Benefits have long been part of the employee value proposition designed to both attract and retain talent as well as boost engagement and loyalty. A benefits package should also send a positive message about the employer brand and demonstrate that an organisation is serious about rewarding and looking after its people. Failure to communicate its true value, however, has meant that they have become an expected part of an employee’s package rather than one that is highly prized. A well-thought out internal communications strategy can reverse this thinking but it demands time and resource.
What are you trying to achieve?
Define the objective of the benefits package and the part it plays in the organisation’s reward offering. As Jerry Edmondson, strategic communications and engagement proposition leader of Aon Employee Benefits, points out, some organisations see their benefit programmes as a “vibrant and dynamic element” of their overall people strategy, some as more of “a hygiene factor”. The latter means employees will similarly perceive it as something to be expected rather than something to get excited about. “An honest assessment of this will go a long way in shaping the nature and scope of the most appropriate communication strategy,” he says.
Create a line of sight
A central tenet of any communications campaign is that employees must be able to identify what the benefits mean to them. The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) revamped its benefits offering after it experienced low engagement levels, devising three ‘personas’ around which to target its campaign: early-stage career, mid-career, and pre-retirement. “So for early career lifestyle options will appeal whereas pre-retirement an individual might want to increase their level of health insurance,” explains David Blackburn, chief of people at FSCS. “Now we are in year two we are taking that to the next level and plan to use real people so others can see the choices they’ve made.” The scheme currently boasts engagement levels of around 95% to 97%.
Indeed, reward and employee benefits professionals need to be mindful that a one-size-fits-all approach seldom works. “Make sure you are sending the most relevant message to the right people at the right points,” says Nick Kjelgaard, strategic partnership director at benefits technology platform provider Staffcare.
Build an engaging brand
Creating a distinct identity and brand for the benefits programme will help elevate it in the employees’ consciousness as well as enhance its status. The University of Lincoln gave its programme a brand and identity when it centralised benefits on one platform and then exploited this across different channels.
“We have introduced competitions, recognition cards and staff suggestions, and recycle pages just to encourage constant engagement,” says Ian Hodson, head of reward at the university. “A brand helps employees piece together and identify with the communications when they see them as being part of the benefits package.”
Meanwhile, FSCS built on a brand created for internal communications that people had already started to see on screensavers and wall vinyls. “This really helped to make a connection with them,” says Blackburn.
Ensure communication is ongoing and year-round
While a big-bang approach to communications generates a buzz at the introduction of a programme or at key points such as when the benefits enrolment window is open, keep up the momentum with a year-long timeline. According to Hodson “a little and often” approach is proving more effective for the university than “one big communication”. Using social media to drip-feed highlights has been particularly effective. “It has generated a buzz; particularly when we have had a new benefit or a special promotion,” he explains. “We have launched a number of new benefits lately including holiday+ and a cycle hire scheme, and both of them have seen a good early take-up and a high profile.” He also advises organisations to “create a following” whether through social media or innovative activities so the audience is always “looking out” for what you will be doing next.
While it is important to keep the message clear and simple, the more creative the communications campaign the greater and more lasting the impact. FSCS created an animation of an individual walking through the entire process when employees log on to the portal. It also runs printed and email teaser campaigns as well as a desk drop in the run up to the enrolment window. A ‘benefits fair’ where various providers come in and talk to employees, and financial education sessions by its benefits provider Aon have also proved hugely popular. “Out of sight can mean out of mind,” he says. “Making it an active choice that people have to make drives greater engagement.”
Find out what employees think
While high engagement levels and other metrics are great indicators of success it is also important to learn directly from employees. So make sure the communications strategy is two-way. “Carrying out even simplistic research will enable you to shift the focus of your communication effort in line with your people’s preferences,” says Edmondson. “You may think the new intranet is super-whizzy [but] your people may prefer the staff newsletter, or hearing things direct from their line manager.” Such an exercise also demonstrates that you care and acknowledges the validity of staff input.