Communication: Spreading the Word About Benefits

By Jennifer Benz Dec 22, 2015
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It’s increasingly difficult for many organizations to retain their best and brightest employees as the economy strengthens and millions of new jobs are being created. In fact, according to a recent Towers Watson survey, more than half of employers reported difficulty holding on to skilled workers. With low wage growth expected again in 2016—WorldatWork expects an average salary increase of 3.1 percent—smart employers are emphasizing the value of benefits as a means of getting their talent to stay put. By learning how to share information about benefits clearly and effectively, you can cultivate your competency as a strong communicator.

That’s not always easy. The past five years have brought perhaps our biggest challenge, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is possibly the most complex benefits legislation ever passed. As if that wasn’t enough, retirement plans are also evolving to build in automation and encourage lifetime participation.

Meanwhile, HR leaders are managing the most diverse workforce in U.S. history while considering new ideas about the nature of work. It’s understandable that benefits communication has not been at the top of HR’s priority list.

Yet now more than ever, your employees need that help. As an issue brief from the Employee Benefit Research Institute states, “There is strong evidence workers simply lack the ability to navigate the complex and technical nature of health care.” The data backs that up: Aflac finds that 54 percent of employees don’t want more control over their health insurance options because those decisions are too daunting.

At the same time, U.S. employees are in financial distress. The majority are living paycheck to paycheck, and the average retirement account balance won’t even cover a year’s expenses.

Something must change. In 2016, it’s time to develop creative and even aspirational strategies for informing our workforces about their benefits.

Many savvy employers—particularly those in industries competing for top talent—are already making strides in creating plain-language, personalized, visually engaging messages. The result? Happy, informed workers; higher productivity; and a stronger bottom line.

I see a not-too-distant future where companies of all sizes make substantial investments in year-round multichannel benefits education that can help all of their workers build lifelong health and financial security. Although this work won’t be easy, it can transform organizations and the people who drive them.

The great news is that we can all learn from the employers that are communicating effectively. The formula is remarkably simple: Build engaging channels that support frequent communication. For most, that means creating a dynamic, branded, user-friendly, mobile-optimized website outside the corporate firewall. My work in guiding organizations toward better benefits communication has shown time and again that this is the single most important investment organizations can make. It provides easy access to benefits information for employees and family members, 24/7, in the palms of their hands.

Once you have that in place, use all of the other channels available to you—e-mail, posters, print materials, webinars and meetings—to push people to that site and remind them about the valuable programs and resources available to them.

With HR leading the charge, we can realize a future that includes employee-focused communication that rivals consumer marketing.

Jennifer Benz is founder and CEO at Benz Communications in San Francisco.

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