This post was originally published in August 2018. It was updated in November 2020.
You’re about to launch an exciting new HR initiative, and everything’s in place to ensure it’s a smash hit. Everything, that is, except your employees.
As an HR leader, launching a new program feels like a complicated juggling act. You face budgetary concerns, culture fit questions, and an uphill battle to buy-in from upper-level management. We haven’t even mentioned your list of existing tasks. Once the program is finally ready to launch, it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief, sit back, and watch the program work its magic.
But long-term program success doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch. Merely having a value-adding program is not enough. For any new initiative to make a real difference, employees need to use it. Not only that, but utilization needs to be high.
A new HR initiative is useless if it’s underutilized. No matter how fired-up you may be about the value it will add, it’s crucial that your employees feel the same way. Here are four simple, essential steps to winning higher employee utilization when launching a new HR program:
Spread the word
Clear communication of your program to employees is the foundation of a successful rollout. During a new program launch, HR departments should proactively communicate with and rally employees at three key touchpoints:
- Preliminary communication: Before you reach the rollout stage, start generating buzz for your program internally. Send out an email giving sneak peeks that highlight some of the coolest features of the program. It may also be helpful to reach out to the program vendor to get tips on how to build excitement for the launch based on past rollout experiences at other companies (see our post How to Simplify Benefits Communication for Open Enrollment for more).
- Communication during rollout: The rollout period should be informative and appropriate. Don’t assume bigger is better—depending on your organization, intimate small group meetings may be more appealing to employees than bigger lecture-style presentations.
- Follow-up/after rollout: Continual communication post-launch is essential to integrate a new program permanently into your company culture. Make sure to maintain follow-up communication in a frequent yet focused manner, so employees aren’t overburdened with information. It’s important to repeat, repeat, repeat—even if employees don’t hear you the first time, they’ll remember where to go when it matters.
When communicating with employees, consider the “rule of seven” from marketing. This is an old but relevant concept that says that someone needs to hear or see a message over seven times before it enters their consciousness. You can’t expect to fire off a single email and have it work for you—it’s always better to over-communicate.
Educate your employees
Once employees are aware that the program exists, they need to know how to take advantage of it so that it can enhance their lives. Awareness and education sessions can be leveraged to dive deeper into the features and functionalities of a new program, especially if it has an app or tech-based component.
While it may be easier to put employee education on autopilot, any effort will be more rewarding if it is well-suited to your workplace culture. Try to think outside the box; instead of sending emails, take advantage of new media platforms, or create engaging visuals to display throughout the workplace. The best clues are found just by knowing your employees. If no one reads the company newsletter, then perhaps a different medium, such as an informal get-together, might be a more effective setting for coaching employees.
Overall, education will help employees understand the true value of the benefits they are receiving. Once they know exactly what they have and how it works, they’ll be quick to realize what it’s worth, which will drive up utilization rates naturally.
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Designate internal champions for your HR initiative
Sometimes people will only listen to you if you know what it’s like to be in their shoes. Relatability is a key factor in getting people’s attention, establishing credibility, and building trust. Thus, with any new program or initiative, sharing examples of employee success that people can relate to is invaluable.
One great way to go about this is by designating an internal champion who is devoted to the program and truly believes in its value. When a single person is passionate about a program, they have the potential to inspire many others to jump on the bandwagon.
For example, take a story we heard from one woman who saved her husband’s life using the HealthJoy app. Her husband never sees a doctor and doesn’t use medical care. One day, they were driving home from vacation when the husband said he wasn’t feeling well. The woman insisted they needed to go to a hospital, but her husband refused, saying he just needed to lie down. The woman said, “I have this app on my phone. We can talk to a doctor in 10 minutes, and if they say you need to go to the hospital then we are going. Deal?” He agreed, and they used the app to do a telemedicine consult. The doctor said he needed to go to the hospital, and it turns out he was having a heart attack. When they arrived, they told them if they had delayed in going to the hospital, he might have died.
Sharing this type of success story, especially when it comes from employees themselves, is one of the most effective ways to get people moving and convinced about a program’s value. Don’t be afraid to champion an employee and let them lead from within. Their genuine support of the program may be enough to convince the entire workforce.
The right incentives matter
Employees often need an extra push to engage with a new HR initiative and see for themselves why it works. Incentives are financial rewards for successfully exhibiting a behavior. Depending on your program, different approaches can lead to equally fruitful employee participation.
Sometimes it works well to provide small incentives to randomly selected employees who successfully complete the desired behavior. By giving people the chance to win (rather than a guarantee), you can create strong motivation without producing entitlement. These incentives can take the form of raffles for gift cards, prizes, tickets to events, and more. Other times, more significant incentives are needed when the behavior is hard to achieve or if the reward to the company is greater than the individual reward. For example, having an employee go to a local MRI provider whose fee is $500 vs. going to a hospital for the same procedure with a fee of $10,000 might require a more significant incentive, but the payoff is also greater.
To drive utilization, you need to choose the right incentives. In other words, the target behaviors being rewarded must motivate employees to engage with the program and experience its benefits firsthand. For instance, the incentive for a 100-day step challenge should go to those who meet their weekly step goal, not just those who sign up for the program.
Lastly, make sure that employees are aware of the full value of the financial benefits they can receive by participating. Healthcare and benefits are complicated, and employees may not always understand what they’re getting in return for their time. MetLife’s 2020 Employee Benefits Trends Study found that employees who understand their benefits are more likely to rank them as “must-haves.” For instance, the study found that among those who said they understood their medical insurance, 89% ranked it as a “must-have.” Among those who said they did not understand, only 71% ranked medical insurance as a “must-have.”
When they fully understand a program, employees are more likely to see its value, and will undoubtedly be driven to participate at higher rates.
Launching a new HR initiative is stressful and tedious, so you need to guarantee that your diligent efforts pay off in the form of high employee participation rates. From employee benefits to compensation to performance management, attracting high employee utilization is key to the success of any new HR initiative launch. Follow these steps, and you’ll find that all the hours spent convincing the C-suite to support your spectacular new program were completely worthwhile.