Communication: beating benefits bewilderment

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Few would deny the importance of strategic communication to their organization’s benefits plan. In fact, according to a report from Towers Watson the quality of the benefits communication can be more important than the benefits themselves.

Esther Huberman, communications consultant with Pal Benefits Inc., a group benefit, retirement, and compensation consultancy firm, says companies need to ensure they're backing their own investment.

"Ideally, the benefits communications activity should be built into the overall internal corporate communications strategy since one reinforces the engagement objectives of the other," she said "In addition, many employees don't realize the dollar value of benefits in relation to overall compensation. Employers would be wise to communicate that value since it positively influences workplace appreciation and engagement."

But there is more to benefits communications than handing over a document to a new hire or sending out a quick, lingo laden, bulk email.  There are strategies you can implement to achieve effective, engaging and targeted communications.

Get social media savvy:
While social media might be all the rage with recruiters, the rest of the HR world has been largely resistant to utilizing it in their communications strategies.

Esther Huberman says there may be room for social media when it comes to benefits but, like any communications strategy, you need to ensure the channel suits both your objectives as well as your demographic.

"Assuming the employee demographic is comfortable with social media, it can be an additional mechanism for delivering quick, simple messages," she says. "HR managers might use Twitter to say something like, 'did you know the new enrolment deadline is coming up next month?' and then provide a link to the on-line enrolment page.  Just remember workplaces have a number of generations in the same environment and people have their preferences as to how they wish to receive information. Social media is not a primary channel for benefit communications - yet - and, realistically, most organizations should use a mix of both traditional and new communication mechanisms."

It may sound simple, but ensuring all departments have access to social media sites is fundamental to this strategy. If you don’t you may find yourself in the position of one U.S organization who rolled out a benefits communications strategy via social media before discovering their tweets were only reaching their own department. Everyone else was firewalled.

If your organization is firewalled using social media isn’t necessarily a bust, just ensure your twitter feed is embedded on the benefits page of your website. Or communicate to offsite employees or after hours when employees do have access.

Start a benefits blog:
A blog is a great resource for employees to gain a more detailed understanding of their benefits and, coupled with an email newsletter, a simple way to cast the communications net wide.  Longer, in depth messages might be communicated in video form to achieve wider engagement.

Nab yourself a sponsor:
Larger companies are pairing up with corporate sponsors and celebrity chefs to increase engagement and add a little excitement to their benefits communications. Small and mid sized companies can do the same by reaching out to their community. Offering yoga classes at work? Why not include a 25% off voucher for yoga gear from a local business to create a buzz, or recruit a local health or fitness expert to write an article for the benefits newsletter.

Huberman says corporate alliances are a win-win. “If the company objective is to promote healthy living that opens the door to a lot of activities,” she says. “The main consideration when thinking about a strategy like this is to ensure it’s in line with what you’re trying to do, don’t just do it for it’s own sake.”

Get your benefits provider on board:
Partner up with your benefits provider to offer an online Q&A to answer your employee’s benefits questions. It’s a great way to address concerns and, if they prefer, can be done anonymously.

Start small:
Huberman says even small companies can create interesting ways to communicate their benefits plans.

“It’s as simple as beginning a conversation,” she says. “Create some channels of communication, get managers on board and you can begin to create a framework for your benefits communications. Benefits have great potential to be a starting point to address communications organization wide.”

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