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5 Ways to Modernize Benefits Communication for the Next Normal

Selerix Leadership

May 25, 2021

Woman using phone for benefits

Originally featured in HRTech Cube

Steve Olivas, Vice President of Marketing at Selerix talks about the significance of employee benefits administration and communication in 2021

COVID-19 has driven a number of changes to the world of employee benefits. Two changes in particular are driving complexity for HR and benefits leaders alike:

  1. Employers expanded their range of benefits post-pandemic to focus on taking care of the whole employee.
  2. Organizations are increasingly moving to a benefits model that’s driven by technology and tightly integrated.

These two shifts have exacerbated an ongoing issue for organizations: effectively communicating their benefits and promoting adoption and awareness of the value being offered to employees.

As we move on from 2020, employee well-being is in the spotlight — and for good reason. It’s clear that an employee’s work-life experience needs to be accounted for by organizations. Employers are now moving to provide additional levels of support and benefits to meet the evolving needs and expectations of their employees. With remote work and flex-scheduling expected to continue even as offices reopen, employees who are burned out and disconnected are at greater risk of leaving if they don’t receive elevated levels of care and support from their employers.

The Mental Health Index notes that the risk of depression is 71% greater than before COVID-19 hit and attention spans are 27% worse. Furthermore, 58% of all U.S.-based employees say they are struggling with burnout — and they are four times more likely to leave than those who aren’t.

The bottom line is that employers are being forced to find new ways to meet employee needs and expectations, even as business leaders are already drowning in increased workloads, employee layoffs, and disruptions to their business models. Savvy employers and companies that have a culture of caring see the writing on the wall. They’re planning to attain a new standard of employee support going forward.

Taking a Total Well-being Approach to Benefits
Employers continue to look for innovative ways to manage burnout and address the mental health of their employees. Companies like Starbucks and Hewlett-Packard have expanded their benefits to include wellness apps, free counseling, and even access to a virtual vegetable garden.

“Employers must remain focused on incorporating innovative mental health programs with visible leadership involvement to support the well-being of their workforce,” said Garen Staglin, Chairman of One Mind at Work, in a statement earlier this year.

  • The banking industry stands out among industry verticals responding to the need. Citigroup, Bank of America, Fifth Third Bancorp, and others have added telemedicine options and augmented or adapted existing wellness programs to meet the new needs of their employees. To combat isolation, banks have tried to foster a sense of community within their remote workforces — guided meditation and Zoom “happy hours” have become common.
  • Target is offering its U.S. employees access to free online resources to support their mental, emotional, and physical health. Employees receive a year of access to websites and apps designed to help them navigate stress and worry and improve their sleep.
  • PwC introduced well-being coaching sessions where employees can reach out to a professional coach to discuss anything that may be causing them stress. PwC also created an online community for workers to connect with one another to discuss challenges they’re facing surrounding the coronavirus.

“Large employers hope employees continue to take advantage of their ongoing well-being strategies and other employer-sponsored support, such as additional job flexibility, healthy living programs, positive work-life balance initiatives, and increased education and employer support around vaccinations,” said Colleen McHugh, executive vice president of the American Health Policy Institute and strategic advisor for HR Policy Association.

Back to the Future: The New World of Benefits Intensifies HR’s Communication Challenges

Already buried under the myriad other problems beyond employee benefits, HR leaders can’t manage this push to new programs alone. They need modern solutions that help them manage and optimize their benefits, driving engagement and performance across their workforce. The challenge is not new. HR has long struggled to educate employees and drive awareness of the value of their benefits package — even when that package had far fewer pieces and was less complex than it is today.

A recent survey from Voya Financial showed how far behind we already were:

  • More than one-third of workers (35%) already don’t understand the benefits they selected during enrollment.
  • That number increases to 54% of millennials, who reported they don’t understand their benefits selections.
  • Two-thirds (66%) of workers want their employer to help them better understand their benefits beyond open enrollment to get the most value.

