There are few absolute truths in business. One of them is that benefits satisfaction is contingent upon how well the coverage is communicated to employees and their dependents. For an eagle-eyed view of innovation in this arena, EBN's 2013 i-COMM Award winners offer their peers a roadmap for how to conduct an outstanding campaign and reap the rewards. A common theme involves high-tech platforms that are delivered in conjunction with an important human touch.
Best Overall Communications Campaign: EMC Corporation
One secret to EMC Corporation's success was to tailor messaging to each audience and make it as engaging as possible given the flood of emails in people's inboxes. A health management seminar about menopause, for example, might feature a pithy subject line, such as "Is it hot in here or is it me?" "Most women would want to open that and say, 'okay, what's that about?'" according to Laura Burns, senior manager, benefits communications for EMC Corporation.
A key objective was to persuade the mostly male workforce (nearly 80% of about 60,000 employees worldwide) to share benefits information with their spouses or domestic partners, who help drive decision-making. But there also were other demographic challenges. Many employees, for example, work in the field and out of 400 sales offices that serve partners in 86 countries, necessitating an alternative communication strategy beyond on-site benefit fairs typically hosted at large facilities in California, North Carolina and Hopkinson, Mass.
The answer: A virtual benefits fair featuring messaging headlines, emerging "gamification" concepts and integration of tailored media.
Given EMC's acquisition activity, it's also important to inform and engage new hires year-round to ensure a positive transition without burdening the HR team.
EMC has embraced a paperless approach to communicating employee benefits content in order to slash enormous costs. Burns notes that print communications can average about $40,000 per mailing. In addition, an attitudinal segmentation analysis suggests that 84% of the workforce prefers a dynamic online solution to the printed word.
Another factor is that technology is EMC's core business, with cloud computing used as a tool to help businesses and service providers transform their operations. Burns credits a partnership with Xerox to provide gamification technology with greatly enhancing employee communications.
EMC's online platform, branded as "MyPowerSource," sought to improve employee access to information and educational opportunities, as well as strengthen understanding and engagement of EMC's benefit plans and health management programs.
EMC was extremely pleased with the results of its 2013 open enrollment. Nearly 25% of employees accessed MyPowerSource compared to normative data in the teens, with visits averaging 63 minutes. In addition, both WebMD and ADP reported reduced call volume and wait times compared to prior years.
The larger business imperative behind this communications campaign is to help employees become healthier and more productive. Vital components include a continued focus on data, robust health management programs and solid plan management. These efforts have helped EMC contain its health care trend to just 1% going into 2014 without shifting costs to its health benefit plan participants.
EMC's campaign featured key assists from ML Krakauer, EVP of HR; Kevin Close, SVP of global compensation and benefits; Delia Vetter, senior director; Lauri Tenney, director of benefits; Trey Orta, senior director, HRIS; Joe Howell, HR branding and employee engagement; Anne Docimo, senior benefits analyst; Heidi Hobbs, manager, benefits operations; and Bette Phillos, manager compliance.
Best Use of Social Media: The Limited
Just like the name of this national chain of women's apparel stores, the operative word is limited. "We must balance our need to communicate with our associates with the reality that they have very limited time in their stores to digest what information we can provide," Jessica Ward, benefits manager for The Limited, explained in her i-COMM application.
She describes the predominantly female workforce of 5,500 employees spread across more than 260 locations in 42 states as "young, busy and energetic," which also reflects The Limited's customer base. As such, communications are tailored to this audience and include healthy recipes, as well as tips on financial security and how to reduce stress. About 950 store associates are eligible for benefits.
Limited also can be used to describe the midsize retailer's benefits communication campaign budget. "We don't work with a consultant to produce any of our materials," according to Ward. "All materials are written or collected and edited within our department, including our blog content."
The decision to pursue a social-media communications strategy was driven by The Limited's demographic and the geographic makeup. "In order to reach them on a more frequent basis, we needed to find an avenue that was quick and easy and met our needs," she says.
