If someone had asked me 15 years ago about my biggest fears, one of them would have been communicating. Not the type of communicating with family and friends (they will tell you I was talking at birth!). More of the speaking-in-front-of-a-group communication. I was never more nervous in school than those days when I would have to stand in front of the class and present something.

Today, I would list communicating as one of my top three things to do. Why the dramatic change? Let’s simply call it necessary. As someone whose natural comfort zone is developing and administering benefits (i.e., a “doer”), I’ll be the first to say that I have truly learned that effectively communicating employee benefits is just as important as developing the initiative itself.

The 180-degree turn occurred about 14 years ago when I started my first corporate benefits job and was told a week into it that I was going to perform the one-hour, in-person new employee benefits orientation for about 30 employees every other week. My first thought was, “don’t they get a benefits guide?” and I imagine that the look on my face at that moment was priceless. Today I still thank the woman who put me in that position, as I had no idea of the importance of what she was asking me to do at the time. 

Over the next 13 years, I had the opportunity to communicate benefits to many different types of organizations, including start-ups, federal government contractors, union environments, and those in transition mode. Each setting naturally required different types of employee benefits communication but the underlying theme was always the same: put the employees in a position where they can do their jobs effectively without worrying about what their benefits program consists of and how/where to get assistance if they need it. This can be accomplished through a comprehensive benefits communications program. It starts during the interview process, takes root during the new employee orientation phase and grows with newsletters, open enrollment, lunch-and-learns, total compensation statements, health fairs, webinars, benefits program guides/websites throughout the tenure of their employment. In fact, in Metlife’s 2011 Study of Employee Benefit Trends, employees who say that their company has effective benefits communications, or who recognize that their employer has improved communications, are more than twice as likely to say they are loyal to their employer. They are also more likely to be more satisfied with their benefits and with their jobs.

Effectively communicating employee benefits to your population is critical. Employees are hearing about benefits on the news almost daily, which makes them more interested, and thinner HR departments do not have the same capacity as they did in the past to constantly address employee benefits questions and issues.

Contributing Editor Ed Bray, JD, is director of employee benefits for a major transportation company in Hawaii.

What value does your company place on benefits communication? What’s your biggest benefits communication challenge? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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