By Jennifer Benz, Benz Communications
Many employers are missing key opportunities to get the most value from their benefits programs and meet larger strategic goals. And most are failing to implement proven best practices.
These were the top findings from our recent survey of nearly 300 HR and benefits professionals from U.S. companies of all sizes. The good news is there’s time to “get it right” for the next annual enrollment season.
Employers are making a huge investment in benefits and wellness programs. And they share similar goals and challenges when it comes to benefits communication, our survey found. Respondents indicated that:
• Their top goal is executing a successful open enrollment (60 percent).
• Their biggest challenge is getting employees and families engaged year-round (78 percent), followed by increasing participation in programs and benefits (50 percent).
But few employers are meeting their goals—only 24 percent. Fewer still (22 percent) are documenting their communication strategy—a key step in connecting communications efforts with key benefits and business goals.
Beyond Open Enrollment
Getting employees and families engaged year-round led the top benefits communication challenges. Despite this goal, more than a quarter (27 percent) of employers said they only communicate with workers about benefits when there’s a big event, such as open enrollment or a change in benefits plans.
Companies that communicate year-round are more successful. Of the companies that communicate year-round, 84 percent reported they met all or nearly all their benefits goals.
Only 42 percent of respondents stated that they give employees access to their benefits information on a website outside the company firewall. More than half (53 percent) of respondents indicated that they do not communicate with spouses and families at all. Both are best practices that every company should do.
Three Best Practices
Open enrollment is the time to establish channels that will serve the company and employees throughout the year. Here are three winning tactics that can help employers better meet their benefits communication goals and boast a successful open enrollment:
1. Create a clear communication strategy. Write up a communication plan and make it strategic by linking actions to goals. This can be as simple as identifying the top three to five benefits goals each year, how they will be measured and what efforts will be focused on them. Communications efforts cannot reach their full potential without documented goals. This is critical to making the case for a dedicated—and meaningful—communications budget.
2. Create a benefits website. Every company should have a branded benefits website outside of their firewall so employees and spouses can access information at any time. It’s the best investment employers can make—for their communications efforts and their benefits program. A benefits website provides employees with a single go-to resource for all their benefits information, dramatically simplifying and improving communications. Making benefits information easily accessible to all employees and family members will reduce the need for lengthy—and costly—print materials.
3. Start using social media. Despite years of other companies successfully utilizing social media, most companies are still hesitating to use it. Use enrollment as an opportunity to start using these tools. A blog is an easy tool to start with and can be integrated into the benefits website, making it easy to deliver benefits information through short and inviting reminders and tips, while letting the employer maintain control over the message. Keeping up with the content is not as daunting as companies initially assume and a blog can lower the cost of communication overall—and save the benefits team a lot of time.
Jennifer Benz is founder and CEO of Benz Communications, an HR and benefits communication strategy firm.
Related SHRM Video:
Year-Round Benefits Communication. Jennifer Benz explains the advantages of sharing benefits information regularly with employees throughout the calendar year.
Related SHRM Webcast:
Best Practices in Benefits Communication. Jennifer Benz discusses best practices in benefits communication, including benefits websites and how to communicate year-round using social media.
Related SHRM Articles:
Tailor Benefit Communications to Different Learning Styles, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2012
Employee Advisory Committees Promote Benefits Buy-In, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012
Employee Loyalty Hits 7-Year Low; Benefits Promote Retention, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, March 2012
40% Don't Understand Their Benefit Options; Web-Based Tools Can Help, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, December 2011
Message to Employees: Get Proactive During Benefits Enrollment, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2011
Employees Make Avoidable Benefits Mistakes, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2011
SHRM Online Benefits Discipline
SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page
SHRM Online Retirement Plans Resource Page
SHRM Online Workplace Flexibility Resource Page