Why is benefits communication important?
Employees are continually telling us that they want to better understand the value of their benefits package and the relevance of the products and services available to their lives both at work and at home. And it is for this reason that benefits communications are so important.
If employers do not take the time to plan effective communication around what is being offered to their staff, it should come as little surprise that employees will not have taken the time to understand and engage with their benefits programme. And a failure to communicate effectively can also bring into question the value of the benefits programme itself and disenchant not only staff but also senior management who are trying to promote value for their employees.
Which communications channels work?
There is a time and place for most channels of communication, but deciding the right approach for the right occasion can be difficult. With so many channels available, face-to-face may not always be at the forefront of employers’ minds. They may consider it time- consuming or logistically difficult and may feel they are ill-equipped to communicate benefits in a face-to-face situation effectively. This is understandable; however, there are solutions available from providers that specialise in face-to-face communication (often at surprisingly little or no cost) and employer/employee feedback shows that face-to-face communication can result in higher rates of take-up and participation. Indeed, recent Personal Group research, Let’s Talk Benefits, which looks at the experiences and expectations of employees when it comes to employee benefits communication, has found that nearly seven out of 10 of those who had face-to-face meetings with benefits providers found them to be effective and helpful. Interestingly, the same research indicates that employees value face-to-face communication perhaps more than employers realise, which demonstrates a real opportunity for both employers and employees to make more out of face-to-face communication. It gives a greater chance for employees to understand the scope and potential of the benefits on offer and for employers to ensure that their benefits budget is money well spent and that the key messages are being received and understood.
Who is responsible for face-to-face benefits communication?
Everyone has a part to play in good face-to-face communication, but HR directors and senior management need to be clear about how they can engage line managers in the process. A significant number of the employees who participated in the Let’s Talk Benefits research said that they would like their line manager to spend more time talking with them about employee benefits. It is important, however, for HR to make clear to line managers that they’re not expected to be benefits experts. But they can act as an invaluable communication channel with a unique potential to engage employees with a personal touch, encouraging them to attend staff briefings or meet with a consultant or provider introduced to the workplace by the employer and direct them to the best source of information when extra information is needed.
The way we communicate as a society is changing rapidly and it is important that we do not forget the needs and preferences of employees in the process. There is a wide choice of benefits communication methods available: email, text, posters, websites, benefits books, pay and slip messaging, to name but a few. However, if these are used in isolation or without a face-to-face element embedded within it, the ultimate success of the programme may well be negatively impacted. And whichever channel is used, employers must work hard to ensure that they are speaking the language of those who work for them and that line managers have access to the relevant information they require to understand the benefits programme so that they can support the process and communicate effectively with their teams. Improved face-to-face communications not only encourage a greater engagement, interest and take-up of employee benefits but can also produce a programme that is better understood and valued and consequently offers a more significant return on benefits investment for the employer.
Nigel Brittle is CEO, Personal Group