HR's conversations with employees about their benefits often occur once a year at open enrollment. A well-designed benefits website, however, can increase employee engagement with their benefits throughout the year, making it more likely that workers will value and effectively use these offerings.
An Ongoing Conversation
"A benefits website is a one-stop shop for employees and families to learn about their benefits and take action," said Jennifer Benz, founder and CEO of Benz Communications, an HR and benefits communication strategy firm based in San Francisco. An accessible and easy-to-use website "is a quick way for employees to find the information they need—minimizing frustration, enhancing their experience and inspiring trust," she noted.
The heart of a good benefits website is an administration platform that can help employees manage their benefits choices throughout the year, said Paige Swanepoel, director of marketing and communications at Vericred, an insurance data services company in New York City.
Tools and Apps
Many types of decision-support tools and apps can be incorporated into the benefits platform for use on a year-round basis, Swanepoel explained. For instance, a "find a doctor" search feature helps employees locate in-network providers. "This helps employees avoid out-of-network surprises and keep their costs down," she said.
"Amino, for example, provides cost and quality metrics and matches individuals with the in-network doctors best suited to that patient's needs and preferences," she noted. Some platforms even offer a doctor appointment-booking feature, "making it simple for employees to schedule and book appointments."
Cutting-edge organizations "also might consider adding tools such as Emma, a recently announced voice-activated assistant from Alegeus, which offers health care and benefit payments solutions," Swanepoel said. "Emma is a first cousin to Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa: consumers ask a question about their health care accounts, and Emma finds the answer."
When it comes to benefits technology, "there are clearly exciting new developments to keep the conversation active," Swanepoel said.
Other tools provide personalized dashboards that track how much of the deducible employees have met and how much they've spent through a health savings account or health reimbursement arrangement to help employees stay on top of their finances, Swanepoel noted. Alerts can be delivered directly to employees' smart phones through app notifications that show:
- Changes in the health care provider network.
- How much paid time off an employee had used and how many days are left.
- How much an employee has contributed to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, how much the employer is contributing, and how this amount compares to the allowable annual limit.
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Bringing a Benefits Website to Life
Ideally, a benefits website "has a URL that is easy to remember, is optimized for mobile devices and is accessible outside the firewall," so employees or their spouses, partners and dependents can have access around the clock, Benz said.
An ebook published last month by Benz Communications discusses the foundation for a successful benefits website that provides ongoing communications. It advises employers to:
- Promote your website consistently as the go-to resource. "Don't think that just because you build it, your employees will come," Benz said. "Launching your site with a kickoff campaign will get you some initial traffic, but you'll need a solid communication strategy in place to continue the momentum" that brings employees to the website.
- Keep content and design fresh. Information on your site needs to be updated often, with new features and refreshed images. "If any information on the site is out of date, employees will assume all the information on the site is out of date," Benz advised.
- Review—and act on—your site analytics regularly. A benefits website "is never done," Benz observed. Learn how employees are using the website, then use this information to improve the site.
"Make your benefits website the hub of your year-round communication strategy, and reference it in all your print materials, e-mail campaigns, social media posts, and other communications as the destination for more in-depth information," Benz advised.
Related SHRM Article:
Open Enrollment: Using Social Media and Decision-Support Tools, SHRM Online Benefits, September 2017
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