Why generational differences don’t have to restrict employee dialogue

Companies need to consider the makeup of their employee populations as they develop best practices on their benefits communications, says Karen K. Delaney, GBA, Vice President and Employee Benefits Market Leader at Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.

“Your communication model needs to be part of a long-term strategy that can seamlessly move from one method to another,” Delaney says. “Different generations receive information in different ways. You need a plan that can reach these groups and provide the information that they need to know.”

Employers should maintain a dialogue with their employees using methods that are engaging and varied according to the employee population.

“If people don’t understand the benefits you’re offering, they can’t use them,” Delaney says. “It’s not necessary to communicate a different message to different generations. You just need to package the message in a way that will encourage participation.”

Smart Business spoke with Delaney about the value of talking to employees about benefit plans and why generational differences are not as big of a hurdle as you think.

How does the lack of an effective communication strategy about benefit plans lead to missed opportunities for employees?
There are countless stories of women who didn’t realize they had breast cancer and were only diagnosed because mammograms were part of their company’s wellness program.

You also have employees with high cholesterol or diabetes who are able to be diagnosed and prescribed treatment thanks to regular health screenings. Employees need to recognize the value of these programs and be active participants in them.

How do generational differences affect the way that employees process information?
Preferences are often a product of one’s age or the generation to which they belong. Millenials typically want to receive or access plan information digitally. Online portals, mobile friendly sites and smartphone apps are different ways to communicate benefits information to a younger generation.

Communications don’t end, however, with the method in which they are accessed. Communications that are visual-centric in nature, using infographics, icons and other forms of graphical representation, have more appeal than 50 pages of straight text.

Today’s shortened attention span must be taken into consideration. A series of short videos on your benefits plan is much less overwhelming to process than an hour-long presentation. The more employees understand the materials, the more likely they will be to participate in their plan, which really is the end goal.

But at the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing. The companies that have the strongest cultures have foundations based on inclusiveness, respect and vision with a win-win for everybody, regardless of generation.

Perhaps digital communications work well with your population, but you know that some in-person time with your HR team would add value for those who may have questions and want a live person to talk to. So you incorporate a few open enrollment Q&A sessions into the mix.

How do you develop a strategy that encourages employee participation?
Respect your employees by giving them the opportunity to offer feedback. Utilize employee surveys to identify preferred communication methods you can then use to share details about your comprehensive benefits package.

Are they even aware that these options exist? Show your willingness to take action on feedback that is received and develop a plan that works for everyone.

This isn’t about pressuring your older employees who have been resistant to new technology to change or get left behind.

Demonstrate the advantages and convenience of being able to access information online or on your smartphone. Explain how it benefits the environment to have a brochure about your benefits package available digitally instead of in a 50-page booklet.

Start incorporating aspects of the new methods of communication and gradually phase out the old methods as everybody moves to the new tools. If your people feel respected, there is a better chance they’ll value what you’re offering, allowing you to build a culture of trust. ●

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Woodruff-Sawyer & Co.