by Jennifer Benz, Benz Communications
Benefits are a major company expense accounting for 20 percent of all compensation spending. And, in stressful times, you may feel pressure to cut back on benefits communication, even as you cut back on the benefits themselves.
This is the wrong approach for your employees and for your company. Employees who value their benefits are more loyal and more productive—and more likely to stay with your company through good times and bad. Companies that prove they care for their employees during tough economic times are the ones that will come out on top when times are good.
The right benefits communication can be a strategic lever, helping your company do more with less. With strategic benefits communication, you can manage benefit changes while also increasing employee retention and engagement. In times like these, successful companies don’t stop investing in benefits communication. Rather, they make their investment more effective.
Reasons to Invest
An investment in benefits communication is one of the best ways to show employees how much the company values them—in good times and in bad. And, it can improve the return on your investment in benefits programs, making sure the programs you’re paying for are being used and being used well. During uncertain economic times the two most important reasons to invest in benefits communication are to improve retention of key talent and to inspire trust.
Boost Retention. Many employers underestimate just how important benefits are in creating and maintaining employee loyalty. According to Prudential, 85 percent of workers rate a company’s benefits package as “highly important to their decision to change employers or remain with their current company.”
But, loyal employees aren’t necessarily those with the most expensive benefits. Rather, they’re employees who understand how to get the most value out of their benefits because they’ve received clear, open communication throughout the year.
Effective communications help employees choose their benefits and use them well. These communications help employees appreciate how much is invested in their long-term growth and security. When employees understand their whole package, they are better equipped to weather year-over-year changes.
Inspire Trust, Which Increases Shareholder Returns. Benefits are more than a company policy. They’re a big component of employees’ personal lives. Benefits affect just about everything that matters, from how employees care for their health and their families, to how they save for retirement, to how they protect themselves from major illnesses and accidents. Building trust means going beyond what something means to your company. It means acknowledging what it means to your employees.
Great communication builds that kind of trust. And trust drives employee engagement, commitment and profits. According to Watson Wyatt, “Where employees trust leaders, shareholder returns are 42 percent higher than where distrust abounds.”
How to Make the Most from Your Investment
The most-effective way to improve employees’ perceptions of their benefits is to get them to use them more. This shows them the value of the programs and proves the investment their company is making in their lives. Use these steps to immediately improve the effectiveness of your benefits communication.
1. Create a communication strategy that ties your business objectives to the needs of your employees—and includes measuring results. Changing employees’ behaviors and improving their benefits use takes time. But having a strategy in place ensures all efforts work toward the same goals.
2. Communicate to families, too. Families make up 60 percent to 70 percent of your healthcare costs and are often the ones making the benefits decisions. Get your benefits information into the hands of the people—spouses and families—who will use it. And make sure it’s tailored to them.
3. Make it easy for employees to take action with tip sheets, simple checklists, and information tailored to age and family situation. Don’t assume that your employees will go through the effort to figure out how programs work—make sure it is easy for them to get what they need.
4. Integrate your vendors, plans, processes, and channels so your employees can navigate it all and communicate to them year-round, not just during open enrollment.
5. Give managers a preview and give employees a way to talk back. Empowering your managers by asking them to play a role in benefits communication connects them to the company, and helps keep employees engaged, too. Make sure employees have a way to respond to all information (whether from their manager or the Intranet) with feedback and questions.
Jennifer Benz is an award-winning communication consultant and writer based in San Francisco. Her firm, Benz Communications, provides full-service employee communication services to 100 Best Companies to Work For and Fortune 500 leaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.