You spent months creating and implementing the perfect new program, designed to delight everyone by answering their unmet needs and requests. Perhaps it was a voluntary benefit your people had been asking for. Or maybe it was the latest niche health meditation program or a change in the pension program. You roll it out with lots of fanfare, and…no one uses it. In fact, no one even acknowledges it!
Or perhaps you launch a new campaign to drive a particular action, such as a 401(k) Meet the Match campaign. So you create a multi-channel communication campaign, and…the percentage of employees increasing their 401(k) contribution rate remains unchanged. You’re left scratching your head, wondering "Why isn’t anyone engaging?"
When people do nothing, it’s not because they don’t want to hear from you or don’t like your programs. Instead, there are often a few common barriers in play. Luckily, we know just the fix!
It seems obvious, but one of the most common reasons people don’t take action is that they are simply unaware that they’ve been asked to do something. It’s easy for your communications to get lost in the masses of notifications, emails, and junk mail people sort through every day.
The fix: Use novel communications channels to capture attention. Make your communications stand out by harnessing the unexpected—bold visuals, unique messaging, non-standard sizes, and unexpected placement (think staircases and coffee cups). And don’t forget to apply your brand to your communication, so employees recognize the message is coming from your organization. This makes it more likely they will spot your communication and pay attention to it. Finally, make sure each communication has a clear call to action.
In a world with competing demands for attention, people unconsciously filter out most of what comes across their paths each day. If it isn’t obvious that your message is important, people are likely to ignore it.
The fix: Targeted and personalized communications ensure that your efforts are spent crafting the best experience you can for the people who will benefit the most. And, when you do send something, people will be more receptive because they’ll know it is relevant to them, unlike the generic blast mailings or emails they receive. You can target communications in many ways: by plan enrollment; by allowing people to self-select information (such as curated goals on a website); and by location, age, income, and other traditional demographics. Lean on your vendors for more ideas—the data available to HR and Benefits teams has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. And take a look at these tips for making targeting part of your overall communication strategy.
Status quo bias explains how we are emotionally attached to the way things currently are, so any change from that baseline can be hard for us to think about or get used to. Compounding matters, in order for people to make a change, the benefits of what they’re being asked to do must greatly outweigh the risks. For example, if you’re introducing a new medical plan and encouraging your people to switch to it, you need to highlight its benefits (lower price, higher-quality network, etc.) to overcome their fears about whether or not their favorite doctor is in the network, about not fully understanding what the new plan covers, and more.
The fix: Help alleviate natural risk tendencies by being fully transparent about why you’re introducing a new offering or are encouraging people to make a change. For the big changes, carefully consider who the message should come from (e.g., does it make sense for a respected company leader to deliver the news?) Do the work for employees—don’t make them figure out why a new program or medical plan is better than what they currently have and why they should give it a try. You can do this by prominently showcasing program perks and cost differences. And don’t forget to include contact information so that anyone who has questions, or needs to speak with someone about the changes, can do so.
Unfortunately, a lot of the things we ask our people to do in the benefits space is simply not motivating. Save more money? Eat better? Update their beneficiaries? No, thank you!
The fix: Find the “today” hook. Many actions that would seem to benefit us only in the future also have a more immediate motivational result. For eating better and promoting other wellness programs, the hook could be having more energy in the moment. For updating your beneficiary, the hook could be instant peace of mind that my family is covered. The takeaway here is that most actions do have an immediate benefit. The trick is to uncover it and then communicate it along with the ask.
Benefits and HR systems are not known for their smooth user experience (though they are rapidly improving). Moreover, the complexity of the subject matters we ask people to understand and then act on doesn’t set people up for success. Talk to your people, and you’ll quickly see that a lot of what we ask them to do simply isn’t worth the effort required.
The fix: Walk a mile in your people’s shoes by trying to complete the requested action yourself. You’ll be surprised at what you uncover! One client had 13 steps in their communication and information flow for 401(k) enrollment—before employees could even begin to enroll. Another realized people weren’t signing up for telemedicine because they were being directed to the health plan’s website, where telemedicine information was buried beneath several submenus. By going through the experience yourself, before you roll it out to your people, you have the opportunity to improve it and uncover areas that may need additional communication. To make decision-making even easier, provide a helping hand. This could be in the form of a medical decision support tool or a retirement plan modeling tool. The idea is to develop a true understanding of the magnitude of the task facing your people and to make it as easy as possible for them to accomplish it.
Ready to take engagement up a notch? Check out our Best Reads: Driving Employee Engagement with Benefits, and our ebook, Unlocking Successful Benefits Communication: A 10-Key Framework Every Organization Needs to Get Results.
Jennifer Benz, SVP Communications Leader, has been on the leading edge of employee benefits for more than 20 years and is an influential voice in the employee benefits industry.