SHRM Research: Communicating and Leveraging Benefits

Consider setting aside funds for an employee benefits communication program

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Mar 17, 2015

An increasingly competitive market for skilled talent is prompting more organizations to focus on their benefits mix not just for recruitment but also as a retention tool. But the benefits package won’t be valued without effective communications, which includes the growing use of social media.

Three new reports on strategic benefits, released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on March 17, 2015, provide insight on informing employees about the value of their benefits package and using employee benefits to recruit and retain employees. The findings are based on a survey of 380 HR professionals from a randomly selected sample of SHRM members; the survey was fielded from April through May 2014.

Communicating the value of Benefits

Among the highlights in the Strategic Benefits—Communicating Benefits report is a sense HR professionals believe employees may lack a deep understanding of their benefits, based on survey findings in the following areas:

Employee awareness of employer-sponsored benefits available to them. Nine percent of HR professionals indicated their organization’s employees were “very knowledgeable” about the employer-sponsored benefits available to them; about three-quarters (73 percent) indicated their employees were “somewhat knowledgeable.”

Effectiveness of an organization’s employee benefits communications efforts. Just over one-fifth (22 percent) of respondents “strongly agree” that their organization’s employee benefits communications efforts are very effective in informing employees about their benefits; about three-fifths (58 percent) indicated they “somewhat agree.”

Changes to employee benefits communication budget. About one-third (32 percent) indicated their organization increased their benefits communication budget in fiscal year 2014 compared with fiscal year 2013; just 9 percent indicated their organization decreased this budget.

Changes to employee benefits communication materials. Over three-fifths (63 percent) said changes were made to their organization’s employee benefits communication materials in the last 12 months. In 2014, there was a notable increase in employers that dealt with group employee benefits communications by arranging a meeting with a representative of the organization, compared with 2013 (70 percent vs. 62 percent); the was also an increase in the use of online or paper newsletters compared with 2013 (41 percent vs. 34 percent).

Employee benefits communications methods. The top two benefits communications methods used by organizations were providing online or paper enrollment materials to employees (83 percent) and/or group employee benefits communications with an organizational representative (70 percent). About one-half indicated their organization offers one-on-one employee benefits counseling with an organizational representative and/or posts information on the company’s intranet (52 percent and 46 percent, respectively).

Use of social media as an employee benefits communications tool. Very few respondents (4 percent) indicated their organization used social media as an employee benefits communications tool. Among the great majority of respondents that were not using social media in their employee benefits communications efforts, 8 percent indicated they plan to start using social media for these purposes within the next 12 months.

Employee benefits communication methods used by organizations:

Enrollment materials (online or paper)

83%

Group employee benefits communications with an organizational representative

70%

One-on-one employee benefits counseling with an organizational representative

52%

Intranet

46%

Newsletters (online or paper)

41%

Direct mail to home/residence

38%

Benefit fairs

25%

Virtual education

15%

Social media

4%

Other

9%

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, Strategic Benefits—Communicating Benefits



Improving Benefits Communications

Recommendations in the report include the following:

Consider setting aside funds for an employee benefits communication program. Because a better understanding of employee benefits may also improve employee job satisfaction, creating a budget for communicating the value of available benefits could be a wise investment. “Ensuring employees are aware of their total rewards, including their salary and benefits, is an effective way of communicating benefits available to them and may increase their overall job satisfaction,” said Karen Wessels, a researcher in survey programs at SHRM.

Constantly revisit your benefits communications efforts. The benefits landscape is in constant flux due to changes in laws, costs and benefits strategies. As a result, organizations need to routinely review their benefits communications and strategies, something most organizations already appear to be doing.

Explore the use of social media. Social media is often a good way to reach employees, and organizations should consider adding as many avenues of communication as possible to increase their reach and boost employee awareness of the benefits available to them.

Leveraging Benefits to Recruit and Retain Employees

The reports Strategic Benefits—Leveraging Benefits to Recruit Employeesand Strategic Benefits—Leveraging Benefits to Retain Employees revealed that organizations focus on their benefits offerings as a way to retain employees approximately as much as they do as a way to recruit them.

According to the SHRM reports, the top three benefits leveraged to recruit employees at all levels of the organization were health care (85 percent), retirement savings and planning (72 percent), and professional and career development benefits (45 percent).

Similarly, health care and retirement savings and planning were the top two benefits leveraged to retain employees (74 percent and 62 percent, respectively); leave benefits were the third most frequently cited benefit leveraged to retain employees (51 percent).

When HR professionals were asked which benefits they thought would increase in importance in the next three to five years, health care and retirement savings and planning were both among the top three benefits cited most frequently as increasing in importance to both recruit (66 percent and 63 percent, respectively) and retain (58 percent and 67 percent, respectively) employees.

Benefits leveraged to recruit and retain employees (all levels):

Benefit

Used to Recruit

Used to Retain

Health care

85%

74%

Retirement savings and planning

72%

62%

Professional and career development benefits

45%

45%

Preventive health and wellness benefits

43%

42%

Leave benefits

42%

51%

Flexible working benefits

36%

42%

Family-friendly benefits

34%

25%

Housing and relocation benefits

21%

14%

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, Strategic Benefits—Leveraging Benefits to Recruit Employees and Strategic Benefits—Leveraging Benefits to Retain Employees

Increased importance of benefits in the next three to five years to recruit and retain employees (all levels):

Benefit

To Recruit Employees

To Retain Employees

Professional and career development benefits

67%

51%

Health care

66%

58%

Retirement savings and planning

63%

67%

Preventive health and wellness benefits

63%

57%

Flexible working benefits

62%

54%

Family-friendly benefits

47%

41%

Leave benefits

30%

35%

Housing and relocation benefits

16%

7%

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, Strategic Benefits—Leveraging Benefits to Recruit Employees and Strategic Benefits—Leveraging Benefits to Retain Employees



“Although organizations use benefits in their efforts to both recruit and retain employees, a competitive market for highly skilled talent may lead organizations to focus more on using their benefits packages as a retention tool, especially for their most valued employees,” said Evren Esen, SHRM's director of survey programs. “But organizations may be focusing more on compensation than on benefits when it comes to the highly skilled and high-performing employees they want to retain, the research indicated,” she noted.

As competition for talent heats up, many organizations may seek out more innovative ways of offering traditional benefits to remain competitive and perhaps even add new kinds of benefits altogether. “Although most employers focus on the more traditional benefits and are likely to continue to do so, the way these benefits are offered, such as creating greater customization or ease of use, may make some employers stand out more than others,” Esen noted.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMsmiller.

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