“The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.”
Jacob Lew, 76th United States Secretary of the Treasury
We’re delighted to see that benefits communications budgets are increasing. It’s a sure sign that employers—and the industry—are prioritizing employee engagement. And it points to heightened awareness that we must communicate in new ways to get employees to use the programs that are so critical to their success.
Now, with more budget in hand, the big question for benefits leaders is where to spend that money to get the results they want. Here’s what to do when you hear “yes” to your request for more communications budget.
Your strategy outlines who you are communicating to and why. It also should connect to your overall benefits and business goals. Many companies don’t have a clear and documented strategy. Or worse, they skip this step entirely. But when you invest in developing your strategy first, you establish a clear path for where you need to go. This investment might be your own time and resources, or it could include working with a dedicated external partner to get your strategy into tip-top shape. If you do it yourself, we’ve outlined key considerations and tactics for how to create a strategy in Book I of our ebook series, Unlocking successful benefits communication: A 10-key framework every organization needs to get results. Once your strategy is created, managing updates internally shouldn’t take much time.
As you’re developing your strategy, don’t overlook what employees tell you they want! Employee feedback is crucial to understanding your employees’ needs, desires, and motivations—as well as where they’re getting stuck. There are many ways to gather employee feedback, which we’ve outlined in depth in our free white paper, Product Design for Employee Benefits: Creating Programs Your People Want to Use. But we highly recommend investing a portion of your budget into conducting focus groups.
We know what works when it comes to getting employees engaged with their benefits. Our 10 keys ebook series outlines the best practices that leading employers follow when communicating their benefits. You can leverage them to conduct your own audit of your communications using our 10 Keys to Unlocking Successful Benefits Communication Worksheet.
We recently conducted a 10-keys assessment of a client that had been honored as one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2018. With 7,500 employees, this company had a strong brand that it could use to make its communications shine—but its strategy was limited to a single goal: “We want people to read things.” We found that, although many communication channels were available, the communications themselves were overly complex, and people weren’t engaging with them. The results of our assessment helped the benefits team determine where to prioritize their time and energy. Instead of investing in a brand and visual overhaul or adding in more communication channels, they agreed that focusing on the simplicity of each piece would be a better use of their budget.
If we had to choose just 1 or 2 areas where you get the most bang for your buck (outside of investing in your strategy), they would be your employee benefits website and communicating year-round. Your website is all about access to information, and communicating year-round is about keeping benefits top of mind.
A benefits website helps employees see their benefits holistically, rather than as a patchwork of providers and administrators. It’s also a single place for people to go for all their benefits needs, so they don’t have to remember dozens of vendor URLs and passwords. After all, one of the biggest barriers to getting people to take action is making it tough to act! Ninety percent of employers put their benefits information online,1 so this is where you need to invest next if you’re not already there or if your current site doesn’t make it easy for employees to get what they need.
Communication shouldn’t stop once a program is implemented, and it shouldn’t happen just once a year during enrollment. We see the largest sustained behavior changes among the employees of clients that communicate year-round. Communicating throughout the year will go a long way toward ensuring your employees remember, appreciate, and use your benefits.
Once your strategy is in place, you’ve identified the gaps, and you’ve prioritized spending, you’ll also need to budget accordingly for the following:
Communication experts: These can be internal staff or external experts. They help you define strategy and execute campaigns and their associated deliverables. To produce professional campaigns, you need experts who can plan and deliver communications across multiple channels.
Building and maintaining digital channels: Digital channels require an initial investment as well as an ongoing commitment to maintain them. For example, after you build your website, you’ll need to budget each year for content updates, hosting, and maintenance.
Ongoing campaigns: Plan for a few campaigns outside of enrollment, based on business or seasonal needs.
Printing and postage: If it’s right for your organization, be sure to include a print budget.
Images: Don’t forget to include the cost of image rights for photos and illustrations used in digital and print campaigns.
For more insights on how to craft the right benefits communication budget for your needs, check out the chapter on budget in Book III: Resources of our ebook series, Unlocking successful benefits communication: A 10-key framework every organization needs to get results.
1 Inside Benefits Communications Survey Report, Benz Communications and National Business Coalition on Health, 2014.