A variety of digital technologies is available to enhance communication of benefits and strengthen their value as a human capital investment. Communication strategies are key to employee utilization.
By Joseph Warren
The ideal employer benefits may change over the decades and through the generations, but all benefit sets, at any point in time, have something in common. They are one of the top contributors to employee satisfaction. The caveat is that employees must know and understand what is available, and they must take full advantage of the chosen benefits if employees and employers are to realize their full value. Technology enables employers to communicate benefits information in a clear and focused manner, and educate employees to maximize understanding and utilization.
Employers need to develop and implement a communication strategy that makes use of the technologies that best fit the workplace. Tools include videos, interactive portals, mobile apps, automated emails, gaming and other technologies. Print materials can also supplement the technology-based communication.
At the same time, benefits administrators need to ensure that employees have access to in-person meetings when they need in-depth clarification, assistance with understanding benefits in relation to personal needs, to discuss something highly personal.
Multiple Communication Channels
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) advises employers to use multiple communication channels in recognition of the fact that people assimilate information differently, have communication preferences, and are at different stages of understanding. For example, a young new hire may be unfamiliar with benefits terms like major medical and 401(K), and needs face-to-face meetings at first or more in-depth explanations than a long-term baby boomer employee requires. A millennial may prefer to access a benefits hub on a smartphone.
SHRM recommends creating a user-friendly benefits hub because it is efficient and informative. The hub is a website that enables employees to easily connect to resources and tools on vendor websites, gives employees one site for accessing all employer benefits, and enables employees to ask questions and provide feedback. A benefits hub also gives 24/7 access, so employees can manage their benefits or close a knowledge gap at their convenience.
One of the factors that employers must address is employee response rates. A study of 27 employers using Flimp interactive video postcards for benefits enrollment found that employee engagement and response rates increased when the technology was implemented. The video postcards enabled employers to announce open enrollment periods, send calls to action, connect employees to online benefits plan information and enrollment platforms, and strengthen the employer brand. The technology also enabled the employer to collect and analyze data, like viewing times and responses.
An example of a company relying on multiple communication channels is Aimia. Headquartered in Montreal with 4,000 employees in 20 countries, the company needed to reach 1,400 employees who were not yet registered in its benefits program. Flimp Media created two open enrollment overview videos and two interactive multimedia video postcards. Using technology, the company was able to easily communicate its benefits programs across time zones, and the information was available on smartphones, mobile devices, and computers.
Value Through Engagement
Many employees simply do not really understand how their benefits work. As employers expand their programs to include elements like retirement planning for different age groups, wellness programs that generate rewards, flex work schedules, leave time and other desirable offerings, they need high employee engagement in order to create value.
They also need to close a knowledge gap so that employees make good decisions and understand the consequences of those decisions. The knowledge gap includes lack of understanding of insurance terminology, supplemental health insurance options, disability insurance, tax consequences of retirement plans, family coverage, relationship of wellness programs to job performance, and so on.
Using clear and concise language in all communications – printed and digital – is critical to employee engagement. Technology enables employees to input personal factors like age and lifestyle to obtain personalized recommendations. If the employee does not understand a recommendation, the employer should have an easily accessible system for asking questions or requesting a meeting with benefits experts via online video calling or in-person appointments. Offering online support is another engagement strategy.
Communicating benefits programs is more complex today than in the past because the workplace is multigenerational and multicultural.
There are four aspects to digital benefits communication, with one being that employees need efficient communication systems as a minimum, and the ability to collaborate when benefits programs include rewards systems like the one Achievers offers.
Another factor is the selection of digital tools that best support the organization's workforce. Each organization has a unique workforce, operations model, and one or more physical locations.
The third aspect is minimizing risks and ensuring compliance with local, regional, and/or country laws. Keeping employee personal information confidential and secure is critical. There must be a governance structure in place to ensure the benefits communication system remains viable and secure.
Finally, employers should measure results. The ideal benefits systems enable employees to use an interactive tool to customize their benefits package and a two-way communication tool that gives them the ability to get specific answers.
Make the Communication Appealing
The benefits communication content also needs to be appealing to specific users. A one-size-fits-all approach is likely not going to engage the highest number of employees.
The language should be easy to understand and reflect the corporate brand and culture. For example, some companies have a light-hearted, laid-back culture, so employees will expect creative websites and programs. Other companies have a more serious culture, so formal presentations are more in tune. The important point is that employers should present information in a way that is most appealing to the targeted audience.
It is challenging to engage all employees in a benefits system. Employers need an ongoing strategy that puts the information in front of employees when they want it and in an understandable format.
In the past, benefits were presented as one big standard package to employees, but today, flexible benefits are recruiting and retention tools as much as they are engagement tools. Benefits play a big role in employer responses to changing demographics, so getting the highest level of participation and generating the greatest amount of satisfaction is an imperative. The way benefits are communicated is one of the primary determinants as to whether they produce the desired results.