I recently celebrated my 25th anniversary of working in HR and benefits communication. I started my career in the quality assurance field, specifically testing benefits websites and applications to make sure they were error free. It was a tedious but necessary job, and it gave me great exposure into the world of benefits. From there, my role evolved to focus more on website usability and user experience. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out you can make a fun career out of testing software and advocating for people who use it.
Time has really flown by! A lot has changed since I started my career in this profession, but many principles and best practices have remained the same and still ring true today. In today’s world of everything shiny, new, and different, it’s important to remember the importance of some of the core elements of successful benefits communication.
As benefits and HR pros, it is our job to make it easy for employees and their families to take advantage of all the programs that are offered. We must do everything we can to remove obstacles that prevent people from accessing important information and engaging with their benefits. After all, you can’t expect people to know what to do with their benefits if they can’t find basic information about them!
Think about all the things that might get in the way of a person accessing your content. They might not know where to go in the first place. They might not remember a password. They could get turned off by how something looks on their phone. They could leave a site if it loads too slowly. Or they could be confused by some phrase or confusing term and give up.
There are literally thousands of barriers that can potentially get in the way. And people are fickle. We have to remember that the user is in control. They decide whether sites and content are worth their time, energy, or frustration. When people encounter barriers, they have the ultimate veto power by simply closing their browser window, putting down their phone or—more often than we’d like to imagine—going to Instagram or TikTok or Facebook.
Human nature suggests that we tend to follow the path of least resistance. By reducing the number of hurdles for your audiences, you can maximize your reach and impact.
This is why we believe so strongly in the power of a barrier-free benefits website, i.e., a hub that everyone can get to online without needing to log in.
Two Barriers You Can Eliminate Right Now
A barrier-free or password-free website on the internet is so powerful because it eliminates two big barriers many organizations create (often unknowingly).
So, then, when should you require a login? We suggest that you require authentication only at the true point of need, which often means getting to a personal piece of data. For example, when users need to look up account balances or perform transactions like adding a dependent to their benefits coverage. By requiring authentication only at the point of need, you make sure that other important benefits content is not hidden or hard to access.
For example, if a spouse wants to know how much their family’s deductible is or who to call about a health claim, they can get to that easily on your public-facing website. If they want to know how much they have spent this year toward their family’s deductible (and how much remains until coinsurance starts kicking in), they need to authenticate with your benefits administrator or health plan.
We suggest balancing barrier-free access to benefits information with convenience, by supporting organizations with Single Sign On passthroughs. For example, if the person is connected to the organization’s network, they can seamlessly log in to third-party administrators and benefit providers where SSO links are in place, while still accessing the non-personalized information without needing to authenticate.
There’s tremendous value in personalized benefits information—but only if people get to it. Most organizations are disappointed with the ongoing use of personalized platforms and apps and find that promoting them takes a lot of energy. Many personalized solutions focus primarily on administration and transactions and fail to provide the context required to truly drive engagement and behavior change.
Instead of fixating on personalized information, we see a bigger return on investment by focusing on providing targeted and relevant information. The two words are similar, but there is important nuance here. For example, a website that knows that my middle name is David (personalized) is less helpful to me than one that targets content to me based on my interest, goals, or life events (relevant). There are a lot of creative ways that we can target relevant content to people without the need for true personalization.
By allowing people to self-select relevant content and choose their own adventure, there are two additional underappreciated benefits. First, the same content can be made available for candidates and recruits. Second, people are more likely to access content without the fear of their employer seeing what content they’ve viewed. Fear that your employer knows that you’ve recently viewed leave-of-absence content is another barrier that you can remove by having a non-personalized site. Many people don’t like Big Brother watching, and your employees are no different.
Quick answer: Yes! Googling is a legitimate way that your people look for information. That is why we recommend that your benefits site is indexed by Google and the major search engines, so that your site shows up in Google’s results.
After all, if one of your people Googles “organization XYZ benefits,” wouldn’t you want your site to appear first in the list, or would you prefer that your audience goes to Glassdoor or a pharmaceutical company’s website promoting specific name-brand drugs?
Part of creating barrier-free experiences is making sure that your site accommodates all people, not just some. It needs to be inclusive, available, and accessible to everyone who wants to use it. My colleagues Joey Allen and Stacey Simon summarized the importance of web accessibility very well when they said:
Web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with or access to websites by people with physical, cognitive, and situational disabilities, or that have socioeconomic restrictions on bandwidth and speed.
By accommodating all people, you’re removing barriers for people who might not access your site otherwise.
As an organization, you want to be in control of the messaging to make sure people are getting accurate information versus learning about your organization’s benefits on Glassdoor or other sites.
By providing a common front door, you establish the go-to destination—the starting point—for your audiences’ experiences with your benefits. This allows you to have one place where you collect and promote resources, along with information on how to engage with them. For every cool tool or app, you also need a place where you can highlight it and educate people on how to access it. By creating a centralized, easy-to-access starting point, you’ve created the channel for promoting new programs and tools, as well as underutilized resources. Plus, you help your people by streamlining what they need to remember. Instead of keeping track of 75 different websites, they only need to remember THE one place to go.
Your benefits website should also reflect your brand, to ensure that it’s recognized and trusted by your people and that it reinforces why you’re a great place to work.
Our best practices recommend a non-personalized benefits front door to your entire benefits ecosystem that does not require authentication and is easy to find. As you think about your website, ask yourself these key questions:
Many things have changed in the past 25 years, but many of these best practices will be around for the next 25 years and beyond!
We're proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.
Jon Stuckey, VP Creative Technology and Innovation, provides strategic vision, guidance, and solutions for our largest clients.