A guest post today from my boss, EBN’s Editorial Director David Albertson. He offers some food for thought: What comes first — employees that are engaged in company benefits programs, or a company benefits professional that is engaged in employees? As always, share your thoughts in the comments.

Are you your company’s ‘Casper’?

Cartoon Casper was a friendly ghost, but he kept pretty tight control over who saw him, where and when.

How’s your own visibility these days? There are lots of legitimate reasons HR managers might seem scarce.

For example, budget constraints have reduced department sizes or kept them flat, affecting the staff-to-employee ratio and feasibility of personal interaction.

Moreover, organizations often hit a tipping point in growth beyond which HR and benefit managers no longer just pick up the telephone. Instead, they screen calls to get a sense of an employee’s question or problem before responding.

Or, they defer to e-mail. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for that, too. HR has long required careful documentation of actions and communications to demonstrate compliance with policies and procedures.

A litigious environment and ever-growing list of regulatory requirements make it even more important to cover all the bases … and key anatomical parts.

Still, isn’t this at odds with our stated desire to improve employee engagement? People don’t interact with benefits, they interact with people.

So if you want them to access, understand and appreciate their benefits, they need to understand, appreciate and value you. Here are some questions you might want to consider for yourself and your staff.

Am I getting enough "face time" with employees? Physicians have an occupational hazard of people asking them for medical advice even in social settings.

Similarly, a benefits manager walking down the hall, into the cafeteria or onto the shop floor runs the risk of getting buttonholed and asked a benefits question (actually, the less often you are seen the more likely it is to occur).

Granted, not all those conversations are appropriate for the hallway. But aren’t they fairly easily deflected with comments such as, “I can tell this is worrying you. Let’s set an appointment to talk about it in my office.” Or, "Could you send me an email with the specifics on that, so I can look into it?"

Like a doctor, employees often come to HR when they are at their most vulnerable – stressed by a medical condition, a financial worry or other psychological stressor. How you treat them in those moments dramatically affects their engagement with you, and the company.

Does my language in emails convey a sense that I’m an approachable person? As noted, email communication is often a necessary form of documentation. That doesn’t mean your correspondence all needs to sound computer generated. Words matter.

Do you have enough focus groups to test employee communications and reveal any disconnects? You will often find surprising differences between what you think you said, what they heard and what they think you mean.

Do you close the loop on surveys? Many companies periodically take polls to get employee views on various HR and benefit topics. But are top-line results ever communicated back to them?

If not your survey participation rates will eventually fall, as will your employees’ sense of engagement. Let them know their voice is heard and what difference it makes.

There are of course many other ways in which you alone control who sees you, where and when at your organization. Consider that visibility as you ponder your efforts to drive engagement. Employees can’t interact very well with a ghost.

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