At a recent industry conference, I overheard a group of HR professionals lamenting that, even with a new benefits administrator, employees still had no idea how their benefits worked or what plans they should enroll in. “You’re probably not spending enough money with the administrator,” one said. “To truly reach your employees, you need to shell out significant dollars.” Surprisingly, the rest of the group nodded in agreement.
Oh, how I wanted to interrupt! First, while a benefits administrator is crucial for supporting benefits, relying on them to communicate isn’t usually sufficient. Moreover, when it comes to employee communication, more money doesn’t always equate to deeper engagement. When you know how to invest your resources, you can get big results with a limited communications budget. Although I managed to restrain myself, the exchange did spark my curiosity. What other misconceptions about benefits communications inhibit employers from successfully engaging their employees? Here’s what I’ve found (so far).
Myth: I already have a benefits administrator; I don’t need a separate benefits communicator.
Truth: Benefits administration and benefits communication are unique disciplines with different but related functions. Your benefits administrator does an excellent job with plan design and management, customer service, technical support, and data monitoring. Their goals are effectiveness and efficiency—basically, the what and how of a program or initiative.
Benefits communication, by contrast, focuses not only on the what and how, but also the why and who. Benefits communicators create messages that fully reflect your organization’s style, brand, tone, and voice—all the things your people connect with; and we tailor and target these messages so they reach and resonate with the appropriate audiences. If your goal is to engage people so that they understand and appreciate not only the value of their benefits, but also see the value the company places on them, chances are you’ll need to do more than what your administrator provides.
Myth: Our employees already feel overloaded by too many communications.
Truth: While it’s true that employees receive a great deal of information from multiple sources across multiple channels—both at and away from work—the issue isn’t quantity but quality. Employees feel overloaded by communications that say nothing. Focused ideas, visuals designed for maximum impact, targeted channels, and clear, direct language go a long way toward ensuring that your messages rise above the cacophony of voices competing for attention. Moreover, people respond to content that’s interesting—to them. So, make sure you know your audience’s demographics well enough to communicate in a way that addresses their specific needs at the appropriate times. If your messages are helpful and relevant, they will be appreciated and will stand out in the noise.
Myth: Communications are not important to my organization.
Truth: No one can afford to not communicate. Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion–$550 billion in lost productivity every year. The most successful employee communications ensure that people understand what actions they need to take to improve their health, advance their careers, and enhance their lives, and how these actions support the organization’s overall goals. When your people can see how their work contributes to the organization, they’re more inclined to stay motivated and engaged.
Myth: Smartphones are a distraction in the office.
Truth: Ninety-five percent of Americans own a smartphone. Moreover, there are five generations in the current workplace, two of which were raised with technology. Smartphones are here to stay—at home and in the office. To reach your people, it’s critical that you embrace modern, mobile-forward content formats like video, mobile apps, podcasts, and bite-sized content. Your employees’ mobile phones can help you reach them and help them engage when you give them easy access and use mobile channels the right way.
Myth: Employees don’t read.
Truth: They read what is interesting, useful, and accessible to them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe a lot of benefits communication. Benefits plans are complex, and many people don’t understand and are intimidated by health care and financial information. It’s no wonder they tune out when they see large blocks of text filled with acronyms and jargon. However, you can create simple communications that can have a big impact on engagement. Simplicity is so important that it’s one of our “10 Keys.” (See them all in our ebook, Unlocking Successful Benefits Communication: A 10-Key Framework Every Organization Needs to Get Results).
Myth: To communicate effectively with employees, you should reach out as frequently as possible through every possible channel.
Truth: More doesn’t necessarily mean better. At the heart of effective communications is a well-considered strategy. This means setting clear business goals, understanding your audience, knowing what you’re asking your audience to do, choosing the right way to deliver your message, measuring your progress, and building an iterative process. Learn more in our strategy guide, Driving Benefits Engagement: A Roadmap for Creating a Successful Communications Strategy.
Myth: Communications ROI can’t be measured.
Truth: Any form of communication can be measured to improve overall effectiveness and demonstrate ROI. We look at how people engage with the communications, what actions they take as a result, and the business outcomes that result from those actions. Developing measurable metrics is a critical component of successful communications projects; by linking business objectives and communications results, you can demonstrate impact.
I hope digging into these myths helps you see the potential when you take a strategic view of benefits communication.
We’re proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.
Jillian Medoff, Senior Consultant, has more than 25 years of experience developing communications initiatives for organizations of all sizes.