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It's Benefits Renewal Time… and the Perfect Chance to Engage Your Employees

Wow… what a whirlwind couple of weeks it’s been … for a large company, ramping up for the month of October for Benefits Renewal is akin to a retailer ramping up for the holiday season. From a communications perspective, benefits renewal is generates the largest open rates and click throughs on e-mail communications, as well as page views on the corporate intranet. So what does this tell you? That it’s the perfect opportunity to engage employees to not only educate on available benefits options but to also drive the corporate message. And what better way to achieve that than to leverage social media / enterprise 2.0.

I came across this fantastic post on Benefits Buzz which discusses how, as communicators, we should be rethinking how we deliver our messaging and how benefits renewal is the perfect time to take advantage of social media options:

Three big factors are shifting the employee mindset faster than you can say “default elections” and you need to know how to react:

1. Employees care about their benefits more than ever before. Survey after survey shows how much employees value their benefits–-both health care and financial. With salaries frozen, or decreasing, and the value of health care benefits always on the rise, benefits make up a larger part of total compensation than in years past–and, as a result, a larger part of your employment brand and value proposition.

2. At the same time, benefits are on the national stage–and you’re going to get more hard-to-answer questions. Health care reform has put health care benefits front-and-center in the national news. CEOs are getting in the debate. Employees and families will want to know how legislation may change their benefits and their health care.  As such, this is a prime opportunity for you to demonstrate and reinforce the value of your benefits offerings.

3. And, if that wasn’t enough, social media is changing (edit: has already completely changed) expectations for how, when, and why employees receive information. In an age of iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, and real-time access to any piece of information, the traditional methods of communicating benefits information are just not good enough. Employees want easier access to information and they want it to be easy to take action on the information they receive.

So, great, but what do you do with that information? It is almost September, so a little late to overhaul your technology systems or completely change your communication strategy. But, there are simple ways you can improve your enrollment communication this year:

Connect benefits to the business. If you’ve never educated your employees about your benefits philosophy and how it is connected to your business, now is the perfect opportunity. Arm managers with information about total compensation and use them to help tell the whole story. Simple talking points or checklists will allow them to push your benefits message further.

Keep it simple. Employees’ top concerns during enrollment always are: What’s new? What will it cost me? This is no different than in years past, and you can spell out these answers (and why) in simple, easy-to-understand terms along with simple step-by-step instructions on how to enroll. If you haven’t already done so, create a one-page enrollment “Tip Sheet” that lists what’s changing in as simple a format as possible (perhaps just a list), gives brief enrollment instructions, and tells employees and families where to go for all the details.

Focus on employee’s personal needs. Resist the temptation to include figures about your total benefits spend or tell employees how many billion dollars per year bad health care decisions are costing the U.S. They are hearing this enough in the news and are already zoned out before you finish saying “billion.” Your employees need to know how it impacts them, their lives and their families. If you talk about your overall health care costs, break it down into what the company spends per employee. When you talk about changes that could decrease costs, tell your employees what that will mean to their pocketbook.

Promote missed or under-utilized benefits. Put together a list of the 5 to 10 benefit plans employees aren’t using enough–health savings account, fitness benefits, voluntary insurance, hidden features of the EAP, preventive care benefits, commuter benefits, etc.–as a one-page tip sheet. Title it “The Top 10 Employee Benefits You’re Missing” or “10 Ways You’re Not Getting The Most From Your Benefit Plans.”  Ask employees for their ideas.

Start using social media. Now that 80 percent of Americans are using social media, do you think you can start integrating it into your benefits communication? It doesn’t have to be intimidating. Start a benefits blog to focus on reminders and tips, and give employees a way to join the conversation. Use Twitter to post frequent updates and provide low-cost customer service. Social media is a perfect–and cost-effective–way to get employees engaged and to be responsive to their needs this year. This is especially important if enrollment meetings have been cut.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a strategic communications leader with nearly 20 years experience in both internal and external communications. She is a passionate advocate for developing communications that foster a stronger relationship between the organization and its employees. She is a global keynote speaker on employee engagement and HR communications. Elizabeth is a certified professional in Employer Brand through Universum Global's Employer Branding Academy.