5 tips for clearly communicating employee benefits
Many employers may think salary is the main driver in employee satisfaction. However, employee benefits packages are one of the biggest incentives an employer can offer. According to the 2011 Aflac Workforces Report, 53 percent of workers say they are likely to look for a new job within the next 12 months, but when asked to name one thing their employers could do to keep them in their current jobs, 44 percent of workers said, “Improve my benefits package.”
To date, government employee benefits have been very attractive. The Aflac study, conducted by Harris Interactive in September 2010, revealed that 58 percent of government employees are either very satisfied or extremely satisfied with their overall benefits packages, and 61 percent say their current benefits packages meet their families’ needs. However, with 36 percent of government employers admitting the most likely outcome of the health care reform legislation is employee benefits packages that are less robust but still sufficient, it is increasingly imperative that employees grasp the value of what is currently offered to them.
Despite how sufficient a benefits plan may be, it is only effective if the employee base understands the benefits it provides. With the uncertainty of health care reform, government agencies must do a better job of communicating the value of those benefits to their employees. In fact, the study found that 40 percent of government employees say their human resources departments communicated too little about employee benefits, and 27 percent rate the communication as not very or not at all effective. Tellingly, only 17 percent of government employers say their organizations communicate with employees about benefits not very or not at all effectively, compared to 11 percent of companies overall.
Worse, government employees are not turning to their employers for advice and clarity. Instead, 64 percent of government employees get advice and information about benefits through word of mouth from colleagues, friends and family, which could lead to ill-advised decisions and increased confusion.
Considering current communications challenges, government agencies are not doomed. The study found that 54 percent of government employees strongly agree that a well-communicated benefits program would make them less likely to leave their jobs. Employers have an opportunity to immediately correct their course to reap significant rewards by developing and executing more-effective benefits communications tactics. The following are five best practices to consider implementing today.
1. Survey employees.
First and foremost, it is important for government agencies to understand employees’ needs so they understand what to make available, identify what needs to be addressed, and perhaps find which details may need to be communicated more than others. To make assumptions regarding employee satisfaction and employees’ understanding of their benefits packages can be damaging and can give the impression to employees that their needs and concerns are not relevant, ultimately affecting productivity and retention. Most people want to work somewhere where they feel valued and respected, and naturally when employees feel appreciated, their level of productivity increases and their need to explore other options decreases.
Government agencies need to talk to employees to understand their thoughts and concerns. That can be done through small focus groups or in town hall meetings. Email and online tools also help survey large groups of people. While electronic communications make it easier than ever to ask for workers’ input at a minimal cost, only 52 percent of American organizations conduct surveys that enhance their understanding of employees’ satisfaction with benefit offerings, and only 43 percent of employers survey their employees’ understanding of benefits, according to the study.
2. Communicate in simple terms.
One of the most common mistakes employers make in communicating their benefits is assuming that employees already understand how each benefit works. Benefits decision-makers forget how complex insurance terms can be. The wording to describe various policies is not used in everyday vocabulary and can be quite confusing for employees. The language typically is technical, boring and complicated, and in some instances, individuals may feel too embarrassed to speak up and admit that they do not understand what the terminology means. To make sure that employees fully comprehend what is available, employers must explain it as if employees know nothing about the details of their compensation package. When explaining benefits options, be sure to use simple terms that everyone can understand and feel comfortable with. It must be conveyed how benefits options could bring peace of mind while protecting employees’ financial well-being and health.
3. Have experts on hand.
Many benefits decision-makers are operating with streamlined staffs, and keeping up with the complicated, ever-changing regulations is increasingly difficult. A benefits consultant or a representative from an insurance carrier can be invited to answer employees’ questions so they can make sound decisions that best suit them. In fact, seven out of 10 government employees strongly agree that they would more likely take advantage of benefits packages tailored to their personal situations, and having an expert available can help them select appropriate options. According to the study, slightly more than half of government employees (51 percent) strongly agree they would be more informed about their health insurance choices if an insurance consultant were present during enrollment. By having insurance representatives or benefits consultants available to employees, governments can reinforce their insurance offerings while also maintaining their bottom lines.
4. Communicate year-round.
The open enrollment process can be overwhelming. Organizations should look beyond the open enrollment season and discuss benefit offerings year-round. There is a wealth of information to digest regarding employee options, and it is easy for anyone to get confused when all the information is given at once. According to the Aflac study, only 12 percent of government organizations communicate about benefits packages 10 or more times each year, and only 24 percent communicate six or more times annually. Continuous education helps give employees time to process and retain the information, and opportunities to ask questions before making their selections.
5. Tailor communications to attract a diverse workforce.
To ensure the attention of various employees, consider presenting benefits communications through a variety of mediums. For example, some employees may be more responsive to communication presented on the company’s intranet or blog, while others may prefer to receive information in printed handouts. Other options may include a benefits e-newsletter, video presentations, and text messages that answer questions quickly and succinctly. Regardless of the size or scope of the workforce, a variety of options are available to consider when presenting benefits communications that can motivate and inspire employees.
Benefits packages can influence employee loyalty, productivity, job satisfaction and retention. With all those factors at stake, implementing an effective communications and education plan is simply smart government.
What are the most important objectives for your benefits program?
|Reduce healthcare costs||47%|
|Take care of my employees||46%|
|Increase productivity by maintaining a healthy workforce||40%|
|Increase employee satisfaction||35%|
|Do the right thing||27%|
|Attract new and qualified talent||22%|
|To remain competitive||18%|
Thomas Giddens is senior vice president, director of sales for Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac.