Creating Results: 3 Steps to Success with Your Benefits Communication
Benefits Communication Master Class Series #1
This session in our Master Class series details our three proven steps to achieving benefits communication results: Get online, keep talking and work smart. Complete with client case study examples and rich participant Q&A, this session provides:
- A firm foundation in the basic principles in benefits communication.
- Low-cost tips to give your communication a boost.
- A template for the ideal benefits communication calendar.
This webinar was previously recorded. View the full transcript below.
Creating Results: 3 Steps to Success with Your Benefits Communication
Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining Creating Results: Three Steps to Success with Your Benefits Communication.
I’m Jennifer Benz and I’m thrilled that you’ve joined us today. This is the first in our Master Class Webinar series. We’ve been quite overwhelmed with the response to this webinar series and I’m so delighted that there’s such interest in my favorite topics in benefits communication.
If you haven’t already, you can sign up for our other webinars on our website. All will be available to download and watch after the live event.
We’ll do Q&A at the end of the session today and you can type questions into the questions module at any time during the webinar. We’ll also continue the dialog via the weekly articles I publish on LinkedIn. We want these webinars to be as valuable for you as possible, so please share your questions and feedback.
Let’s dive in.
I’ll start with a bit of the big picture in benefits.
As you all know, benefits are a huge investment—20-30% of compensation spending goes to health care, retirement, insurance coverage, wellness programs, and the dozens of other things that fall under the headline of “Benefits.” And, we know that is an unwieldy expense—you can’t go through a single news cycle without seeing how much that cost is rising—particularly due to health care cost increases and new health care requirements.
Of course, benefits are also in the midst of unprecedented change, spurred by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), retirement regulations, a new type of workforce, and an evolving definition of work.
All of this—combined with the fact that you’re speaking to spouses and family members too—make benefits an essential part of the employee experience. While all of this is very true and very important, I don’t think it captures one of the most important issues.
This is why we are needed more than ever. There is strong evidence that workers simply lack the ability to successfully navigate the complex and technical nature of healthcare. The same is true for financial services. What we have to remember is: this is not because people don’t care. It is because the systems are flawed—stacked against them. And, the systems just keep getting more complex.
- High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and narrow networks—either on public exchanges, private exchanges or through employer-sponsored plans—are land mines of potential financially devastating mistakes.
- Predatory financial practices are all around us, especially for lower income folks. Even for high earnings, there are big risks embedded into our system.
This is why unbiased trusted sources of health and financial information are so important. Employers are one of the few trusted and reliable sources of that information. Employees need you more than ever before. They need you to help them navigate our systems and set themselves and their family up for success. And, because they look to you as a trusted source of health and financial information, you can use effective communication to build trust, even in times of unprecedented change.
It is actually remarkably simple. This is our proven approach to success with employee benefits communication.
- First, we’re going to talk about making your benefits information more accessible by getting it online and making it easy to use.
- Second, we’ll discuss how to communicate with your employees year-round—so you are reaching them when they are making the daily decisions that impact their health and financial security.
- And lastly, we’ll discuss how to get it all done by using existing resources to boost your communications and give your benefits goals an extra push.
Now, all of this focus on communication, that’s not to discount the importance of smart health and retirement plan design, which is critical, but communications is what makes the difference between benefits that are used, appreciated, and valued and ones that are ignored. And, every company has the resources to communicate their benefits effectively and get people engaged in their health and retirement. You may not have the resources to invest in much richer programs, but every company—no matter how big or small–can do these 3 things.
But, most companies skimp on communications. When we surveyed companies a couple years ago, the majority, regardless of company size, were spending less than $25,000 a year on communications. This just simply will not get the job done.
While you do need to make a significant investment in communications, for mid-size and large companies, you can make a huge impact by investing far less than 1% of the total cost of benefits.
- Effective communication pays for itself. It allows you to reach your strategy goals whether that is moving people to HDHPs or implementing wellness or other new programs. We’ll talk at the end of today’s session about how you can measure that impact.
- But, there’s also significant research that shows the connection between effective communication and satisfaction with benefits, satisfaction with their job, and loyalty to an employer. MetLife’s Annual Benefits Trends Study details this year over year.
The first step to getting people to pay attention to their benefits information is to make it accessible. The best way to make it accessible is to put it on the Internet—outside of your firewall, on the Internet. Simple as that. While this has been such a successful strategy for companies for nearly 15 years there’s still a lot of hesitation about this approach. Let’s look at why this makes sense.
- The latest stats from Pew show that 85% of Americans use the Internet. 76% have broadband at home.
- When we factor mobile access in, the gaps are even smaller.
