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iphone-millennial-communications1As the baby boomers continue to move toward retirement, millennials are fast becoming the new majority in the workforce. As an employer, do you know how to speak their language? Millennials were born in the 1980s and 1990s, making them around 20 to 35 years old today – they are the first generation that doesn’t remember a world without computers.

While they are known for choosing job satisfaction over salary, that doesn’t mean benefits aren’t important to them. According to a recent survey, more than half said that benefits are an important factor in choosing a job and staying with a company.

When it comes to benefits information, the challenge for our clients has become how to provide the same tech-centric and customer-friendly user experience that millennials have come to expect as everyday consumers. Consider the company intranet – a rather simple manner of communicating with all employees – and how to bring it to the next level to reach millennials: send out an email or text message to mobile devices alerting employees when new information is added or updated. Effective communication like this involves creativity and revitalizing older strategies:

Make information available anytime, anywhere

Smartphones are the center of their universe. Don’t expect them to read a 40-page guide or visit 10 different vendors’ websites. Put everything they need to know on one mobile-friendly website with single sign on.

Speak to each individual, not the group

As consumers, millennials expect customized communication from the companies they do business with. Leverage employee data to deliver relevant, personalized messages.

Offer benefits they value

Health is a priority, so gym membership discounts are popular. Money is also a big concern since many of them have large student loans. To support them in managing their money, offer workshops on debt, budgeting, insurance and saving.

Don’t just talk…listen

Millennials want to be heard, so provide opportunities for two-way conversations such as surveys, feedback forums and private Facebook pages.

Encourage interaction

Incorporate social media, especially in wellness programs. Encourage friendly competition through contests that allow them to interact, motivate one another and share success stories.

Custom CommunicationsAs an employer, you understand the importance of providing a comprehensive benefits package to your employees. But if your HR communications aren’t driving home the value of these benefits in a way your employees understand, you’re missing the mark.

Right now, job satisfaction is at near record lows, with a recent Gallup Poll finding that 70 percent of Americans are dissatisfied at work. Moreover, a recent industry survey found that the perception of financial security is dropping, with 11 percent fewer people viewing themselves as financially secure as did two years ago.

Now consider this: the overall job satisfaction and feelings of financial security felt by your employees is directly related to their benefits education. In fact, that same industry survey found that for employees who considered their benefits education to be very good or excellent, 82 percent were highly satisfied at work. For those who were unsatisfied with their benefits education, that figure dropped to 26 percent.

The takeaway here, is that by overcoming common HR communications challenges and improving the way you present benefits information to your employees, you can help improve satisfaction, loyalty and productivity in the workplace.

Overcoming Common Challenges

One of the key mistakes employers make in providing benefits education to their employees is assuming that employees are receiving and understanding the value of their voluntary benefits plans. When polled, 40 percent of employees who were offered disability insurance reported that they felt uncomfortable making an informed decision about their enrollment options because they didn’t receive adequate educational materials describing the coverage. Yet, these benefits are very important to employees, with 82 percent of survey respondents putting a higher premium on voluntary benefits since the recession.

To get the biggest ROI for your employee benefits, consider the following tips:

1. Appeal to your employees’ individual learning styles by providing educational materials in a variety of formats. Employees appreciate having access to materials in various formats and many will use a combination of the resources you provide. Between printed brochures, informational videos, worksheets and interactive tools, you’ll make it easy for employees to choose the resources that help them best understand the value of their benefits options.

2. Create personalized communications materials that speak directly to your employees – no matter what stage of life they’re in. Targeted messages will resonate much more deeply with your employees, particularly among those in the 18-34 age range, who may have a difficult time understanding the value of enrolling in a benefits plan.

3. Don’t wait until open enrollment to educate employees about their benefits options. Make benefits education a year-round discussion by providing educational resources to your employees at least twice a year. This will help emphasize the value and importance of these plans, while giving employees plenty of time to consider the options that work best for their needs.

4. Give them time to review and understand the materials you provide. The industry survey found that employees who had at least three weeks to review and digest their benefits materials were much more satisfied with their benefits education as a whole. By providing employees with a minimum of three weeks to review benefits information, you give them time to ask questions, discuss enrollment options with family, conduct independent research or attend an informational meeting.

5. Provide a clear explanation of benefit so employees understand the value of the plan, the benefits they’ll receive and when to sign up.

As health care reform takes effect, it’s becoming even more important for employers to improve their benefits communications strategy. Employees will have questions about aspects of the Affordable Care Act and how it affects them and their benefits plans. Make sure you have the information they need by planning now.

You probably know a lot about your employees. The size of your workforce, their demographics, education level, experience and skills, even some of their favorite gripes or things they love about working at your company.

But how well do you know their preferences for benefits and communications? What are their biggest concerns about their financial future? What are the differences in priorities and opinions between generations? Are you able to see benefits through your employees’ eyes?

According to MetLife’s recent  10th Annual Study of Benefits Trends, the answer for many employers is “no.” The study goes on to say that “…employers significantly undervalue the power of non-medical benefits such as life, dental, disability and vision coverages to help satisfy and retain workers.”

Employee sensing and communications are two ways employers can get a more accurate and in-depth understanding of “who they are talking to” about benefits.

Go to the Source

Don’t guess. Go directly to your employees to better understand their benefit priorities and opinions, their level of understanding and how they want to learn about benefits. You can do this through focus groups, surveys (all or a sampling of employees), questionnaire at an employee meeting, employee benefit or communication committee—or tap into existing forums. Establish a baseline of understanding, and then check for changes on a regular basis.

Talk their Language

It may seem simple to do, but not in the wild world of benefits. Keep it simple, avoid jargon, make it actionable, use visuals and graphics, offer it 24-7, make it personal, brand it and make it engaging. And, by the way, have everyone and their brother review the communications, get legal sign-off and ensure it’s compliant. Not easy to do. But knowing your workforce and their communication preferences can help a lot. Pull together a coherent, thoughtful communication strategy and stick to it.

It’s Worth It

At least according to more than half the employers surveyed by MetLife in the Benefits Trends Study. According to the study, 60% of surveyed employers recognize the precarious economic climate…actually creates opportunity for benefits to drive human capital objectives.” And the better employees understand and appreciate their benefits, the more satisfied they will be with their job and the company.