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8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

Having a top-notch employee benefits plan in place can play a crucial role in attracting and retaining top talent.

After all, in today’s workplace environment, employee benefits represent a significant portion of an employee’s financial security. In addition to having a strong employee benefits plan in place, it is important to educate employees about the program’s virtues. The more informed they are, the more comfortable they will be with the plan, which can ultimately lead to increased job satisfaction levels.

“Employee satisfaction with benefits offered by their employer has a direct correlation with job satisfaction and loyalty,” points out Stephen J. Peck, president of the benefit services division of Kapnick Insurance Group.

Smart Business spoke with Peck about how to effectively design a communications campaign that educates and informs employees about their benefits program.

Why is employee communication in regards to benefits so important?

For many employers, the No. 1 employee benefit objective is to retain employees. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of employees, just 16 percent, believe that their company’s benefit communications effectively educate them about their benefits, according to a recent MetLife study. Couple this with the fact that 63 percent of employees spend less than 30 minutes making a benefit decision and less than an hour researching their options before buying. Employees spend more time, 1.3 hours, researching/buying a pair of shoes.

What can be done to improve employee communications?

First of all, we should not look at employee communications as a one time a year event during open enrollment. Employee benefits is an ever-changing landscape where employers are asking employees to migrate from a passive role to an active participant. Most companies, including the largest, are increasing co-pays and deductibles. As such, employees need communication at different times throughout the year and in different ways. We all process information differently. Therefore, a mixture of print, electronic and in-person communication offers the best chance for success.

How has the Web impacted the way that employee communications are handled?

Online communication can definitely help with disseminating real-time information. It is a very efficient way of providing specific information, such as plan documents, research tools and calculators. Not to overly generalize, but younger workers tend to be more comfortable receiving information through the Web or online. Having said this, I think it is shortsighted to think that Web-based communication is the preferred method. At times, communication through the Web can desensitize the human element. There is still unbelievable power with face-to-face communication, especially when dealing with plan changes or complicated programs, such as an HSA.

How should a company go about designing an effective employee communications campaign?

I have heard the term ‘planned redundancy’ used to describe an effective campaign. What this means is having a consistent message, presented throughout the year, using various channels and mediums. As mentioned earlier, a combination of print, Web/online and in-person communication is the best mix. Therefore, a typical campaign may include quarterly newsletters, bimonthly lunch and learns, an annual benefit fair, periodic payroll stuffers, and Webinars that all supplement the traditional open-enrollment season. The ultimate goal is to improve employee understanding and awareness of the employer-sponsored benefits. When this is accomplished, you can significantly increase employee retention and reduce the internal cost of human resource administration.

Once in place, how should an employee communication campaign be evaluated?

The best way to measure the effectiveness of employee communications is to survey both the employees and the HR manager. We have found it helpful to provide the employees with a short survey, about two to three questions, after an enrollment meeting. Questions like, ‘Do you clearly understand the benefits provided to you?’ and, ‘Did you read the payroll stuffer that was sent to your home about the open enrollment meeting?’ These types of questions make it clear if the communication materials were truly effective. On the other hand, the survey to the HR manager should be given a week or so after the open enrollment meeting. This survey would include questions such as, ‘How many employees came to you and asked questions regarding their benefits after the enrollment meeting?’ and, ‘Did the communication materials provided to you make open enrollment more manageable?’ The answers to all of these questions are the key to tweaking the program for next year to ensure both employer and employee satisfaction.

STEPHEN J. PECK is president of the benefit services division of Kapnick Insurance Group. Reach him at (888) 263-4656 ext. 1147 or Steve.Peck@kapnick.com. Kapnick Insurance Group is a member of Assurex Global, an international network of insurance and employee benefit brokers.