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July 25, 2000
Communication More Important than Benefits Themselves

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Everyone in America knows that what matters is the money. Just ask Jerry Maguire (as in "just show me the money"). But many savvy comp and benefits professionals know that it ain't necessarily so. It is possible to have better benefits than your competitors, yet have your employees unhappy with their benefits. Or, the converse: Your benefits aren't as good, but your employees are happy.

How so? "Communication makes more of an impact than benefits," says John Dalelio, 2nd vice president of market and account development at American Family Life Assurance Company (AFLAC). Speaking at an International Quality & Productivity Center conference in Orlando, Florida, Dalelio said many employees do not put nearly as great a value on the benefit itself as they do on communication and service quality. If desirable benefits are explained superficially or haphazardly, or details such as dependent enrollments are handled poorly, this can substantially undermine the perceived value of the offering.

Communication methods

Dalelio's talk explored the means and methods that employers can use to communicate benefits, particularly new technologies such as the Internet. Traditional methods have been face-to-face and print-based communication, including such documents as handbooks, summary plan descriptions, and enrollment packets.

In recent years, these tools have been supplemented by videos, telephone software, Web sites, and e-mail, with a few brave organizations declaring their intentions to eliminate print altogether.

The reality? Integrating them all

Is print moving toward extinction? Not according to Dalelio. In a quick survey, he summed up the advantages and disadvantages of different media and predicted that what will happen in the future is that all will be integrated into the whole, depending on the audience and the employer's needs. Dalelio offered the following observations on various options:

o Interactive voice response systems. Efficient, but lack the ability to educate employees about choices.

o Call centers. Can be very cost effective, but require management and training commitment.

o Video. Good at reaching a wide audience and delivering a consistent message.

o Direct mail. May be the most efficient way to reach lots of people in a lot of different areas, but response rates are very low because of its inherent passivity.

Electronic options

Electronic forms of communication are very interesting to employers because they hold out the promise of many benefits, including lower cost, more flexibility, and customization. Their drawbacks include such issues as some employees' lack of computer access and know-how, as well as legal and compliance issues regarding the entire audience. A recent survey found that electronic communication worked best with technical and professional staff and worst with hourly employees.

The sobering part of this is that hourly employees make up the large majority of most employers' workforces. Those findings aren't news, but what was surprising was that the second runners up for worst groups were sales and executives.

Here's the takeaway

The conclusion should be obvious. The Internet and corporate intranets will become more and more prevalent. On-the-shop-floor kiosks and computer experience will eliminate many drawbacks, but not all. Traditional print, in some form, will be around for the duration in most workplaces, especially to provide the integrity of real human signatures on receipt acknowledgments and beneficiary designations.

For information on other conferences offered by the International Quality & Productivity Center, see their Web site at or phone the staff at (973)256-3855.

Reprinted from "What to do About Personnel Problems with permission of the publisher, Business & Legal Reports, Inc. Copyright 2000, BLR.

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