With an average age in the low 30s, "we knew that people were on Facebook, reading blogs and wanted that more personal connection," she adds. "Using social media allows us to have so many more touch points throughout the year with an associate than we might have otherwise through more traditional means of communication because we don't have a way to publicize our benefits in our locations, other than in our main corporate offices."
The primary objective is to help associates manage their busy lives and achieve personal success through quality benefit plans and wellness opportunities which, in turn, will better enable them to provide an outstanding client experience. Several concierge benefits include 24-hour telephonic access to doctors, a personal health advocate, as well as maternity support and assistance finding child care providers and baby sitters.
In late 2009, a strategic plan dubbed "Total Value of Health" was launched - featuring engaging and simple communications about the entire benefits portfolio. The effort included a graphically appealing wellness benefits guide, website, blog and quarterly newsletters mailed to employees' homes - materials that are updated annually to reflect the company's Live Well brand and refocus attention on valuable benefit programs. The Limited's Live Well blog readership has soared by more than 50%, while a combination of email blasts to remind associates about new content and contests featuring opportunities to win gift cards drive traffic and increase the number of online subscribers. "We are cross-pollinating our communication efforts by featuring the blog on our quarterly newsletter and providing links to our benefits website from the blog," according to Ward.
This has created a ripple effect of positive results. For example, she credits the easy-to-understand benefits guide with minimizing the number of associate inquires about benefit basics, while the newsletter and blog have increased Teladoc program utilization to nearly 9% from 5%.
Ward would like to acknowledge her boss, David Giesman, director of compensation and benefits, for his support in designing and guiding the Live Well branding and messaging throughout the blog. Another standout was graphic designer, Sharon McMullen, who she says "brought our ideas to life in a vibrant and visual way."
Best Employee Intranet/Employee Portal Design & Usability: Toshiba America Medical Systems
The linchpin of Toshiba America Medical Systems' communication campaign was a comprehensive employee benefits website with a mobile app called "Benefits Source" to help employees and their families be more informed consumers of company benefits. The site's architecture "layers information in such a way that users are able to easily and quickly find answers to their most common questions without having to wade through unnecessary details," Lynda Morvik, TAMS' director, benefits and HRIS, wrote in her i-COMM application.
A content management system centralizes documents, streamlines workflow, and allows for publishing and editing without technical support. It is accompanied by tools and resources to help people choose and use their benefits. TAMS also developed a palatable design featuring easy-to-read content.
Mindful that people are busy, a concerted effort was made to inform employees without overwhelming them with information. One such example is a single monthly "Benefits Roundup" email with links to articles, blogs, multimedia presentations, quizzes, polls and online calculators. By highlighting simple and clear communications, TAMS also sought to free up benefits-department staffers to focus on long-term, strategic initiatives by reducing the number of employee inquiries about their benefits. All of TAMS' 1,265 employees are eligible for benefits.
Another goal was to foster personal accountability for health and well-being among employees by promoting wellness program participation, as well as showing how the physical, emotional and financial aspects of wellness affect each other. It dovetails into a larger mission to improve employees' quality of life, tearing a page from its own corporate playbook to provide innovative medical imaging technology and information for improving patient care.
The TAMS workplace became tobacco-free in 2011, giving way to a full-blown wellness program featuring a smoking cessation program, walking path, healthy choices in vending machines and access to WebMD's online service. The cafeteria also features a communication station reminding employees of deadlines for participating in biometric screenings, wellness contest details and other information that is repeated throughout the workday.
More recently, TAMS developed a medical data warehousing capability to help prevent or better manage chronic conditions. Another key feature is a free generic maintenance drug list for employees with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
A major challenge at TAMS has been dealing with an unusually high rate of preventable chronic conditions and low utilization of preventive services. Benefits Source turned out to be an important vehicle for connecting employees to wellness resources and raising understanding of the connection between employees' choices and their impact on the company's medical claims. It also features success stories spotlighting employees who are changing their lives through the company's wellness program and culture of wellness.
