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.
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.
Lately, I’ve been researching different strategies to achieve goals. Whether a goal is personal or work-related, long- or short-term , taking the time to plan and prepare is key finishing with a home run! Here are six ways to help you efficiently and realistically reach your goals, so you are more likely to follow through with success:
1.First and foremost, a goal should be motivating. If you create a goal that’s too lofty or too small, you may become discouraged or bored, and you may find yourself departing from it early on. Think of something that interests you, or something that you always wanted to do, like taking extra courses to brush up on a skill, or starting a new blog. Once you’ve completed one goal, you’ll look head to the next one.
2. Try not to focus so much on the end result or the deadline of a goal. Rather, set a schedule to consistently work towards reaching it. For example, if you know you’ve been planning to finish a good book you’ve been putting off reading, schedule a time every day to spend a half hour reading. Before you know it, you’ll be finishing up the last chapter.
3. I am big on visualizing things to make them come to light. As you think of a goal you want to do, try to visualize achieving it. What will completing your goal feel like? What result will this accomplishment bring you?
4. Make achieving your goal fun. Having incentives can be a good way to keep motivated. For example, I use my iPhone fitness app to track and store my fitness goals. Once a fitness goal has been reached, it rewards me with a digital medal. Accomplishing a goal and getting a reward makes it all the more worthwhile.
5. Manage your goal more effectively by breaking it down into smaller tasks. It may be easier to see your goal as a series of small steps, rather than one large project. When putting your goal into smaller steps, you may be able to manager tasks better. This gives you a sense of accomplishment as you move closer to attaining your goal.
6. Write down your goals in a journal or display them on Post-It notes in plain sight. According to a study done by Gail Matthews at Dominican University, people who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not. Turning a goal into reality may require you to see it on paper and let that be your starting point. A good quote taken from an excerpt of a self-help book states, “Goals are the road maps that guide you to your destination. Cultivate the habit of setting clearly-defined written goals” – Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart.
Most importantly, stay positive and look ahead. When it’s time to start thinking about setting goals, be ready to dive in and set a schedule to help complete them by your target date. Make it fun and realistic. If it gets to be too overwhelming, break your goals down into smaller tasks to complete one-by-one. Having a plan and working toward your goals on a consistent basis will help you stay focused on the task at hand.
There is one thing each of us can do to ensure that our benefits have the greatest impact on our loved ones—especially in the event of our own passing.
The one simple thing is to update our beneficiaries. Each year, during open enrollment, take a look at the beneficiaries you have listed for each benefit that has them. Do you have critical illness insurance? Check the beneficiaries. Life insurance? Check the beneficiaries. Do you have a 401(k) plan, or more than one? IRAs? Brokerage accounts? Check, double-check, and triple-check those beneficiaries at open enrollment or when you have a major life event. If you only have a primary beneficiary listed, make sure you also list a contingent beneficiary (in case something happens to your primary).
Life is fleeting and fragile. We each think that we’re going to live forever, but we are not. And the young and healthy are not immune. My wife’s coworker lost his daughter on a hiking trip out west last month. She succumbed to an illness all but eradicated in the modern age. When we do pass, the sadness and loss for our loved ones will be devastating. The best we can do is prepare for the eventuality and be sure our family can readily access whatever measures we’ve set aside.
If You Don’t Update
What happens if you don’t? First of all, your assets could go to someone you didn’t intend. Perhaps you are now in your second marriage, but your ex-spouse is still listed as primary beneficiary on several old accounts. You could set up serious family discord—nothing puts already sensitive nerves on edge like a money dispute.
If you don’t name beneficiaries, parts of your estate could end up going through probate in the courts. That means your loved ones will be waiting and wondering about their inheritances. And there is always the chance that your assets will be distributed in a manner in which you didn’t intend.
The Beauty of Beneficiaries
When a policy holder dies, insurance companies, retirement account trustees, and brokerage houses look at the beneficiaries first. They are not subject to the will probate process. If you are a primary beneficiary on a policy, IRA, 401(k), and many other account types, those assets come to you in the event of the account or policy owner’s death.
