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Stacey Simon February 8, 2024 5 min read

The Case for Strategic Communication: A Real-Life Benefits Fairy Tale in Three Acts

Act 1: Good Intentions Don’t Guarantee a Good Result

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, thrived a glorious company. As one of the most successful enterprises in the realm, the company’s benevolent leaders credited much of its success to the employees who toiled on its behalf. In return for their labors, people enjoyed boatloads of benefits along with continual communications about those benefits, so they, too, could thrive.

Employees were directed to various online hubs for entry to many of these programs. And as benefits leaders continued to add selections to the already robust benefits menu, they reminded their people to watch for communications from benefits partners about the programs available to them.

Even as communications filled employee inboxes and home mailboxes, it wasn’t long before company benefits leaders realized that all was not well in their world. Despite the rich assortment of benefits they continued to roll out, programs were going unused. Employee confusion was rampant, and complaints about barriers to accessing benefits were becoming too frequent.

As one company employee put it, “Good grief…too many [benefits] to name. A zillion companies we don’t use. Any real information is buried in garbage and spam.”

The company’s problems weren’t unique. Like many successful companies eager to attract and retain top talent, the company was investing in benefits to remain competitive. And while it was overinvesting in benefits, it was underinvesting in the communications needed for employees to engage successfully with those benefits. In short: too many programs, no communication strategy.

Things had to change, and they did—after company benefits leaders sent for Segal Benz.

Act 2: No Moat, but Many Other Barriers to Engagement

Long recognized for benefits communications that get employees to engage in the right programs at the right time, Segal Benz kicked off the engagement with the company by taking a deep dive into their benefits ecosystem.

They looked at every program the company offered through 28 benefits partners and reviewed all the different ways employees were receiving benefits communications.

Next, Segal Benz conducted six virtual employee focus groups with more than 500 employees. They crafted the questions, analyzed the responses, identified trends, and formulated recommendations based on employee responses.

Segal Benz also asked the benefits team to prioritize their top seven vendors by reach or impact, or those most difficult to engage with. Then Segal Benz scheduled individual interviews with each of the seven vendor partners. They facilitated the discussion, asked probing questions, and walked (virtually) in their employees’ shoes through user scenarios to uncover the real employee experience. The calls were conducted virtually and recorded.

At the end of it all, the barriers to benefits engagement were apparent:

  1. Information overload was short-circuiting benefits engagement. Employees were receiving too much information from too many sources, and none of it was coordinated. They had no connected benefits experience. After participating in a focus group, one employee concluded, “I think it shows you that people have no clue about available benefits.”
  2. For some benefits information, employees were directed to vendor sites that offered a poor user experience. The user experiences were confusing, which made it difficult for employees to find the information they needed and left them frustrated.
  3. The value of programs and services disappeared when employees were penalized because they didn’t use them correctly. Penalties became the focal point of communications outreach and overshadowed the value of plans and programs. One program, which all employees with medical coverage were required to use, was particularly baffling. Employees didn't understand why it was offered, but they did understand that they'd be penalized if they didn't use it. These are just a few of the comments they offered during the focus groups:

“It is [an] application that provides health benefits information. You get penalized for not having it. So I have it.”

“If there are benefits to this site it should be made VERY clear. Thought it was a site that if you didn’t sign up [for,] there was just another fee.”

Act 3: Setting the Stage for Happily Ever After

After identifying the barriers to benefits engagement, Segal Benz tapped findings from their benefits audit, focus groups, and user experience demonstrations to identify the top three ways the company could improve its employee benefits experience.

  • Develop and consistently share their benefits story and value proposition.
  • Simplify and provide more direction throughout the year.
  • Reduce or eliminate structural barriers to benefits information.

To implement changes that would stick, they needed to develop the foundational elements of successful benefits engagement: a well-defined strategy, a consistent brand or visual identity, and a website or single, easily accessible place for employees to find information about their benefits.

Building on that foundation, Segal Benz encouraged the company to take a marketing approach to their benefits communications—to prioritize feedback, keep messages simple, brand messages consistently, communicate year-round, target communications when appropriate, and prioritize the employee experience.

The company (and Segal Benz) learned a lot from employee feedback during the focus groups, and that feedback drove many recommendations for achieving better benefits engagement:

  • Strategically use fewer communications channels, and provide employees more direction.
  • Use consistent language and terms throughout all communications.
  • Implement single sign-on (SSO) with key vendors, and drive improvements to the user experience on those sites.
  • Develop and consistently share their benefits story.
  • Deliver year-round communications.
  • Redesign the benefits hub into a public-facing website, and use it as a front door to all benefits.
  • Coordinate and reduce messaging from vendors.
  • Invest in a new-hire experience to engage and educate employees from day one.

Epilogue: Unlocking the Door to the Benefits Kingdom

Segal Benz’s engagement with the company and their benefits team continues. In the year since the last focus group was conducted, Segal Benz has built a beautiful, yet simple and easy-to-navigate, benefits website that the company and its people are thrilled with. Benefits information is centralized, consolidated, and easy to understand.

The website links out via SSO to more easily navigable vendor sites that were improved as a result of feedback during the user experience demonstrations. And the communications plan Segal Benz developed continues to drive relevant, timely communications that push employees to the site to take action when it’s needed, thereby unlocking the door to the benefits kingdom.

We’re proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.


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Stacey Simon

Stacey Simon, Senior Writer, is the creative force behind many of our most successful campaigns for our corporate, public sector, and multiemployer organizations.