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials, with the first members of Gen Z joining the team.
It’s tempting to focus your benefits communications on those in the early stages of their careers. Here are three tips to ensure that you don’t forget the needs of your older employees when you communicate about employee benefits.
1. Put the “youth movement” in perspective.
No one can dispute the critical importance of the Millennial generation to the future of the global economy. Researchers speculate this segment of the population could make up 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025. Each day brings us closer to that reality, but there is still a need to speak to the other generations that make up your current staff. It’s a good idea to review your benefits communication tactics to ensure they are an accurate reflection of your workplace. Pay attention to everything from the images you select to the tone of your messages.
2. Match your message to your usage.
In a data-driven age, use the available tools to determine employees’ preferred method to receive messages
. But be cautious about using certain tactics across your company. Social media
is a growing area of benefits communication. An organization that has a high percentage of employees over age 60 may want to stick to more traditional tactics to reach this group, though
As for the message itself, consider which segment of your employee population is most likely to use a particular benefit. For example, if you have a greater number of older employees, you may want to emphasize the highlights of your company’s prescription drug plan.
3. Help older employees reach their goals.
While each generation in the workplace has visions of retiring one day, older employees have the finish line in sight. With a greater number of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age each year, address both their pre- and post-retirement needs. This could include info on how a 401(k) works after retirement or the portability of certain employee-paid voluntary benefits. As employees become eligible for Medicare, you can explain the differences between Medicare and employer-provided health care.
Employee benefits are routinely cited as a key part of a company’s talent retention effort. Make sure your communications deliver an engaging message to both your current MVPs and the rising stars that will one day fill their roles.
One of my clients recently asked me to make sure that all of her written communications used either “email” or “e-mail.” All consistency of style had been lost in a flurry of internal stakeholders reviewing and editing multiple drafts, leaving a mishmash of “emails” and “e-mails” in their wake. My client really didn’t care if the hyphen was used or not; “…just pick one,” was her only direction. Easy enough, but now the challenge becomes to hyphenate or not to hyphenate.
My own preference, and I could argue it’s the correct one, is for the less conservative “email.” After all, the Associated Press Stylebook, the de facto style and usage guide for much of the news media, dropped the hyphen way back in 2011. Even the staid New York Times finally succumbed. Unlike my client though, I’ve found that many people stubbornly cling to those hyphens, as evidenced by the continued use of the archaic “co-pay” and “co-insurance”.
But why does it matter? After all, it’s not really wrong to use “e-mail”, or for that matter “co-pay”, it’s just out dated, right? True enough, but the thing is, somewhere, someone reading your communications will know the difference and to that person, you’ve lost some credibility. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the details when it comes to punctuation and style.
Language, like the benefits marketplace, is constantly evolving. With that said, consistently following current writing style guidelines is a hallmark of well-executed, professional communications that are sure to make the impression you want.
Of course, if you’re a busy HR manager like my client, you probably can’t spare the time to worry about hyphens and the like. Luckily, there are communicators like me for that!