Doing better business: the benefits of communication
In Capita’s 2016/17 Employee Insight survey, two-thirds of employees (65%) expected their employer to provide guidance on the employee benefits available, and how appropriate each benefit might be to them and their family.1
However, GRiD’s 2019 research revealed that only a quarter (25%) of employers provide regular communication on their benefits package, while even fewer (22%) do so just once a year.2
Regular communication can help drive understanding, engagement and overall take-up, so how can you ensure your people get the message?
The business benefits of keeping in touch
Whatever the size of your benefits package, from simple gym memberships to health cash plans to pensions to critical illness cover, if your employees don’t know about it or don’t take up what’s on offer, your time, effort and money has been wasted.
Some benefits may have some form of wellbeing support built-in.
But a lack of awareness may mean employees are missing out on expertise to potentially help them stay in, or return to, work more quickly.
And when your people are healthier, you can benefit from reduced absenteeism and greater productivity.
Making your employees aware of what’s available to them also helps you stand out among the competition.
The better informed current and potential employees are about the benefits on offer, the more attractive you’re likely to be.
A once a year email, when it’s time for employees to decide on their benefits for the next 12 months, isn’t really enough, especially if there’s a large choice.
It can leave employees potentially having to sift through a lot of information about a number of benefits within what may be a small window of opportunity.
The result can be counter-productive, leaving employees bombarded and bewildered to the point where they may decide not to bother making a choice.
Communications at regular intervals throughout the year can instead highlight one particular benefit and give employees time to understand what it means to them and their family.
A life event such as a birth, divorce or marriage can also trigger a need for employees to amend certain benefits.
Be aware of these and make sure you let your employees know what’s available to them.
New responsibilities can mean people’s priorities change.
For example, protecting themselves financially against the impact of illness or a death may appeal where it didn’t before, so highlight the benefits that may strike a chord.
You should also take the opportunity to remind employees of what benefits can be extended to (or removed from) family members.
More generally, performance reviews can be a good time to discuss the benefits on offer.
Any changes to an existing benefit, regardless of when it happens, should be announced as soon as possible.
How to get the message across
Unfortunately, there’s no ‘magic bullet’ or definitive way to communicate that can guarantee success, and preferences can depend on the make-up of your workforce.
Capita’s 2016/17 survey found that 33% of employees preferred email, followed by 18% for both company intranet and starter packs, while 17% asked for leaflets or guides.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the preferred method of communication varied with age. For example, almost 25% of men aged 65+ preferred leaflets and guides compared to less than 8% of their 16 to 24-year-old counterparts.3
In 2020, the pandemic saw digital communications really come into their own, crossing over from the arguably more tech-savvy younger employees,and becoming the norm for everyone.
It's unlikely that even post-pandemic, things will slip back to the way they were before. However, as people return to the workplace, there’s still a place too for the traditional methods, including the trusty noticeboard in communal spaces. Just make sure this is regularly updated so it doesn’t become part of the furniture.
If you’re a business that has a set time window for choosing benefits, some employee benefit providers are happy to come to your workplace during this period to explain the benefits on offer.
It allows them to explain the benefits in detail, answer any questions employees may have and helping them to enrol if they are using a portal or platform to make their selections.
Some providers even offer a suite of communication tools to help you get the message across.
Clearly, how you communicate your message can depend on your employee demographic, but a mix of methods will ensure you get the message across regardless of age, seniority or digital savvy.
When telling employees about what’s on offer, always make sure it’s clear what the call to action is.
Do they need to sign up somewhere? When? Will your employee benefits provider be coming in to chat?
And let them know who they should approach with any questions, such as a line manager, HR or your benefits expert.
Plan follow-ups to reinforce your original messages.
Rather than knocking out emails etc. piecemeal, it can help to create a communications plan upfront for the whole year.
While it may be a little time-consuming, once done, it can provide focus and clarity. Use an online Wellbeing Calendar to add emphasis to certain benefits, for example, February’s World Cancer Day could carry a Critical Illness cover message.
More generally, be aware of the time of year. If you offer say, the Cycle to Work scheme, remind staff about this in the spring rather than in the autumn.
And the summer months are unlikely to be the best time for a major email drop if many of your staff are sunning themselves on beaches or are enjoying a ‘tech detox’ in the middle of nowhere – especially if your main benefits contact happens to be one of them.
Ask for and act on feedback
Getting the right mix of employee benefits can be a tricky balancing act. Just like methods of communications, people favour different benefits at different stages of their lives.
And there’s the choice of how they’re paid for.
There are options to fully fund benefits yourself, split the funding between the business and the employee, or you can opt for a suite of benefits that employees can choose from and fund themselves.
Whatever you decide, keep tabs on how the benefits have been received. What’s popular? What isn’t? And why? What benefits would your employees value?
Feedback is invaluable. It can stop you wasting time and effort – and potentially money – on unpopular benefits.
Take feedback on board, and importantly, act on it.
Listening to your people provides you with the perfect opportunity to fine tune your benefits, and provide a package that resonates strongly, encourages take-up and marks you out as a business to work for.
1,3 Capita’s 2016/17 Employee Insight survey
2 Group Risk Development (GRiD) 2019
Topics: Doing better business