Making it interesting: Creative ways to communicate benefits

Getting employees to understand all benefits available to them
By Sharon Hogg
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/13/2012

Employers are well aware of the value of employee benefit programs, both in terms of the actual dollar cost and the role benefits play in attracting and retaining staff.

But when it comes to communicating and educating employees about the value of benefit plans, there is room for improvement.

In the years ahead, employers need to offer more than straight salaries to attract and retain employees. So, how do firms ensure employees are fully aware of the entire package? Communication, education, communication, education.

With the right approach and a little creativity thrown in, employees can move from having a paper booklet buried in the bottom of their desk drawer to a working knowledge of all benefits available to them.

Here are some suggestions to help employers communicate benefits more effectively and creatively:

Make it interesting: There is nothing more boring than insurance jargon. Whether communicating electronically through email, intranet, webinars or paper, dress it up. Take specific coverages and relate them back to personal experiences. Employees are much more likely to read a story they can identify with than they are to read something that resembles an annual report.

Make the information easily identifiable: Name or brand the benefits package so employees know what the topic is with every communication they receive. Involve employees in the branding process by turning it into a competition or contest and providing prizes for the top five names submitted, then allow employees to vote on the final choice.

Use in-house health initiatives: Get employees involved in healthy activities and programs such as stop-smoking initiatives or walking programs. Let employees run the programs but provide support, such as time for planning and participating, as well as incentives.

Incorporate benefits that are an inherent part of the benefit plan, such as smoking-cessation products or nutritional counselling. This helps to educate employees that prevention, being proactive and healthy lifestyles are supported through the plan, not just reactive medications.

Find out what they know: Survey employees. This can be as simple as providing a paper-based survey in the lunchroom, or as sophisticated as a detailed online survey. It’s important to gain a baseline of the knowledge level of employees.

Provide a total rewards statement: Consider providing employees with a financial overview of their entire benefit package, including everything from salaries, vacation, flextime, Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and employment insurance (EI) premiums, parking, benefits, pensions and in-house daycare. Include everything that is a cost to the company. Let the employee know exactly what the employer cost is. Most employees will be surprised at the total annual price tag.

Have some fun: Whenever there is something new to communicate to employees regarding benefits, take the opportunity to have some fun with it. Something as simple as a lunchtime barbecue combined with a quick oral presentation might be a good investment in getting the information out there in a retainable way.

Use insurance carriers, brokers and consultants to the fullest: Employers don’t have to do this alone. There is a good deal of expertise out there employers can access. The administrative fees for employee benefit plans includes that expertise, so put it to good use.

Get other professionals involved: Ask a local dietician or nutritionist if she would be interested in providing a scheduled emailed nutritional tip to employees once per week. Every Monday morning, when employees arrive at the office, the first email they can see is a nutritional tip of the week prefaced by the brand they have chosen for their benefit plan communications. Physiotherapists, chiropractors and pharmacists, to name a few, may also be willing to take a turn in providing employees with healthy living tips via email. It’s easy to set up and only takes a minimal amount of time once per week.

Allow for Q&A: Provide easy access to frequently asked questions and make sure someone is directly responsible for updating this information. This not only provides quick and easy answers to employees, but helps to free up time for HR personnel. Make sure to include the insurance company’s customer service contact information.

How benefits information is communicated is somewhat determined by the corporate culture and the nature of the business. Companies with multiple locations or employees whose job is to be on the road are faced with more of a challenge than those with all employees under one roof.

Because most employees pay a portion of their benefit costs, it may be a good idea to approach employees as customers and find a way to sell or market the plan to them. Using an approach similar to one used for an outside customer allows HR to bring new and creative ideas to the table. Always remember the employee’s needs should be kept in the forefront but the act of filling those needs also has to meet the company’s objectives.

Finally, find a way to help employees take some ownership and be somewhat responsible and accountable for the overall cost of the benefit plan. Employees tend to blame the insurance company or their employer for the cost of their benefit plan every time they feel the pain of a renewal increase. Most employees do not seem to relate their own purchasing or claiming habits to their payroll deduction for benefit costs.

Employers need to do much better at educating employees regarding the true relationship between claims and the premiums they pay. Shopping smarter applies to purchases of prescriptions, therapists, dental services and eyewear just as much as it applies to all other purchases employees make on a daily basis.

Once that relationship is understood, employers can hope to see better management of claims right where it all begins — with the employees.

Sharon Hogg is president of Benefits Experts in Bedford, N.S. She can be reached at (902) 860-0333 or at sharon@benefitsexperts.ca. For more information, visit www.benefitsexperts.ca.

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