As 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.
Start Planning Your Communications Now.
This is going to be a year of change and challenges—in other words, 2013 will be just like every other year, only more so!
Now is the time to take a bird’s eye view of your HR communication challenges and goals for the year, then to make a plan that will address to.
Start with a review of your HR communication efforts and outcomes in 2012. Learn what you can from what worked well and not so well, then move on to 2013 planning.
Create a timeline of key communication events and activities. Focus first on the core communications that you can anticipate from year-to-year. Then add in communications around upcoming changes or one-off projects. With this high-level overview, you can plan for resource needs, identify “hot spots” when several topics need to be communicated at the same time and begin to determine key messages that need to be aligned across the communications.
After that, you can start your detailed planning.
We can help! Partner with Custom Communications to craft a comprehensive, winning communication strategy. We can help you avoid pitfalls, anticipate timing and costs, and create a content platform to incorporate the right messages in all of your upcoming communications.
As we all know, health care reform is introducing many changes. And, we are all acutely aware that many of these changes are complex and numerous questions unanswered. If we are feeling a high level of uncertainty, how must employees be feeling?
This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you and your employees are all in this together and that you are going to support and guide them through these changes. As employees continue to be concerned about the economy, their jobs and their futures, proactively communicating about issues of importance to employees can help you alleviate their fears, build connection and ultimate better engage your workforce.
One immediate issue is changes in Medicare payroll taxes, which took effect January 1, 2013. Here are some key points to convey in your communications:
Payroll Tax Increase on Earned Income
Earned income includes wages and tips.
New Tax on Net Investment Income
Take advantage of this communication opportunity to build a positive connection with your employees.
Benefits outsourcing has reached a “tipping point” for midsized organizations. Several trends are converging to make outsourcing more attractive to and viable for this market sector, as described in the Benefits Quarterly article, A Midsized Proposition—Benefits Outsourcing Is Not Just for Large Organizations.
The price tag for benefits outsourcing has been a barrier for mid-sized organizations. These employers have had difficulty offsetting outsourcing fees with a corresponding decrease in internal costs. The outsourcing industry, however, has matured and the price point has stabilized, and in some cases actually dropped, over the past few years. This trend is fueled by increased competition within the outsourcing arena, improved efficiencies, decreased systems development costs, and utilization of labor in lower-cost geographies.
The risks involved with in-house benefits administration have multiplied as compliance requirements have increased and benefits gotten more complex. Companies find themselves exposed when they rely on one or two HR staff members to handle their benefits administration. Should these individuals leave, they take with them historical and technical knowledge that is costly to replace. There is also risk from errors when processes are not handled with extreme care and accuracy or when data becomes corrupt, disorganized or incomplete. There are also technology risks. When a company purchases or builds its own administration system, it can become obsolete, be discontinued or compromised by other IT business priorities. Outsourcing can mitigate these risks.
Employees have high expectations of their employers. They want great service, real-time information and transactions, and easy access to personalized benefits information. Meeting these expectations, to the extent possible, is particularly important at a time when employee loyalty is at an all-time low and organizations need to retain skilled, productive staff. Outsourcing offers features to meet these expectations, such as online transactions and access to information, benefits modeling, decision tools, access to a wide range of resources and full-service call centers and customer support.
HR Business Focus…
To be a strong and effective business partner, HR needs to focus on strategic issues that impact the organization. Outsourcing frees up internal staff to keep abreast of administration best practices, rather than implementing and maintaining them.
With these points in mind, mid-sized organizations may want to re-evaluate the cost-benefit analysis of outsourcing vs. in-house benefits administration. You may find that the balance has tipped in favor of the outsourcing model.
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.