Skip to content
Rita Harris April 18, 2017 4 min read

What keeps employees from using their benefits

If you’re having a hard time getting employees to take notice of their benefits and engage with the programs you provide, you’re not alone. It’s a story we hear a lot from our new clients. In fact, it’s often the No.1 problem we’re asked to solve.

Although there may be a number of cultural and program roadblocks, what often gets in the way of engagement is one of these 7 culprits.

1. You didn’t make a plan to help employees take action.

Skipping this critical step may be why employees are tuning out your benefits communication. Documenting your benefits communication strategy is as easy as recording your top 3 to 5 benefits business goals and then defining what communication efforts support them so that you can focus your communication efforts (and budget) on what matters most.

An example could be, “We need to reduce prescription drug costs by 15%.” To achieve that goal, you’ll need employees to modify how they use the prescription drug plan. Your communication strategy defines how you’ll tell employees what they need to do differently. Add success measures to your strategy so that you can see if what you’re doing is making an impact, and then regularly evaluate your progress. Our new strategy guide can help you get started.

2. Employees don’t recognize your benefits materials.

A strong benefits brand gives your communications recognition, reliability, and credibility—and helps cut through all the other messages competing for employees’ limited attention. Work with your internal communications department, marketing team, or an outside agency to develop guidelines for your team to follow. Then, align all your messages to this brand—even those from internal communications and vendors—to create more consistency in look, feel, tone, and messaging.

3. Benefits information is impossible to find.

Giving your employees and their family members a painless way to connect with benefits information and administration platforms—wherever they are and whenever they want to—is a must for high benefits engagement. A branded benefits website enhances your year-round communication efforts, and also lets other decision makers—such as spouses—access information. Eliminate the barriers to this information by removing passwords to get to non-personalized information. Be sure to promote the website by including the URL in all benefits communications. And absolutely build it to work on desktop and mobile.

4. You never ask what employees think.

Talking to your employees is critical to understanding their needs, what’s working, and what can be improved. Low-cost ways to gather feedback include online surveys, quick 1:1 chats or informal meetings, and embedded mechanisms for feedback within existing communication channels. Use these opportunities to learn about their frustrations or satisfaction with benefits. Our takeaways from employee focus groups we conducted for our client Adobe were key to the success of its new health plan rollout. Similarly, online survey responses helped us develop an award-winning employee benefits website for client Toys“R”Us. An easy way to gather feedback more frequently is to conduct mini focus groups to “pulse check” your strategy. Just talking to 15 to 20 employees for a few minutes each can yield great insights.

5. Your communications read like a legal brief.

At times, even those of us who make our living in benefits have a hard time understanding some of its lexicon. So imagine how your employees feel when they’re confronted with unintelligible phrases like “embedded deductible,” or left to ponder the differences between an SBC and an SPD. Even if your audience is largely made up of rocket scientists, simplifying messaging to a sixth-grade reading level helps employees and family members quickly digest information so they can easily take action. Try relocating legalese to footnotes and replacing complex explanations with visuals. And check out our health literacy white paper to pick up other tips for communicating in ways employees will understand.

6. You’re not giving employees options for connecting.

There’s a reason news outlets give you a variety of ways to engage with their content—print, online, live, online streaming, podcasts, etc. That’s because different people have different comfort levels and preferences when it comes to how they want to receive information. If you’re relying heavily on one channel—email, for example—try mixing it up with a mix of push (e.g., email, print) and pull (e.g., benefits website) channels.

7. You’re not highlighting what matters most to each individual.

Your employees are a mix of ages and have varying interests and expectations. The benefits older workers value may not be of interest to younger employees—and vice versa. Targeted messages will help you get better engagement because they provide information that’s immediately relevant to each employee. Delivering content by life stage, demographics, and benefits usage cuts through the clutter to help employees feel more confident in their choices and take appropriate action. To take it up a notch, use advanced analytics to get even more specific with whom you’re reaching with which vehicle, and the channels they’re most receptive to. Listen to our master class, Data drives decisions: Segmenting and targeting benefits communication, for more on creating targeted and segmented communications.

Interested in taking engagement with your communication to the next level? Take our Communication Checkup, and learn whether you're doing all you can to grab your employees' attention.

Rita Harris

Rita Harris, VP Senior Consultant, is known for her ability to break down complex benefits programs into their essential parts, so employees can quickly assess “what’s in it for me.”