5 Ways to Keep Your Benefits Communication Going Year Round

Posted September 10, 2015

Far too often, workers leave benefits presentations with a glazed look in their eye – they’ve clearly been hit with far more information than they can handle. That often happens at open enrollment or when an employee first becomes eligible for benefits. Hearing about the health, dental and vision plans, as well as the 401(k), voluntary benefits and all their various options at one time is overwhelming, especially for a layperson who doesn’t work in human resources. Often they pick and choose off the menu and then just stop thinking about it, possibly never taking advantage of all that their benefits can offer. It’s better if they know they can come to the HR team anytime with any questions or concerns. It’s best if you go to them year round as well. Here are five ways to continue your benefits communications throughout the year.

Keep It Simple

Don’t make your weekly, monthly or quarterly benefits reminders too complicated. This isn’t a complete do-over of open enrollment or the original presentation. Pick one topic – perhaps wellness or retirement – and focus your energy there. Your topic can be somewhat broad, letting you engage and inform even those who aren’t enrolled in your plan. It can also be targeted directly to certain people, reminding them of deadlines to use their HSA funds, for example.

“The best way to provide guidance and influence behavior is to break benefits information into bite-size chunks and spoon-feed these chunks – in the form of reminders, tips and updates – to employees throughout the year,” Benz Communications says.

Keeping it simple doesn’t only mean sticking to one topic at a time. It also refers to the language and presentation methods of that one topic. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends eliminating jargon and complex terminology at every opportunity:

“Employees don’t use or understand benefits jargon. Use everyday, real-life language. Define terms. Repeat concepts. Try different formats to say the same things. Don’t overwhelm with too much print. Use visuals. And keep in mind that bullet points, graphics, charts and Q&As are helpful.”

Many adults in this country read well below high-school levels. If your presentation includes too much information about deductibles, premiums, stop-loss, vesting schedules, etc., without defining those terms, the information will not be absorbed and future information may be ignored outright.

Use the Calendar

You can take advantage of the rhythm of the year as well as advocacy groups’ efforts to schedule your messaging.

For example, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and May is Disability Insurance Awareness Month. These groups often create their own high-quality educational materials that you can share and adapt to your employees’ needs.

People think about flu shots in the fall and allergies in the spring. Those are both excellent times to remind people about vaccinations, hand-washing and other ways to avoid spreading illness in the workplace. CDC estimates put average direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits at $10.4 billion from seasonal flu outbreaks.

“Set up no-touch hand sanitizer stations and ensure that all common services are being sanitized frequently (elevators, door handles, etc.),” the CDC says. “Encourage employees to wash hands frequently, and avoid handshaking or use latex gloves (depending on the nature of their work).”

Students often graduate in May and go back to school in September. Either of these months would be great for discussing any type of college-savings tools that your 401(k) company or Employee Assistance Plan may provide. June is for weddings. Newlyweds may need life insurance, and that’s a good time to remind them.

These reminders shouldn’t always be stuffy and serious. You can make them as fun as you feel is appropriate for your office. Presidents’ Day or July 4 is a great time to remind everyone that George Washington had false teeth and that to avoid a similar fate, they should get their dental check-ups! Quirky reminders like this can be easily inserted as a small blurb into a company newsletter or even simply added to your e-mail signature for that week. Just make sure to change it back afterward.

Tap Multiple Forms of Media

Different people in your office will respond differently to your messages. Employees who are frequently on the road, for example, will appreciate Web- or mobile-based reminders. They will not see the poster in the break room. The technophobes in the office may prefer posters or a guest speaker. The social media lovers may want to see a blog or just a 140-character reminder on Twitter. Just as you have to target the content for a specific audience, you should tailor the delivery methods as well.

A benefits section can easily be added to your company’s website or intranet, and if it’s connected to the company’s Twitter or Facebook, it will always be current.

“Social media is perfect for keeping information flowing in usable, relevant, easy-to-digest bites,” Benz Communications says. “And it’s a great way to keep your benefits website fresh at no extra cost. Tools like blogs and Twitter are easy to implement, easy to maintain and don’t have the risks that often deter people from using social media.”

Once your benefits information and updates are online, they can easily be turned into low-cost print materials such as posters for around the office, postcards to mail home or payroll stuffers to be mailed with checks or direct deposit slips.

SHRM also recommends using different media, including social media. There are many tools and guides available if you aren’t sure what to say in your updates.

Enlist Help

You don’t have to be the sole reminder for your staff about their benefits. The benefits companies you use will send out plenty of reminders on their own. Can’t think of a topic for March? Wait a week. Your major medical, dental, disability or 401(k) company will most likely send you something in the mail or by e-mail that you can use.

Is this the one week they didn’t send you something? Survey the employees and ask them what they want to know about. If 75% come back with questions about their 401(k), that’s a good indication to make retirement your topic. You can do another pamphlet, presentation or graphic yourself or you can call your 401(k) rep and request a presentation. Many are thrilled at the opportunity to get more people enrolled or investing more, and they will do a free meeting.

If the survey topics are varied, but the same five or six questions keep coming up, do a general FAQ and post it on your blog. Link to it on Twitter and email it.

Still can’t think of a topic? Follow your benefits vendors on Twitter. Many of them post articles that may be relevant to your communication strategy, and Twitter can be used like a search engine. You don’t have to do this alone. There are many free and low-cost resources online. Ask your consultants, brokers and vendors what they can share, and reach out to industry advocacy groups.

Recycle Content

Most of the time, benefits information doesn’t change all that much. The premium amounts may differ year to year, but the basics usually remain the same. Think about new ways to deliver the old information to keep it fresh.

HNI, an insurance and risk management firm, recommends just this:

“If you spent a long time working on an article, presentation for a lunch n’ learn, or other kind of communication, make that effort count! Find another way to repackage the information and use it again. Create a fact sheet, flyer or a blog from the notes and research you did on the topic. Consider recording an audio version of the [content] to offer to employees as a podcast.”

Conclusion

As a benefits administrator or an HR professional, you put a lot of effort into ensuring that your employees are healthy and productive. Effective benefits communication is often the biggest part of that task. The conversations cannot happen just once a year if you want to have maximum benefit for your company or your staff.

Communication must happen frequently to reinforce the message that your company cares about its employees and wants them to use their benefits. Repeat the content. Keep it simple and communicate it in various ways. Get ideas about topics from calendar events or from your benefits brokers. They are there to help you do your job. The employees are counting on you to anticipate what information they’ll need, so use every tool available and get that message across.

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