Everyone likes a pat on the back. If you work in the field of employee benefits, your day of appreciation arrives Monday, April 4. National Employee Benefits Day was created by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans to recognize the efforts of benefit professionals.

This year, it focuses on communicating benefits. It's a chance to tout your company's perquisites - from the obvious, like compensation, to the mundane, like the free coffee. Benefit communication should be an ongoing process, from recruitment to retirement.

So what makes for successful benefit communications? Two experts in the field share their views. Kim Buckey, practice lead of summary plan description services at HighRoads, Inc. in Woburn, Mass., faces the challenge of creating documents that satisfy the letter of the law and are user-friendly.

She's on a mission to position SPDs as a go-to document for employees. "Given how much employers spend on producing and distributing SPDs to plan participants, it's critical to know your audience," she advises, adding that she knows of a company that actually held a focus group on SPDs.

Buckey favors employee surveys that ask direct questions like "Did you read it?" and "Why or why not?" After 25 years of experience in the field of communicating benefit information, she knows what to avoid - boilerplate content, legal and insurance jargon, preaching, static PDFs.

And she knows what to promote - advance positioning, getting employee input, creative layout, and multimedia. A multimedia approach is important because of the need to repeat a message several times in order for it to register.

When it comes to benefit communications, "content is king," says Jill Havely, director of Towers Watson's rewards, talent and communications practice.

With 20 years of communication experience, Havely knows the importance of keeping information easy, accessible and meaningful. She counsels employers to "stay with the basics and always be mindful of 'What's in it for me?'"

Employers often make a big investment in launching a communication campaign, but fall short in continuing the message, says Havely. She advises clients to identify goals and measurements of success before launching a communications campaign.

If the goal is to get employees to save for retirement, how much of an increase in the overall savings rate of the population spells success?

If your benefits communication campaign needs a boost, consider an employee focus group or survey to find out how much employees know (or don't know) about the benefits available.

Ask them to rank the importance of each benefit and give them a chance to share their views. "We listened to you" are magical words that catch attention.

Have cake on National Employee Benefits Day. Inscribe the cake with the number that represents the monetary value of the overall benefits package.

Add it up for employees - from medical to dental, life insurance, disability insurance, time off, savings plan, pension plan and perquisites, including the free coffee. The number is sure to elicit a shocked response.

And take to heart advice from Buckey and Havely:

* Position your campaign in advance by telling employees what to expect.

* Keep it simple, accessible and eye-appealing.

* Use multimedia.

* Know how to measure your goals.

* Make "WIIFM" your mantra.

Contributing Editor Leanne Fosbre is a senior summary plan description writer with HighRoads, an HR IT consulting company headquartered in Woburn, Mass. She can be reached at leanne119@mac.com.

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