Communication Breakdown

Great benefits plan you’ve got there—but do employees know?
 
By Audrey Boone Tillman
 
Educating employees about their insurance plans can be just as important as the plans themselves. Recent example: Only 35 percent of workers believe that their employer effectively communicated about healthcare reform and subsequent changes to their benefits, according to the 2014 Aflac WorkForces Report, an annual survey that examines the issues impacting benefits in the workplace. Furthermore, only six in 10 (63 percent) employers agree very strongly or strongly that they effectively communicate the value of benefits.
 
Education Equals Engagement
When employees are not engaged in their benefits decisions, they typically don’t adequately protect their income or their well-being. This leaves many workers underinsured and vulnerable to the ramifications of an unplanned health event.
 
Yet more than half (53 percent) of employers completely or strongly agree their employees need to be better engaged in benefit decisions, while only 13 percent agree very strongly they are taking steps to get their employees more engaged.
 
Good Communication Means Reduced Turnover
HR decision-makers who believe a well-communicated benefits program can lead to reduced turnover are right. In fact, eight in 10 (81 percent) employees at least somewhat agree that a well-communicated benefits program would make them less likely to leave their job.
 
Even more compelling, of the 48 percent of workers who say they are at least somewhat likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months, nearly half (41 percent) said their employer could “improve my benefits package” in order to keep them in their job. And when asked how influential an overall benefits package is in the decision to leave a current employer, 78 percent say it would be at least somewhat influential.
 
Ways to Market Benefits to Employees

Smaller staff and diminished budgets have placed a heavier burden on HR resources. As a result, administration and communication of benefits often falls to the wayside. However, better informed workers are also more protected, which helps drive HR outcomes such as retention and productivity.
 
Given the strong business case for a well-communicated benefits program, here are some suggestions for implementing effective education initiatives—without breaking the bank:

  • Make benefits more accessible. Many companies today
 are turning to online venues where employees can access information, tools, and tips about their company’s benefits packages. Regardless of whether you use an intranet or website, just be sure it’s easy to use and interactive.
  • Communicate all year round. Too often, employers only communicate their benefits program to workers once a year, heaping on the information at open enrollment time. Instead, try communicating different segments of your employee benefits program throughout the year. This stands to improve the amount of information employees will retain, as well as make open enrollment a smoother, easier process.
  • Offer in-person meetings. Be wary of relying on only one communication vehicle to reach employees. Consider utilizing a variety of communications methods, including email, broadcast voicemails, online outlets, and in- person meetings with employees. Giving employees the opportunity to talk directly with a benefits advisor or representative from insurance carriers can be incredibly effective in terms of education.
  • Identify areas to promote prevention. Conduct an informal audit of how benefits are being used by employees to identify areas for improvement.
  • Educate workers about voluntary options. Voluntary insurance benefits have no direct cost to employers. Workers also have a misunderstanding about voluntary insurance costs, in many cases believing supplemental plans cost too much. However, many voluntary insurance providers offer a range of products that fit most budgets.

The administration and delivery of benefits programs
has historically been treated as many other “corporate” initiatives, in that the approach has been one of many directives passed down from executive leadership and delivered in a one-way, top-down manner. Yet, when
it comes to benefits—the primary means of protecting workers’ well-being and driving their job satisfaction—this approach simply can’t continue.
 
Organizations must adapt to the new interactivity of communication, acknowledge the expectation among today’s workers of inclusion and two-way communications, and understand that the foundation of high engagement is earning trust and demonstrating care about worker well-being. A key tactic in meeting these objectives is to proactively communicate about all aspects of your benefits portfolio.
 
 
Audrey Boone Tillman is Aflac’s executive vice president of corporate services. Research and statistics are from the 2014 Aflac WorkForces Report unless otherwise noted.

Posted June 12, 2014 in Engaged Workforce

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