Editor's Note: This article is part of a series on benefits technology. All stories in this series can be found here.
Ask employees what they know about their benefits and they’ll probably say quite a bit. A Guardian study found that while 80% of employees polled said they understood their benefits very well, only 49% actually did. Employers might put the blame on workers for tuning out during open enrollment or not paying attention to their benefits until they need them. Whatever the reason, employees want to know and understand their benefits. And they should. After all, they’re sharing a growing percentage of the cost.
Other studies suggest that employers aren’t communicating with employees as well as they should on any topic, let alone a complex subject like benefits. With state-of-the-art technology and endless ways of communicating with employees, there’s no reason for employees to be “left in the dark.”
So, why aren’t employers doing a better job using technology to communicate with employees?
Jennifer Jung, director of benefits at Bridgepoint Education in San Diego, cites the cost of technology as one barrier. The cost for employers can differ depending on their industry, the complexity of the message and whether they have the right partner or vendor from which to purchase the technology, says Jung. Since price can be prohibitive, HR managers must be able to justify the cost in their budgets, she adds.
Communication doesn’t end with open enrollment
No workplace event generates as much information in a relatively short time span as open enrollment. Employees probably receive more notices, watch more videos, hear more speeches and fill out more forms during open enrollment than they do at any other time during the year.
BenefitsPRO, an online resource for benefits professionals, says employers should be teaching and communicating with employees about their benefits all year round. The same strategy applies when communicating any topic, but it’s especially critical for benefits because of their complexity and high monetary value. Keeping benefits information in front of employees all year can prevent them from feeling confused or overwhelmed when selecting benefits options during open enrollment, says BenefitsPRO.
Shandon Fowler, senior director of product strategy at Benefitfocus, a technology platform for employers and insurers, says he avoids using the term employee “education” when communicating benefits information. Employees don’t want to learn about benefits; they just want to be assured that they are getting the information they need, says Fowler. He adds that by using technology to communicate benefits, employers can, in effect, “educate” employees without making them feel as though they were being taught a lesson.
Technology is central to effective communication
“The key to better employee communication is capitalizing on technology to reach employees when, where and how they want to be reached,” says Fowler. “Nearly one in every four humans on the planet are now on Facebook, and they are quickly growing accustomed to personalized content.”
Meagan Tyson, west regional director of client communications at HUB International, agrees. Employers can’t pitch one way of communicating over another, she says. “Technology allows them to communicate 24-7 and reach many people at their convenience through video, mandated email (messages can’t be skipped or erased), text messages and other tools.”
Tailoring messages to audiences works best
Communications professionals have always known that tailoring messages to an audience gets the best results. And the same rule-of-thumb applies to technology.
Tyson says employers must first identify their audiences, Demographics can break down by gender, generation, tech or non-tech savvy or preferences for receiving information via print, digital, satellite or video.
A HUB International guide on preferences among generations shows how each prefers to receive information:
- Mature workers: Brief memos and meetings
- Baby boomers: Phone and face to face
- Gen Xers: Email and phone
- Millennials: Online text and face to face
A study by Health Advocate shows similar results. About 73% of employees polled said they preferred talking live with someone about their benefits, rather than using an app. And millennials were found to prefer face-to-face talks more than boomers or Gen Xers.
Bridgepoint partnered with HUB to overhaul its tech communication system. Before taking on a such a massive project, Tyson recommends surveying employees to find out what tools they need.
“Create a plan and don’t try to take on too much,” she says. “Factor in enough time to implement the technology; otherwise, the [system’s] debut could be a fire drill.”