- And, what’s most exciting for us, mobile Internet access has closed the gaps in traditionally under-served demographics. It is helping lower-income and minority Americans get online faster.
- So, if your all of workforce isn’t online yet, they will be soon and you can meet them there.
More importantly, employees are saying they want you there. 80% of Gen Y and Gen X’ers want their benefits on the Internet. And nearly 70% of younger boomers say the same.
This is no surprise. Our whole lives are online—benefits should be too. And, the nice thing is, educational benefits information is not proprietary and it is not confidential so putting it out there on the Internet doesn’t have the same concerns as other company info. Smart companies have all of their benefits info online with no password protection at all.
We know there’s a complex ecosystem of plans, programs, carriers, and administrators in benefits. You need one destination for employees and their family members to go to for all of their benefits information.
Instead of communicating multiple websites and resources, you always send people to companybenefits.com.
Creates a cohesive employee experience.
Let me show you a couple examples of what these sites look like:
- This is Adobe, this site was a key part of the launch of their HSA campaign. They got 62% enrollment in the first year. The full case study is on our website.
- This is a gorgeous site we created for Life Technologies.
- This is Salesforce. You can see that every site is heavily branded and looks just like that company.
All of them have social media embedded, which takes away any risk. And, they have rich content like videos and infographics that keeps people interested.
While these are some of the most visually stunning sites, don’t be turned off by the high-tech nature of these companies. This approach works for big retailers like ToysRUs, who won an award from Employee Benefit News for their bi-lingual site, and health care companies like Ardent who have used it to drive 90+% participation in their results-based wellness programs. We’ve built them for diverse manufacturing companies. Truly, I have never encountered a company where this wasn’t a valuable investment. All of the sites I just showed you are on the Internet, outside of the firewall.
That is different than being on your intranet, where you have to log in. Too many companies have their benefits hidden behind a firewall on an intranet that is completely unusable and definitely out of reach of the people who are making the decisions and driving up costs: spouses and families.
It is important than your site is a good experience on mobile devices….
Despite this being a successful strategy for companies for almost 15 years, there’s a lot of hesitation.
- Access for employees and family members.
- Branding (value of benefits).
- Recruitment and new hire experience.
- Risk-free social media.
- To enable year-round communication.
- You don’t need a password.
- You can’t hide your site from search engines.
- Build for mobile now.
Once you have your benefits information online, you need to start talking about it and making it relevant to your employees.
- In the past, employees heard from us about once a year—when it was time to enroll—and they received this massive data dump.
- There was a time when that was sufficient.
But now we’re asking people to take a more active role in their health and finances. We’re asking them to understand their plans and participate all year long. Unfortunately, reminding them once a year to do all the things we now want them to do isn’t a great way to get results.
- A better way to influence employees is to give them tips and reminders and updates throughout the year.
- This is the typical communications calendar.
- This is the way adults learn—with bite-size information available all of the time.
Of course, you need to get people to pay attention during open enrollment and when you want them to take part in a one-off event, like a health screening or enrolling the first time in their 401(k). But none of that matters unless we can help change people’s behavior on a day-to-day basis.
- Talking to employees year-round is key.
- Embed blogs, Twitter feeds, polls, sharing functionality into your benefits website—virtually risk free and a cheap way to communicate throughout the year.
- In fact, we’ll tell you exactly how to do it—this is our poster that talks through the key tools that are most relevant for benefits and HR—and it is free on our website. We have a low-cost toolkit that has all the nitty-gritty details too.
So, let me say just a few things about our two favorite tools. Blogs and Twitter. There are countless things you can say about benefits on a blog. In fact, your benefits team has dozens of blog posts on the top of their head—all of the questions they answer all day long are perfect for a blog. If they run out of material, give a shout to the call center and all your vendors.
- Twitter is the same—endless tips and resources you can push out via Twitter. We have a Twitter handle called BenefitsTip that has hundreds of benefits-related tweets—meant to be stolen and reused by everyone.
- These are also the two cheapest ways to keep your benefits website fresh. You don’t have to post every day—most of our clients have a modest once a week or once every-other-week schedule.
Make it easy to take action. For all channels:
- Focus on using benefits.
- Have a call to action.
- Make it relevant to age, family situation, life stage.
- Do the math—don’t make employees “figure it out.”
- Take it step by step.
Second: Keep talking. Engage with employees and their families year round. Why?
- Educate on complex topics.
- Drive behavior change.
- Find the mix of media that is right for your company.
- Use the tools that make ongoing communications simple and inexpensive.
And, third: Work smart. Use free/low-cost resources and promote valuable services.
- Now, of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t put a practical spin on all of this big-picture, change-the-world thinking.
- The last tip I’d like to share with you is how to work smart.
