What should employers really be telling workers about their perks

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Every employer knows that explaining benefits to employees is a vital task. But what many don’t know is how to have that conversation with a workforce that finds the subject matter dull, overwhelming and difficult to understand.

That’s the challenge many benefits managers are facing daily, said Karl Ahlrichs, a consultant at Indianapolis-based Gregory & Appel Insurance, during a session last week at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in New Orleans. And it isn’t getting any easier.

“Benefits are complicated and getting more so,” he said. “A one-size-fits-all style [of communications] no longer works.”

Meanwhile, “retention and engagement of high performers is crucial,” Ahlrichs said, and benefits are an important component of that. Therefore, there’s no other option than to make benefits communication engaging and, daresay, fun. He offered a number of tips for how employers can best communicate about benefits with their workforce.

Start with the punchline. Don’t begin a benefits presentation or discussion with a bunch of information employees don’t care about hearing, Ahlrichs said. “That’s how you lose people.”

Instead, start with the results. For example, if you are discussing health savings accounts, don’t begin by explaining what HSAs are and how they work and then, at the last minute, tell workers what the benefits of an HSA are. “Flip it,” he said. “Start with the punchline. Tell them, ‘If you implement this, you will see a 18% return.’ Explain what’s in it for them, and then, if they’re interested, explain how it works.”

Skip the complexity. There’s no room for jargon; employers must “speak employees’ language.” “In your benefits communications packet, be concise,” Ahlrich said. “Streamline your message. Make it simple and make it brief.”

Try gaming and videos. Younger workers in particular enjoy watching YouTube videos, playing video games and using apps — so why not reach out to them using technology they are comfortable with? “Take a look at gaming and make benefit communications entertaining,” Ahlrichs advised.

See also: How four employers are getting benefits communications right

Don’t give up on traditional communications. With that said, employers shouldn’t give up on traditional methods of communications, including pamphlets, text messages and benefits guides. People still like having something to hold on to and reference, plus it’s good for employees to bring home to their family for review.

Make it a two-way conversation. Conversations about workplace benefits shouldn’t just happen during open enrollment. Start out early by talking about what employees want. With the talent war heating up, benefits managers should ask high performers what benefits they’d like to receive through work. “You need to ask employees what motivates them, and answers will vary by organization,” he said.

Be consistent. Given the confusing nature of employee benefits, employers should never stop communicating information about strategies. “When you think you’re overcommunicating, you probably have it about right,” he said.

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Benefit communication Employee communications Employee engagement Benefit strategies Benefit management