The results have been outstanding. Use of preventive services increased by 25%, while 35% of employees earned wellness incentives and 47% participated in physical activity programs in 2012. In addition, the number of benefits-related inquiries has plummeted by 55%, and the response time has fallen by 30%. Also, the time it takes TAMS to make changes to content has been slashed by 80%, while benefits staffers can now make changes immediately through the content management system.
Assisting Morvik with her communications campaign and content was a benefit manager who is no longer with the company, as well as San Francisco-based Renger Communications.
Best Print or Online Newsletter: Iowa Department of Administrative Services
Uniformity was the chief aim of an ambitious employee benefits communication campaign launched by the Department of Administrative Services-Human Resources Enterprise. Benefits communication used to be left up to numerous agencies with different methods that were seen as diluting the information and producing inconsistent messaging.
But in June 2009, DAS-HRE launched an online newsletter called "Benefit News" to expand the department's reach and scope, as well as brand the employee benefits program and burnish its value. Other objectives included keeping benefits on employees' minds throughout the year and updating them on plan changes in a timely and standardized manner.
DAS-HRE manages group insurance plans, deferred compensation, workers' compensation and other benefits for more than 27,000 state employees from all three branches of government. DAS-HRE also manages health and dental plans for more than 10,000 state retirees. All active workers are eligible for a state pension, while 18,848 are eligible for health care coverage.
HR sought to demystify itself and "speak more plainly to employees in language that they would understand," says Jim Pierson, employee benefits educator for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.
More than 22,500 employee email addresses were loaded into Lyris' ListManager in the creation of Benefit News, which has been expanded to include monthly wellness and benefit education emails. The publication has exceeded the DAS-HRE's expectations.
"We measured its success by the number of readers (about 4,000 monthly visits), the nature of the questions asked and the positive responses from employees about the newsletter," Pierson said in his i-COMM application, noting that the publication was increased to six times/year in 2013, up from from four times/year previously. "The newsletter has been so successful that other agencies have contacted us to determine if a similar electronic newsletter might work for their customers."
Pierson singled out the contributions of several colleagues for helping get every issue into ship shape: Ed Holland, risk and benefits administrator for the Iowa Department of Administrative Service, as well as HR/benefits staffers Rose Baughman, Linda Goebel, Sheryl Jensen, Terri Marshall, Rachel Orris, Jennifer Sandusky, Robbie Stoecker and John Williams. A special thank-you also goes to Susan Churchill, whose copy editing, he says, makes for a high-quality publication.
"We're marketing benefits to employees as our customers, and we need to use the kind of approaches that a marketing firm would use," he says. "We need to explain benefits in a way that makes it understandable and as a valuable part of the total compensation package."
Bruce Shutan is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
At a glance
Goals: Inform existing employees and dependents of benefit offerings, engage them in the decision process and in wellness programs, inform newly acquired employees and dependents of EMC's benefits.
Initiative: MyPowerSource, an online platform, that provides a dynamic and interactive information resource for employees and their families 24/7.
Results: Despite holding a passive open enrollment event, nearly 25% of employees accessed MyPowerSource.
Goals: Drive greater participation in benefits programs and deliver engaging content to the company's predominantly young, female workforce.
Initiative: Live Well blog.
Results: Since its debut, blog traffic has increased by 50%. Participation in maternity support program and Teladoc program increased from 5% to 9%.
Toshiba America Medical Systems, Inc.
Goals: Help employees and their families become more informed consumers of benefits, free up time for benefits department to focus on strategic initiatives.
Initiative: Benefits Source website and mobile app.
Results: During 2012 open enrollment, the site had over 1,200 unique visitors. The number of benefits-related inquiries to the benefits department has decreased by 55%.
Iowa Department of Administrative Services - Human Resources Enterprise
Goals: Communicate directly with employees, keep employee benefits front and center throughout the year.
Initiative: Benefit News, an online newsletter delivered via email.
Results: Each edition is opened by about 4,000 employees. In 2013, the frequency of the newsletter was increased from four to six times/year.
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