So…here’s the reality. You and your team take months to determine what benefit programs you’ll offer your employees, what changes you’ll make for the new Plan Year. You go to great lengths to analyze the data to understand your company’s cost trends and health care risks…and, then, you are in a panic to tell employees. In your rush to get out your 48-page enrollment guide, you take the easy route and update last year’s guide because—well, it seemed to work just fine. You think: done. Until next year at the same time. Am I right? Come on…you know I am.
Here’s the thing…communication does not have to be that hard. It just takes some planning. If communication is not your cup of tea, or you don’t have a resource available to help you internally, it might be worth the investment to partner with a benefit communication consultant. Wouldn’t it be worth it to make sure your messages reach the right people? That behaviors change to save individuals and your company money? That your employees know about and value the benefits you invest so much time and money on? Yes, of course it would. Here are three tips to help you get started:
1. Create your plan with the end in mind
You wouldn’t leave on a trip without a map or a destination in mind (unless of course you are a college kid trying to find the meaning of life traveling the country). You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint (unless you have all the money in the world, and then you wouldn’t be reading this blog). And you wouldn’t create your benefit communication without a strategy (unless you don’t think communication is important—and you do, because you are reading this blog!).
To develop a solid foundation that you can base all communication from and around, you have to evaluate where you are and where you want to go. Specifically, what changes are you making? What results are you looking for? Then, ask the question, what does this mean to me? What does it mean to employees? What does it mean to the people in the organization who are helping me communicate the change?
You must also determine what behaviors will make the change successful. Are you trying to shift employees from brand-name prescriptions to generics? Do employees need to have a biometric screening to earn an incentive? Have you seen a spike in Emergency Room visits or are you wondering why people don’t call the EAP? Make these issues part of your strategy. Your claims data has a wealth of information, as does your Call Center. Tap into these two things to really understand what is driving your claims and what employees seem to have the most questions about.
Then, determine what you want to say about the changes. Make sure to put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Look at it from their perspective—not your HR perspective. This is critical to your success. Make sure you incorporate (and repeat) key messages and your branding. Once you have this down, list the various methods you will use to send your message: print, e-mail, portal, website, face to face, etc.
Set your goals and measure results throughout the year. Make sure to apply your strategy to a calendar or schedule; this will help ensure you are prepared in advance and help you execute your strategy.
2. Keep the bottom line on top!
Often, critical details about the action you want employees to take are hidden or hard to find. Recently we audited a wellness newsletter that was intended to get employees to take part in a biometric screening event that would save them a considerable amount of money on their paycheck each month. Great concept, poor execution. The critical details (including the deadline) and the WHY for employees was on the back inside cover, lower left corner of an 8-page newsletter. The company’s 15% participation rate in the first year of the wellness program was not a shock to us.
You only have a limited amount of time to capture employees’ attention. Make sure you understand the call to action, what you are trying to accomplish with the communication. Now, move those details to the front page, put them in a callout box, or highlight them another way. Make them easy to find. Scavenger hunts are fun for kids, but make for really ineffective communication. Don’t forget, most people learn through repetition, so give them multiple touch points—if it doesn’t resonate the first time they see or hear it, be sure they have another opportunity to get the information they need to take action! Make sure your key stakeholders also understand what you are trying to accomplish with your communication. They will be on the front lines so to speak, answering questions, and they need to know what you know. If possible, get these key stakeholders an advance copy of the communication with talking points.
3. Use marketing ideas to SELL your benefits.
Imagine if Apple launched the iPhone and only had one commercial each year. Probably would have not been a great launch. In a recent study by Towers Watson, employees who received ongoing, effective communication believed their benefits were a HUGE value, compared to those who never received any communication. The true value of the benefits was not a big differentiator—the perception of value was based on the strength of the communication. If it is important to your organization that your employees value the benefits you provide, then let’s do something about it. Market these benefits. Make them valuable.
People don’t buy products because of technical specs! Most people buy off emotion: what will the product do for me? How will I feel using it? Same with benefits. Make sure your communication is not just data. Some data is important, but make sure the employees understand what the benefit offers them and their family.
I have a friend who works for a Fortune 500 company. One day his daughter slipped and fell, cutting her chin. My friend passed three Urgent Care centers on the way to the local Emergency Room. Why? Because he didn’t know about the Urgent Care benefit that’s part of his health plan. He didn’t know that stopping at one of those centers would have saved him 4-5 hours, and over $2,000. I don’t know about you, but wasting over $2,000 is a lot of emotion! Let employees know how good consumerism can impact their pocketbook, and then tell them how to do it. Then do it again, until you see changes happening.
If you want to make sure you communicate effectively, make sure you deliver the right message, to the right people at the right time.