Primary v. Contingent Beneficiaries
There are two types of beneficiaries for most account types: primary and contingent. You can split up your assets in any manner of percentages, but it’s important to note that primary beneficiaries always take precedence over contingents. In other words, if you have two primary beneficiaries listed at receiving 50% of the account each and one of those primaries has also passed. The surviving primary beneficiary would receive the entire value of the account. The contingent beneficiaries would receive nothing.
That’s why it’s so important that your paperwork is up to date. Let’s say, for instance, you have two siblings listed as primary beneficiaries at 50% each, and four nieces and nephews listed as contingents at 25% each. Both of your siblings would need to be deceased for any of your nieces and nephews to receive any proceeds from that account.
Take a minute right now to check all your beneficiaries. Part of the reason you got that term life policy or maxed out that IRA was to take care of your loved ones when you pass on. Why not make absolutely sure those assets will go where you intended them?
As summer draws to a close, I’m gearing up for open enrollment season. Communications consultants and HR staff face the brunt of challenges during the season.
As a designer, I manage much of the production, print fulfillment and mailings. Designers don’t develop tactics, answer employee questions, or oversee a large campaign. We have our own challenges to face. Let’s take a look at what goes into creating client campaigns throughout the season.
Our communications team talks to our consultants to discuss which clients are returning. We review how those clients received last years’ tactics. We ask what we can do to improve those tactics or propose fresh ideas to install for their new campaign.
Have any of our clients had any major changes to their business? Mergers, growth, down-sizing? Do any of the clients’ materials need a refresh? We could discuss with them the possibility it’s time to consider a major campaign update. As clients update brand guidelines and add new benefits, does their content look like a hodge-podge of updates? Also, we take stock of what new clients have knocked at our door. Out of all the proposals we made over the winter and spring, which client looks promising? What is the possibility of new clients that we never even took into account?
As we get deeper into August, we begin to get a better view. We fill in spreadsheets with more detail and assign staff to clients. Clients start to confirm their open enrollment dates. We talk to our printers and ask for revised quote, trying to get better prices and securing press space. By now, all last year’s files have been cleaned up and are ready to go. We hold weekly meetings to bring new team members up-to-speed and discuss the tactics and concerns of our clients.
We begin to research new clients to interpret their brand guidelines and capture their aesthetic . Working with clients’ design, marketing, branding and HR staff , we create templates for their new content.
For current clients requesting a re-design, we put the finishing touches on their revised look. The team is familiar with clients’ previous challenges, letting us to prepare the changes that will come to their plans.
Most importantly, we rest and take time off, while things are still calm.
Once Labor Day passes, the pace has begun to change, rapidly. More and more emails go between consultant and client. Things are begging to go into layout. Drafts pass back and forth. Printers and quantities are confirmed. Postage estimates start to come through. Finally, by the middle of the month, you realize open enrollment is here.
The first few campaigns make their way to press and mailing invoices need to be paid ASAP. Small, inevitable delays in production cause jobs to be sent to press a day late. But, our always savvy printers have already taken delays into account and fulfill requests by the mail date!
When I first came onboard, open enrollment was described to me as a wave. Just before it comes to shore, there is a drawback, then a small surge, then before you know it you are riding the crest of the wave. Before you know it, the wave has dissipated and you are back in the calm again. It’s really the best analogy I’ve ever heard for the period.
By now we are riding the crest of the wave. If you have done your homework and worked your best to prepare, it’s a blast. While everything is down to the wire, the rush of rapid turnaround does not leave any time for indecisiveness. We make decisions quickly and hammer out projects with speed and efficiency. It’s not unheard of to have daily deadline. Hundreds of emails that need your attention and response flood your inbox. The headset of your phone is permanently attached to our ears as we call printers with last minute changes and updates on any delays.
As October closes, things begin to wind down. We still ride the wave, but it’s lost much of its energy. Final jobs make their way out the door. We see print samples and mailing seeds. Our focus moves from communications to the implementation of employee benefits by the end of the year. Campaigns draw to a close and by Thanksgiving, things are ‘normal.’
Of course, with all our prep, our open enrollment season will be text book perfect! I’m prepared, are you?