Let’s face it: communicating about benefits is always a challenge. People are busy and bombarded with messages. Every 60 seconds, there are 19 million texts fired off and 190 million emails sent.1 It’s hard for benefits communication to compete. A recent study2 found that people spend 18 minutes choosing benefits to protect their families for the next year―versus four hours to pick the best cell phone.
Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, there are even more challenges. Communication budgets have been cut, employees are working remotely, and attention is understandably focused elsewhere.
So what’s the solution? There’s no magic bullet, but here are six practical tips to break through the barriers.
1. Build your benefits brand
Your benefits communication needs to stand out. One of the best ways to do that is to develop a distinct look and feel―a brand.
Create a unifying look to visually link all benefits communication. That way, when employees receive a communication piece, they’ll know it’s about benefits. Your visual platform should include a color palette, photography, art elements, and a benefits brand name or campaign tagline.
But branding is more than a logo and pretty pictures. It also means your tone and voice. What overall feeling do you want employees to walk away with?
For example, Milliman wanted to emphasize its best-in-class benefits for its own employees. We developed the tagline “Benefits = coverage you can count on.” The math references throughout the campaign (equals, count) tied in to Milliman’s actuarial roots. The tone and voice are conversational and direct. The overall feeling is that Milliman benefits are reliable, valuable, and comforting.
2. Cut through the clutter
Nobody wants to search through a 50-page Summary Plan Description. Readers are used to quickly scanning an article for high points. Try these techniques:
- Infographics: Tell your story with short facts and graphics.
- Flow charts: Consider a decision flow chart to help employees figure out which plan is right for them.
- Bullet points: Break long paragraphs into short and succinct points.
- Callouts: Highlight key messages, calls to action, and resources.
- Charts: Chunk content for easy, at-a-glance reference.
- By the numbers: Use startling statistics to grab attention.
3. Repeat to retain
Remember the rule of seven. People need to hear something an average of seven times before taking action. Your benefits guide may have all of the details, but if people aren’t aware of it or motivated to open it, it’s not going to change behavior.
Use a variety of media to get your message across, such as print brochures and postcards mailed to homes, benefit websites, videos, webinars, and virtual meetings.
Start early, and repeat your messages often―especially if you’re making benefit changes. Effective communication campaigns are a multistep process:
- Grab attention with bold headlines and graphics.
- Educate with facts and examples.
- Inspire with testimonials.
- Change behavior with clear calls to action.
4. Get creative with your delivery
Your tried-and-true communication channels may not work. Look for new ways to reach employees. This is not the time for bells and whistles. You want accurate, cost-effective communication that doesn’t appear flashy.
- Podcasts: People like to consume information or entertainment in short bursts. For example, according to The New York Times, about one in three Americans listens to podcasts.3 Podcasts can be produced quickly, which allows you to respond nimbly to changing conditions. For example, Milliman released a podcast to its retirement plan participants in response to recent market volatility.
- Virtual meetings: With restrictions on group face-to-face gatherings and travel, people are turning to virtual meetings―especially those with a video component―as a replacement. For example, when Milliman clients needed to cancel in-person group meetings and one-on-one consultations with its in-house retirement educators, the Meeting Services team provided a virtual solution.
- Grassroots campaign: Harness influencers to cascade communication. Highlight success stories and testimonials. Use social media to drive peer-to-peer influence. This tactic is especially powerful when it comes to health and wellness initiatives. For example, “I did my biometric screening and found out my blood pressure was off-the-charts high. I saw my doctor and he told me I was a heart attack waiting to happen. He put me on medication and gave me an exercise regimen. Now I feel better than I have in years.”
5. Give it to them straight
If you are making changes to your benefit plans, don’t try to sugarcoat the message. Be open and honest. Clearly explain what’s happening, why it’s happening, and when it’s happening. Putting a spin on it can create distrust and ruin credibility.
For example, let’s say your company has decided to stop making employer contributions to your 401(k) plan for the time being. Your communication might include the following messages:
- Sometimes we have to make hard business decisions.
- We didn’t make this decision lightly.
- The 401(k) plan is still in place, and you can continue to make your own contributions.
- If you need to change or stop your contributions, here’s how to do it.
- You may be able to access the money in your account. Here’s how.
6. Answer common questions
With all of the unknowns out there, your employees need to be able to count on you for answers. Consider posting these common questions in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) format.
- Does my medical plan cover expenses related to COVID-19?
- Do I have telemedicine benefits? If so, how much will I pay for a visit?
- How do I transfer prescriptions to mail order?
- My child has anxiety. Where can I find resources?
- Have the rules changed regarding eligible healthcare flexible spending account (FSA) expenses?
- Trying to eat right and exercise isn’t easy. What resources do we have?
- Should I make a change to my 401(k) account? (Find tips on how to answer this question.4 )
Bottom line: benefits communication matters more than ever now. Take the time to craft communication that works. The messages you send can help employees feel less stressed and more confident in their benefit decisions.
1Lewis, L. (March 10, 2020). Infographic: What Happens in an Internet Minute 2020. AllAccess.com. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from https://www.allaccess.com/merge/archive/31294/infographic-what-happens-in-an-internet-minute.
2PlanSource (May 9, 2019). PlanSource Benefits Benchmark Report: Despite increasing cost and number of benefits offered, employees spend little time enrolling. GlobalNewsWire. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/05/09/1820817/0/en/PlanSource-Benefits-Benchmark-Report-Despite-Increasing-Cost-and-Number-of-Benefits-Offered-Employees-Spend-Little-Time-Enrolling.html.
3Peiser, J. (March 6, 2019). Podcast growth is popping in the U.S., survey shows, New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/06/business/media/podcast-growth.html.
4Cannaday, J. (April 17, 2020). The No. 1 question 401(k) participants are asking during the COVID-19 market swings—and how to respond. Milliman Retirement Town Hall. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from https://www.retirementtownhall.com/?p=10241#sthash.RFojqinN.dpbs.