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Effective communication to employees about benefits is more important than ever

Ciro J. Giué of HUB International Northeast-(HUB INTERNATIONAL NORTHEAST)

Communication is critical to our every day lives and is especially important at the workplace. Without clear and effective communication; projects get delayed or fail, valuable resources get wasted and companies, sometimes even good companies, can fail. Additionally, without clear and effective communication from the employer, employees can feel…

Today, this extends itself to employers communicating to their employees about employee benefits programs. Historically, benefits decisions have been mostly made by employers, who would choose what health plans and other benefits to offer their employees. For this reason, employees have not felt the need to become educated consumers about their benefits or how they use them, which has often resulted in low employee education and engagement about what is being offered. This disengagement can cause employees to enroll in benefits that don’t fit their needs, pay too much for medical services and not take full advantage of the benefits they are offered. This can also result in the employer experiencing a poor benefits renewal, which typically costs the employer and the employees more money in higher premiums.      

Currently, we’re at an inflection point in employee benefits and the historical process is changing. This change is being driven by what I’ve been calling the “perfect storm” in employee benefits; 1) the continuing rise in medical care costs and health insurance premiums, 2) the Affordable Care Act pushing more consumerism in benefits and, 3) for the first time ever, we have a truly multigenerational workforce in the workplace.

To address the continuing rise of health insurance premiums, employers are asking their employees to contribute more for their benefits and because of the rise of consumer driven health plans, employees are paying more out of pocket every time they get care. For this reason, many employees are now learning what co-pays, deductibles and maximum out of pocket expenses are. This makes benefit communication more important than ever.

Since employees are being asked to pay more for their benefits, they are in turn demanding more options in the benefits that they are being offered. According to the MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends, 51 percent of employees surveyed said they would gladly even pay more for their benefits if they were given more choice. Consumerism in benefits is also being promoted by the ACA. This demand for choice has led to the proliferation of Private Benefit Exchanges, as well as an increase in the popularity of Voluntary Employee Benefit solutions. However, the value of these benefits is wasted, if the offerings are not effectively communicated in a way that inspires employees to learn and take advantage of them.

Effective communications tactics

So how does an employer engage their employees with clear and effective communication that will educate and gets them excited about the benefits they are offered? The first step is to develop a clear and effective communication plan that educates employees about their benefit options. During the process you should be looking to drive employee awareness to increase their understanding of the benefits being offered and increase their engagement. Increased employee understanding will result in greater employee engagement and increased employee satisfaction in their benefits, their job and their employer. According to the MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends, “Employees who are satisfied with the benefits offered by their employer are three times more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and feel more loyal to their employer.”

The communication plan should include a timeline of when you’ll be reaching out to the employees and what mediums you’ll be using. A frequently asked question is how much time it takes to execute an effective communication strategy. There is a misconception that more time will automatically mean better communication and increased employee engagement and participation. This may very well be true, but the communication still needs to be impactful and inspiring to the audience. The time, however short or long, must be used to educate employees about their risks and the benefit solutions that are being made available to mitigate them. Sometimes less is more. You don’t want to communicate so often that it all becomes noise to the employee and they ignore it. You need to be concise with your message. The most effective communications strategies educate employees and deliver a concise message multiple times throughout the year leading up to the benefits enrollment. All too often employers, and their broker/consultants, feel that they can just communicate and educate about benefits right before the benefits open enrollment period.

The good news for employers is that there are now many tools available to communicate with and educate employees about their benefits. While the traditional methods are still often used, Employers can also use channels such as e-mail, carrier micro-web sites, intranet sites, videos, text messages, infographics, webinars and social media to continually reinforce the message in different ways.

Due to today’s multi-generational workforce, a one-size-fits-all communication strategy around employee benefits will not be effective. As more baby boomers forego retirement and more tech savvy millennials make up the workplace, the stark differences in communication styles and preferences are becoming more pronounced.

  • Generation Y likes to use text messages, tweets and instant messages to communicate.
  • Baby Boomers and older Generation Xers prefer to use a phone to actually speak to someone rather than to text or tweet.
  • Younger Millennial employees tend to use a lot of abbreviations and informal language in their everyday communication. They prefer to communicate through social media.

If your outreach to these groups isn’t in the manner they prefer, your communications will not be effective. Employers need to ensure that the overall communication plan takes each group into consideration in order to increase their engagement. Using a combination of the available mediums usually works best to address the needs of each generation.

Today there are more communication and education tools available to employers than ever before. A well thought out employee benefit communication strategy designed for the specific needs of your employees can provide this education while also increasing your employees’ engagement in their employee benefits. While this may take some effort on your part and collaboration with your broker/consultant and the carriers in the end you’ll have a more satisfied and engaged workforce who will appreciate your efforts.

Ciro J. Giué currently serves as vice president and voluntary & worksite benefits practice leader of the employee benefits division at HUB International Northeast, a leading global insurance brokerage firm. Ciro is responsible for developing and implementing the Voluntary/Worksite Benefits strategic sales plan for the Region. He is directly involved in developing employee benefit enrollment as a region core competency, with a focus on advanced client service. For more information, please visit http://www.hubinternational.com/ciro-j-giue/ or contact Ciro at 732-215-3414 or ciro.giue@hubinternational.com

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