Build Benefits Engagement Online

Four key reasons companies should provide an online home for employee benefits through a branded web site, along with the three excuses companies use to avoid doing so—and why these excuses are no longer relevant.

By Jennifer Benz of Benz Communications May 8, 2009
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Employers need to deliver benefits information to the decision-maker, which isn't always the employee, and to make sure that the information is easy to use and engaging. An employer-developed and employer-controlled web site provides a good opportunity for accomplishing these ends. In addition, social media—blogs, user forums, Facebook groups and Twitter, in particular—have tremendous potential to engage employees and families in their benefits selection process. But moving into social media relies on having a strong presence on the Internet or via a workplace intranet. A branded and accessible benefits web site is a good foundation for using social media to increase employees’ perception of the value of their benefits.

Below are four key reasons companies should provide an online home for employee benefits through a branded web site, along with the three excuses companies use to avoid doing so—and why these excuses are no longer relevant.

Why companies should have their employee benefits information online:

Access.The most important reason to have employee benefits information online is access. This includes access for employees, their spouses, domestic partners, parents and even, sometimes, children—any relation who helps make health care and retirement decisions. Companies keeping information hidden from these audiences on an intranet are missing an opportunity to engage those using their programs and driving their costs.

Branding.Even a fantastic third-party benefits enrollment platform is limited, in terms of branding, and unlikely to provide information in a way that engages employees and their relations in company-relevant issues. Benefits information—and everything promised employees—must be communicated in a manner that is a direct reflection of the company brand. Typically, this is best accomplished with complete control over the user experience via the workplace web site.

Recruitment and new hires.Having a benefits package available online for recruits to review and new hires to become familiar with helps attract key talent and eases employee orientation. Unlike with the often-negative experience garnered from reviewing written material, a web site enables a prospective employee to get “inside” and see firsthand the commitment the company makes to its employees. Employers rarely fail to be surprised at the value this provides.

Social media.Social media—from blogs to Facebook to Twitter—have tremendous potential to engage employees and families in health care and retirement decision-making. These new tools should be linked to an overall communications strategy and a comprehensive online resource to be effective. A branded company web site is the best foundation from which to launch a social media campaign.

Companies’ primary reasons for not having their benefits information online and why these reasons are no longer relevant:

It’s confidential. In fact, it isn't. Once written materials have been distributed to employees, a company's benefits information is in the public realm. This information is not proprietary, nor does it need to be confidential. If there's sensitivity regarding pricing, additional protection should be built in. Personal employee data is not included. Companies can't let the perceived need for perceived confidentiality prevent them from providing a resource that encourages employees and their families to have information and use it. Nor should these sites be password protected. In the time it takes to reset or find a password, an employee could well be lost to any number of distractions. Better to make access as simple and painless as possible.

It’s all provided in a printed book.Unless a company has some portion of its employee population that absolutely does not use or have access to the Internet, it's time to consider ditching that big printed book and replacing it with a benefits web site and streamlined printed materials that drive employees to the site. A robust, user-friendly web site engages and drives enrollment. It eliminates the need to justify an annual print budget, and companies gain kudos for being more environmentally conscious.

It’s too expensive.With all the efficient web development technologies available, it's no longer prohibitively expensive to build a company-customized benefits web site, no matter the company size. It's likely that a year or two of print budgets—for those companies still printing a large benefits booklet annually—would cover the cost of a fully developed web site. The results prove it: A benefits web site is one of the most valuable investments a company can make to its communications infrastructure.

Jennifer Benz is founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, a benefits communications strategy boutique.​

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