In times of economic uncertainty and hardship, many companies reduce employment benefits in lieu of other sacrifices. But regardless of industry, job field or career stage, when employees hear that a benefit on which they've come to rely is being taken away or reduced, their reaction is the same: disappointment, discouragement, even despair.
Yet many HR professionals are overlooking an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to their workforce and even boost morale by finding ways to communicate their organization’s benefits (or remaining core benefits) more effectively in a clear and value-added manner. The key is using the right ideas, in the right way and at the right time.
Listed below are relatively easy and cost-effective ideas to enhance communication surrounding employee benefits:
Offer information sessions. “Sell” the positive aspects of what your company offers. It does not cost a lot of time or money to hold informal brown-bag lunch information sessions and invite employees to attend. Hot topics right now include “Employee Assistance Programs—What Is This Again?” and “401(k)s—How to Change My Payroll Deferrals or Investment Options.”
Use marketing tools. Are you providing a professional-looking list containing key points of your comprehensive benefits package? Take a moment to review what information you have posted on your web site and intranet pages, along with the materials you are providing to job candidates.
Are all of your materials accurate, up-to-date, easy to read and promotional in nature? Work with a member of your marketing department to create a more professional look to these items. If you are at a small or mid-size company with a tight budget and no marketing guru to turn to, do not give up on the potential to make an impact. You do not need to invest in expensive brochures to get this effect. Instead:
• Try using a template from your word processing software and create a one-page flier or foldable brochure.
• Ask your management or co-workers to give you an honest critique.
• Use pictures of employees to personalize these materials for internal and external use (be sure to obtain any necessary photo releases).
Remind employees of employer contributions. It’s easy for employees to forget how much the employer covers for benefits, especially those funded fully by the company. During open enrollment, try providing a summary table containing their portion per month and a column depicting the employer contributions. If your company has an intranet, be sure to load this information for viewer accessibility year-round.
Be honest and upfront. If you know that your organization is facing a change in benefits that will likely disappoint employees (such as discontinued employer-paid life insurance, an increase in medical premiums and the like), it's important to plan the way you will communicate this information. Letting employees know only through a last-minute memo or trying to skirt the issue quickly during the next open enrollment period will only cause further frustration and might demonstrate a lack of integrity. Instead:
• Control the messages by preparing the communication materials well in advance, and be honest, accurate and concise in tone and delivery.
• Use multiple communication channels, such as open forums and one-on-one meetings with managers, in addition to memos and/or e-mails to relay the messages you want conveyed to prepare employees for the changes.
Elicit feedback. Use a quick survey to get feedback from your workforce on what they value about their benefits. Post results, statistics or quotations from staff responses on your intranet or share these during benefits orientation with your new hires. This type of internal, informal communication is invaluable since employees often relate to the opinions of their peers much more quickly than messages coming down the pipeline from management.
A Positive Scenario
News and commentary about the declining economy, job losses and other discouraging statistics are hurting employee morale. The right techniques can help put some control back in your hands and give you a path to reduce the pessimistic messages in your organization. You might even see more far-reaching results, including a boost in morale.
How could such simple steps affect your company in this way? Take a moment to think about the illustration below and visualize the scenario that follows:
1. Increase communication about benefits by holding information sessions. In the process, you increase your reputation with employees as a knowledgeable resource.
2. These meetings open up a dialogue with employees, and they seek and share more information with each other.
3. This starts to establish a culture where employees focus on the positive, not just in their benefits coverage, but also with regard to other issues in the workplace.
4. The result is greater employee engagement and loyalty—a culture of retention.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines morale as “the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand.” SHRM Online has reported that “Half of large employers believe that worker morale is linked strongly to the quality of employee benefits” (see In Hard Times, Employees Place More Value on Benefits). How do employees assess the quality of their benefits? Through effective communication that also serves to boost morale.
Juliet Rohrer, PHR, is a senior HR specialist for a renewable energy company in Washington. She is a member of SHRM and of her local Columbia Basin SHRM chapter, and her areas of interest include benefits, employee relations, compliance, and building HR’s role as a strategic partner within organizational structure and communications.
Communicating Your Benefits Value Calculus, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2009
In Hard Times, Employees Place More Value on Benefits, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2009
Most Workers Underestimate Employer’s Health Costs, but Value 401(k) Matches, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2009
Quick Link:SHRM Online Benefits Discipline