The dental carrier Ameritas found nearly three-quarters of employees spend less than an hour reviewing benefit plan information. In fact, employees typically just stick with the same plans and coverages, even as their lives change.

This benefits communication hurdle is now demanding employers’ full attention, and they’re scrambling for a solution. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply adopting technology.

A total well-being approach to benefits has increased the communication challenge significantly — at the same time that benefit complexity has risen dramatically and the challenge for effective communication and engagement rests solely on the shoulders of employers. While the move to offer expanded benefits to meet employee needs is well-intended, the existing model for communicating the value of benefits and driving engagement is simply ineffective. Communication often lacks personalization and is confusing and complex. These outdated methods often result in greater odds of employee confusion and the dreaded tune-out factor.

HR Admin That Blends Your Benefits Technology and Data: The New Communication Model for the New Benefits Landscape

With so much effort and money being invested in new benefits programs that address total well-being, the same level of investment must be applied into how to effectively communicate, roll out, and support these programs. An HR administration platform that empowers employers to blend benefits technology and data can work to alleviate communication challenges for organizations of all sizes and industries.

A holistic approach to these new benefit programs requires elevated levels of personalized communication. As SHRM reported, the top trend for this year in benefits is personalization. Employees don’t need to know the full breadth and complexity of your programs. They need to understand how to select and use the right benefits for their own situation. This personalization, along with enabling your workforce to provide feedback along the journey — what makes sense for each person and their family — is a crucial step that’s missing from these otherwise transformative programs.

Experts from across the benefits industry agree that this new approach to personalized benefits requires administration platforms to integrate communication tools that deliver these five nonnegotiable capabilities and features.

  1. Audience-targeting: Expanded, holistic benefits models can be complex. Personalization and audience targeting are effective countermeasures that cut through the complexity. Employers should look for communication tools that integrate with existing HR data. Leveraging data elements like age, location, job title, and coverage elections allows employers to deliver messaging that resonates with each unique audience.
  2. Personalized communication preferences: With multiple generations in the workforce today, the optimal medium or channel for reaching them will vary greatly. In addition, job duties and role structures influence how employees get company information (e.g., non-desk workers who don’t have company email). The new model for benefits requires personalization in how employees are communicated with. The ability to set up email, texts, and push/desktop notifications is essential.
  3. Automation and scalability: It’s already a daily struggle for HR and benefits leaders to keep up with every piece of information that needs to be shared with their employees. The new model of holistic benefits demands HR leaders now do more with less. An effective communication solution should include automation to alleviate that burden. Automated messaging should be triggered by a transactional activity (e.g., onboarding, qualifying life event, and status changes). Of course, to make sense for administrators, these solutions should require minimal setup and maintenance; employers should opt for native or turnkey solutions when possible.
  4. Timely communication insights: To truly deliver the right benefits experience for every employee, organizations must have access to real-time insights that measure the effectiveness of their communication and engagement efforts (e.g., open and click rates). Additionally, features like surveys and real-time responses put leaders in the position to be proactive and responsive to employee needs.
  5. An easy, branded experience: An effective communication solution should allow organizations to seamlessly import and leverage existing HTML content. Whether it’s by importing existing content templates or copying and pasting HTML content, the solution should support a convenient and easy-to-use customized experience. In other words, employers shouldn’t be required to reinvent the wheel each time they need to create a new communication.

In short, identifying these five capabilities is a critical starting point for organizations looking to deliver an effective, modernized benefits experience. Focusing on the total wellbeing of your workforce is the right response for these difficult times — and a terrible thing to waste with a poor communication strategy. Address both with an effective blend of strategy and technology and you’re well on your way to thriving in the new well-being-centric workplace.

Steve Olivas , Vice President of Marketing for Selerix
Steve Olivas is Vice President of Marketing for Selerix, an industry-leading provider of benefits administration and employee engagement software. He is responsible for brand strategy and marketing campaigns and is heavily involved in employee engagement and cultural initiatives at Selerix, which he joined in 2012.

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