It’s a new year, filled with new opportunities for communicating to your people. But the reality is that employee engagement has been on a downward trend, according to research published by Gallup. Meaningful communications from HR, benefits, and other business areas can help turn that around.
Picture this. You just returned to work from the holidays. You open your inbox to find an email from an organization you don’t recognize about a program that’s unfamiliar. You’re not sure what it’s for, and you have a thousand items on your to-do list. You open the email, quickly scan it, and file it away with the intention of revisiting it later but forget to. Let’s face it; we’ve all been there.
Now picture this. You’re three weeks into the new year. Suddenly you hear a ding, and an email from HR arrives in your inbox. You’re immediately enticed by the catchy subject line. You open the email, recognize the new program that was previously highlighted during annual enrollment, and you’re reminded to check it out. Before you know it, a browser window opens and you’re signing up for the program, eager to get started.
The difference between these two scenarios is distinct; meaningful communications are executed with intention. In the second communications scenario, the timing, sender, and channel were chosen to maximize impact. In other words, the communication was planned, backed by strategy, and centered on fostering a positive employee experience. Creating memorable touchpoints helps promote engagement, utilization, and, in turn, behavioral change. While we’re here to talk about ways to elevate your benefits communications in 2024, the truth is, these tips can apply to any type of communication, at any point throughout the year. Let’s dive in.
Gather all the elements of the communications campaigns that were rolled out last year, and organize them into a recap presentation. As a starting point, you can use your goals, objectives, and success measures; implementation plan; final deliverables; and achieved results. Then, set up a meeting with your team and any key stakeholders to review your findings. It’s critical to understand what worked, what didn’t, and how the campaign results measured up against both your benefits and HR goals and your broader organizations’ goals. This will help you identify priorities or areas for improvement when crafting your 2024 strategy. (Spoiler alert: We’ll talk about this in the next tip—so keep reading!)
With last year’s perspectives top of mind, tip two is to reimagine your new year communications strategy. Start by using the findings gathered in your recap session as your foundation. It’s important to include other departments’ discoveries as well. This can include employee listening and engagement surveys, manager and HR business partner feedback, and testimonials. And lastly, remember to add any organizational or benefits program changes and new initiatives into your strategy. It’s important to have a good understanding of what these are and when they will occur, so you can plan your communications around them.
From here, define new goals and priority areas for the year. For example, if one of your goals is to increase usage of a student loan repayment program, you may want to reach out to one of your organization’s employee resource groups that focuses on engaging younger workers and periodically remind that demographic about the benefit and how it works. However, if your goal is to promote awareness of an event that applies to all employees and requires them to act—such as annual enrollment—you may want to consider more frequent communications that occur during a shorter time span and that use a wider range of communications channels.
No matter what your goals are, it’s critical to lean into your partners when crafting your strategy. This brings us to tip number three.
All departments, including HR, have internal and external partners they turn to for help in achieving their goals. When it comes to employee communications, one thing that’s often overlooked is the volume of information employees receive from every group within the organization, often at the same time. Sometimes, one area of the business may have no idea what another is communicating about, even if the topics overlap. This can cause confusion, overwhelm your employees, and result in your audience tuning out and missing the key takeaways of your message. The reality is that communicating just to communicate will hinder your ability to meet your goals.
The solution is to lean into your internal partners and benefits vendors to create a robust communications road map for use throughout the year. This road map can outline what each department and vendor is communicating about and when, to whom, how, and where it falls on the priority scale for your people. The key to success is making sure the road map is visual enough to show everything that’s happening throughout the year. Make it digestible, and share it frequently with your partners. Consider ongoing meetings to ensure that your road map is properly maintained and refined, as needed, throughout the year. Through a robust communications road map, all your partners will have a clear line of sight into what employees can expect and when. It’s thoughtful planning at its finest, and I promise you, it works.
Remember that second scenario we started with? That was the result of thoughtful planning. Thoughtful planning creates purposeful outreach—one of the many benefits of a robust communications road map. In benefits communications, one size fits all isn’t always the best approach, and it isn’t successful when done on repeat. My challenge to you is to listen, then listen some more.
When communicating, we often focus on what to say, but effective communication is more about listening and understanding your audience’s needs. This can be achieved by sending your communications at the right time (like a few weeks after returning from the holidays, not the next day). Or by knowing what types of communications your people best respond to and being willing to try new methods. New ways of communicating doesn’t only mean using your communications channels—like postcards, emails, and web content. It also means being aware of the entire look, feel, and tone of voice of your communications. Your communications must be memorable and create an emotional connection to your audience. Once an emotional connection is made, behavioral change can follow.
The morale of the story is that your numbers paint the picture for how effective your communications campaigns are. At the start of the year, it’s critical to look at the successes of all your campaigns at once. It’s equally as important to do this after each new campaign is executed. I encourage you to actively collect your data. This isn’t an exercise you should do once a quarter or twice a year—it’s an ongoing process.
Tune into your data before, during, and after your campaigns. Pay close attention to things like click rates, website visits, program enrollment rates, and utilization. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of collecting your metrics. For example, if you have a mixed population of corporate and field employees, consider rolling out digital communications for one population and print communications for the other, with unique tracking methods. This will help you see how your communications are resonating with your audiences.
Once all your data are collected, throw them into a summary deck, and compare them against the goals defined at the start of the year. Remember that thing about leaning into your partners? Use your road map discussions to review your results together—for example, enrollment metrics or usage in specific programs communicated throughout the year. Question what worked, what didn’t, and why. Then, use your findings to refine your next campaign. The key to your success is taking a good communications campaign and, by tweaking it, making it even better for next time. (Here’s one more tip, for the road: Your campaign result summaries can be used at the end of the year to create your reflection deck!)
While the new year is a great opportunity to put together a plan for elevating your communications, the truth is, it’s never too late to start. Following the tips outlined above will keep you, your partners, and your people focused and aligned. Most importantly, it will allow for positive outcomes, such as higher enrollment rates in employee benefits programs, which in turn, can result in behavioral change for your people and healthier habits for your workforce. As you look ahead, don’t be afraid to move the needle when it comes to your communications. Your people and the broader organization will thank you.
We’re proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.
Gabby Kerrigan, Communications Consultant, is experienced in developing and implementing results-driven engagement strategies that help employees better interact with their benefits.