San Francisco, CA (PRWEB) December 26, 2008
Jennifer Benz, founder and chief strategist of Benz Communications, suggests that companies might want to think twice before cutting their benefits communications budget in this tough economic time.
"While it's understandable that companies want to ease financial pressure by cutting spending, cutting benefits communication could cause more harm than good," says Jen. "During difficult times, employees are especially burdened. In addition to being buffeted by layoffs, lost bonuses, and delayed salary increases, often their benefits are cut and/or they're asked to assume a larger portion of the cost of those benefits. Maintaining benefits communication is essential as it directly impacts employee recruitment, retention, satisfaction and productivity - all of which are especially vulnerable during tough economic times," Jen explains.
According to Benz, loyal, productive employees aren't necessarily those with the most expensive benefits, rather, they're employees who understand how to get the most value from their benefits. "Effective communications help employees choose their benefits and use them well. Studies reveal that 85% of workers rate company benefits as highly important to their decision to change employers or remain with their current company," says Jen.
"An effective communication program helps you make the most of your investment - whatever that investment is," says Benz. For those who remain unconvinced, Jen refers to another set of statistics showing that firms with highly effective communication programs experience a 47% higher total return to shareholders and increase their market value as much as 15.7%. She offers the following all-weather tactics to significantly improve benefits communications, and their results.
Develop a strategy.
Know your company: what drives business results? Know your employees: what's important to them? Have a clear understanding of how your benefits tie the two together. And be patient. Educating employees and changing behaviors takes time. A strategy ensures all efforts are going toward the same goals.
Get their attention
Market your benefits as you do your company. Stand out. When it comes to employee communication, your "competition" isn't limited to what happens inside the company -- you're also competing with all the messages and news your employees see every day.
Treat them like customers.
All employees tend to get the same message delivered in the same manner. But benefits communication strategies that work for one group, may not work for another. Segmenting your employee population and tailoring communications to meet their needs works for all types of goods and services; it works for benefits too. Get to the heart of who your employees are and what they want. A strategy that puts them first yields better outcomes for you.
Know their families.
It's estimated that 60 to 70% of all company healthcare costs derive from employees' spouse and family, and it's actually these folks who are making the decisions about benefits. So be sure to get information to those - spouses and families - making the decisions, and be sure it's tailored to address their needs.
Don't lock benefits information behind a firewall. Make sure it's easily accessible to all those who need it. The easier it is to use, the more it will be used.
Keep it whole.
Coordinating communications during difficult or fast changing times can be difficult, but it is essential. Every employee communication should be reviewed in its relationship to the whole of a) your company's communication strategy and pieces, b) the context of the current environment and/or situation, and c) their individual package. Everything should be coordinated to reflect and connect to employees' lives and the company's overall business results.
Depending on your company's size, you may have as many as a dozen vendors providing programs and services to your employees. Rather than let each vendor communicate independently and overwhelm your employees, control the process. Integrate all to make it easier for your employees to navigate.
Communicate all, all year long, by every means possible. Keep your employees in the loop. Talk to them throughout the year and use every communication vehicle available -- print, online, social media, person-to-person. Helping employees become better users of their benefits requires lots of information and time. Changes won't be so difficult to understand or accept if they understand what's happening throughout the company as it's happening.
This is especially true in difficult times. From layoff announcements, to higher food and fuel prices, to shrinking retirement savings, employees already have plenty to worry about. Uncertain times are precisely the right time to communicate with employees more openly and more frequently. The worst thing you can do is remain quiet. Employees will sense a problem and switch to reaction mode; productivity falls, good employees may leave.
Keep it simple.
Forget those big benefits books and legal plan documents. Make it easy for them to take action with tip sheets, simple checklists, and easy-to-use information. Tailor information - age, family situation -- and provide relevant examples.
- Be specific about the impact of changes on costs and provide a comparison with current offerings; don't make them do the math.
- Demonstrate how they can save money with their choices
- Help them use their plans all year long with regular tips. Nudge them when they're not taking full advantage of available plans and programs.
Let them talk back.
Give employees a way to share their thoughts and questions, and be sure to respond. Social media tools make it simple. Communication that flows both ways is the best way to earn respect and loyalty from your employees.
Is it working?
From surveys to focus groups to communication audits - use them to learn what's working. Then use these findings to refine your strategy and continuously improve your communication for even better results.
About Benz Communications
Benz Communications is a HR communications strategy boutique creating integrated employee benefits campaigns for employers committed to nurturing high-performing and satisfied employees. Benz Communications' clients include Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, and small- to mid-size companies. Additional information about Benz Communications may be found at http://www.benzcommunications.com