How is HR planning to adapt their benefits education strategies for the year ahead? Perhaps less than you might expect. In spite of upheaval, some HR leaders plan to rely on traditional communication strategies to reach employees.
Our recent State of the Benefits Experience Survey found that 99% of respondents will use paper or online enrollment materials, 97% will use email, and, perhaps most surprisingly in this year, 77% will use in-person meetings. App notifications clocked in at 21%, while 13% would use Slack, Microsoft Teams, or another chat tool to communicate benefits.
We know that benefits communication lays the groundwork for the even more elusive task of benefits education. We say elusive because, when we asked in the same survey how they would rate their benefits education strategy’s success, HR pros responded with an average of 3 out of 5.
Newly remote workforces, piling pressures that compete for employee attention, and the possibility of new benefits and procedures threaten to push them to complete obsolescence. So this year, achieving success with the communication strategies we’ve always relied on is an even tougher proposition. To get ahead of the wave, HR must update its communication strategies.
As we’ve said before, you should really just kill your benefits booklet. Benefits booklets are often discarded, buried in a desk, or simply ignored. It doesn’t matter whether you mail it home or make it accessible through your intranet. Any static document is likely to be skimmed during OE and then abandoned without any real retention. That means that when employees actually need to use their benefits, they won’t know what’s on offer or where to look. It’s a recipe for high healthcare costs, and something you can’t afford in a year when employees are so separated from your communications.
If you aren’t ready to toss it all together, consider shoring up your enrollment materials with a year-round communication plan. Backing up the booklet with email campaigns, push notifications and/or text messages, messaging platforms like Slack, and any other slam-dunk communication strategies can smooth dips after benefits booklets are dumped. First up, let’s talk about email.
Emails are practically begging to be ignored, especially when your employees see that the subject is their benefits. You can maximize the likelihood employees will act on important to-do’s or retain helpful info by overhauling your email strategy.
- Consider your cadence: When (time of day, day of the week, time of the month) do you send emails? How often? And what topics do you cover? As you build out your year-round communication strategy, it’s helpful to start by asking how often employees will need to hear from you, and how often they’ll want to. If you already track open rates and engagement for your HR emails, reviewing this data will yield insights. If not, installing that software is a great place to start.
- Email like a marketer: email marketing is a job unto itself, so you can borrow some tricks from the pros. This post from Grammarly includes great tips on everything from structuring your emails to how much time you should spend on subject lines (hint: a lot!).
In short, we know you’ll be sending emails about benefits, so take a few minutes at the beginning of update your strategy. A little goes a long way!
Your employees probably don’t want more video-based learning. Over the last week, I had 18 hours of video-based work meetings, an hour-long Zoom appointment with a doctor, took a 2.5-hour Zoom-based writing class, and met with my Zoom-based book club for an hour. That was a light week, and I don’t have children. But if your company is working remotely (or just trying to minimize gatherings during the second wave) you’re likely stuck with video meetings for now. A few ideas to keep them engaging:
- Give an incentive worth having – If attendance is an issue, consider an incentive. Yes, incentives really do increase engagement. Just make sure it’s something they want. Enter employees into a drawing if they hang around until the last slide, or have them text a number you give out at the meeting’s end to get a Starbucks gift card.
- Keep meetings interactive – Today, I referred to the monotasking it took to write this post as “a real treat.” That’s because multitasking has become the order of the day. Setting an expectation of focus and rewarding it with a truly captivating presentation can help employees stay engaged. Engagement = retention. This list from Fearless Presentations has a few quick tips, like using the Zoom whiteboard and setting expectations in the invite notes. You can also think back to the best TED Talk, virtual presentation, or hosted happy hour you’ve ever attended and ask “what made me want to pay attention?”
- Or consider Audio instead of video – As an alternative, consider encouraging your people to take an audio-only meeting. Whenever possible, I take webinars or video-off meetings to my treadmill so I can walk while working. Set your benefits meeting up as an audio-only webinar, and ask them to mask up and head out for a walk. There isn’t much downside here: studies on walking and walking meetings show we’re more creative when we’re moving, and a survey from the Harvard Business Review found employees who participated in walking meetings reported 85% higher engagement. If you follow up with an email that contains action steps, you might actually give employees better notes than they’d ever taken while multitasking at their desks.
Whether you choose push notifications or an SMS strategy, we’ll clue you in on a secret: mobile notifications are the best benefits engagement tool you’re not using.
App notifications are a powerful way to quickly grab your employees’ attention. Yet only a little over one-fifth of the HR leaders we surveyed were using this tech. If you’re one of the unconvinced 80%, consider this: in a Localytics study, app users who received push notifications had 53% more sessions than app users who didn’t get notifications. Apply that to benefits: an app that centralizes your benefits can capitalize on push notifications to get details in front of far more employees than a static booklet or even an email. If that’s not an option, the good news is that SMS notifications are equally compelling. A study in the UK found that 98% of mobile users will read a branded or business-based text communication—90% within the first 3 minutes.
For 2021, you can update this strategy by tailoring your messages to align with best practices. Our attention is more divided than ever, so analyzing metrics like open rates and polishing up your copy is essential. This article from Stephanie Trunzo for Retail Dive has helpful tips for retail marketers, but I think this advice is universally applicable: “we have to be careful to create content that adds value, not noise.”
Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other chat tools
If a Slack notification has ever pulled you away from a Sunday spent lounging on your couch, you know just how powerful these tools can be. About 13% of the HR pros we surveyed reported using chat tools for their benefits communications. Yet we know that these tools are surging in popularity, especially among office workers. If you weren’t using Slack or Teams before March, you probably are now.
Assuming you’re already using one of these tools, you can update this strategy for 2021 by simply using it more consistently. To start, consider how you can adapt the technology for communicating benefits. Which details, action items, or deadlines are best suited to this space?
Non-specific reminders, like general announcements, enrollment dates, or company-wide plan change details, could be posted and pinned in these chat tools for easy referral. Create a Benefits channel in Slack to post only the most pertinent info, which can keep employees from getting fatigued by constant messages. Remember that these communication channels run both ways, and that’s a good thing. For instance, you could install a poll app to get an idea of where employees are struggling. Just don’t neglect a tool that you are likely already paying to use.
Give these common benefits communication strategies a 2021 makeover
Updating your benefits communication strategies for 2021 isn’t a matter of tossing everything out. You can likely make headway on your benefits education goals by applying a few small tweaks to every strategy. In a year when employees need help to navigate their new normal, a little bit of improved communication goes a long way.
Employee Benefits Communication Guide
We’ve gathered our best tips for employee benefits communication into this comprehensive guide. Learn best practices, helpful tips for your next presentation, and more.