- We know that every benefits pro is stretched for time and don’t have enough resources to keep up.
- The good news is: There are tools, content, and resources out there that you can use for free to help you meet your goals.
- You can also lean on outside experts, like your brokers, consultants, and vendors.
At Benz we offer loads of free resources on our site and on our blog, and we are adding low-cost tools all the time. We even have a Twitter feed @BenefitsTip that has hundreds of tweets ready for you to use as your own. We post templates and tips about topics like health care reform.
One campaign we were thrilled to be part of ...
- The free resources available from other organizations are quite astounding. We have a long list on our site.
- Midwest Business Group on Health has amazing toolkits.
- Kaiser Family Foundation for instance has video about health care reform, narrated by Cokie Roberts. It explains the Healthcare Reform Bill in a simple, easy to understand way.
- It would cost you a lot of time and energy to produce something this informative and entertaining, but it only takes you a few minutes to plug it into your website.
Every company can do this ... And we can change the future in the process.
One, put your benefits information online.
- Make it accessible by putting it on the Internet.
- Translate it into easy-to-understand language.
- And make your site an enjoyable place to spend time.
Two, communicate with your employees all year long.
- Break your benefits information into chunks.
- Then spoon-feed those chunks to your employees using social media, like blogs and Twitter and simple low-cost print materials like postcards and posters and flyers.
- You’ll be surprised how easy it is to engage your workforce when you use these tools.
And lastly, work smart, make sure you can keep it up because this will not be a one-time effort.
- The investment in improving communications is incidental compared to your current investment in the benefits themselves. Even the most stretched HR budget can find the money and resources to do this.
- And we must. This is how we get to better understanding of benefits, better participation in key programs, better habits and ultimately, better health and financial security for all of our people.
And now for some questions:
Q. Do you find employers are willing to post premium contribution information online or just benefit plan design and education when that information is outside the firewall?
A. The answer to that question often depends on how complex the premium contribution information is. We encourage posting online when they can be done in a format that makes sense. So if you have a simple structure for that premium, absolutely post that somewhere online.
Unless there’s tremendous sensitivity to it like union negotiations or something like that going on. But in many cases, the premium contributions are very complex. They might be based on salary band, or you may have 5 or 6 different categories of employees at different premium contribution levels. It’s going to be more confusing for employees to have that information online than to send them to the administrator’s website where they can get the precise number that’s there, then I would say don’t post them. Push them to where they can get the exact number for themselves than have to kind of do that work.
Q. Regarding metrics for the communications, can you further specify what you look for with web traffic? In addition to page views, we have started looking more at bounce rate and average time on page via Google Analytics.
A. What is valuable are 3 things:
- Is overall traffic growing with campaigns? Aka if you push out a postcard are they going to web? Can you correlate the two?
- Highlight pages that are most viewed. Move pages so that they can find the page.
- Which pages employees come into the site on and which ones they leave help you see trends in what types of info they’re looking for or where they are getting frustrated/confused. As far as bounce time and how much time they spend: average time on page and average session are interesting. Helps you see what people are interested in.
Q. Focus groups: feasibility of focus group for feedback?
A. Highly encourage. Worried about logistics? Hard or negative feedback? You can get a lot of info from folks. We think huge advantaged with your benefits strategy. Gives opportunity for feedback from employee and always learn something new.
Q. Convincing senior leaders to put benefit information online outside firewall.
A. Benz has this conversation a lot with senior people and IT people. If you go back to the misconception slide you can use those points to drive home that you need information outside the firewall. Once you dig into WHO the target audience is, the concern over having things outside the firewall disappears. Don’t worry about being the first; many companies have done it before you. Also don’t worry about social media, many have done it before as well. Everyone has.
Q. What size employer does this start to make sense for—both from a number of employees and a financial standpoint?
A. Every employer who offers benefits can use this approach in some way. Small companies (under 1,000 employees) can have a simple 1-2 page document on the Intranet. Can also use simple ways to talk about benefits throughout the year, might be simple emails, tip sheets, etc.
Medium to large companies need to make a strategic and significant investment in benefit strategy. Benefit spend has gotten to the point where the communications are not effective—it is wasted resource. Benefit strategy at that point is complex enough that you have to get employees engaged.
Q. For sites—is there any art to balancing what users want/need vs. what benefits specialists and/or legal says you need on there? Should we use analytics to convince them, too?
A. You need a couple things: always focusing on the user is going to build a better website and communications campaign and going to get folks engaged and help employees better understand. But tremendous requirement for compliance need too. Important to keep in mind that compliance and benefit communications are two separate things. The less you can intermingle, the better.
Thank you for joining. Join us next time for: Likes, Tweets and Clicks: The do’s and don’ts of online benefits communication.