In this edition of On Topic…In Depth, we interview two industry thought leaders to get their perspectives on how effective benefits communications assist in attracting and retaining the best talent.
Benefits are complex and one of an organization’s largest expenses, yet many treat the communication of benefits as an afterthought. Health care literacy is generally low and employees won’t investigate the difference between a coinsurance and copay, for instance, or a quantity limit and step therapy, until they are at the site of care. This leads to confusion and disappointment regarding the benefits employees have and feel they should receive.
Employers also need to do a better job communicating the value of the benefits they offer. Employer-provided benefits, health care in particular, are such an important part of the overall employee value proposition. However, many employees simply focus on their share of the costs during open enrollment without understanding the employer’s commitment to delivering benefits throughout the year.
First, employers must understand what their employees value. Whether by simple survey or conjoint analysis in focus groups, it’s imperative that employers understand their workforce. There is real opportunity for employers who gather and encourage feedback on their benefits and then act on the feedback to create value within the benefit plan for their employees. When employees are engaged as part of the process, it creates a sense of ownership and illustrates to employees that they are valued. This bi-directional communication between the employer and employees ensures clarity around what employees value and how best to engage with them.
Savvy starts with program construction. When employees are engaged as part of the benefits creation process, it imbues a sense of ownership, demonstrates to employees that they are valued and results in a benefits program that meets real employee need and expectation. Programs built with employee input – whether by simple survey or conjoint analysis in focus groups – are likely to be better utilized.
Employer-provided tools for success, and savvy, are also a must.
One tool is a professionally created benefits guide that clearly and succinctly outlines benefits. Because benefits and insurance terminology are challenging to those who don’t think about these things every day. it should also contain a glossary of benefit terms that decodes the acronyms in which benefits professionals comfortably trade. Lastly, the guide should have contact information for benefit related resources. A well done guide and communication campaign will reduce benefit complexity and, in turn employee confusion.
Another tool is a total compensation statement. Total compensation statements outline the total cost of benefits offered and the share of the cost borne by the employer. Communicating the total cost of benefits to employees will ensure that they appreciate and understand the organization’s commitment to them.
Lastly, provide communication in formats that are accessible to each cohort. With five different generations in the workforce today, employers should meet the audience where they are most likely to be or risk missing an opportunity to inform.
I find communication is most successful when employers align their benefits communication with their own brand. It makes the communication more meaningful and relevant to the employees and creates a stronger attachment between the employer, the benefits offered and their employees. As an example, I once worked with a manufacturer of games and everything was focused around “gaming”. Open enrollment was positioned as the time to “make your move”. In the open enrollment guide, “rules of the game” outlined eligibility and contributions, and a “winning game strategy” section provided a checklist of items that must be completed. It sounds hokey, but it worked great. While it may take a bit more time, the return is worth it.