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Tricks & Treats: Take the Terror Out of Employee Benefits Communication

employee benefits communicationMATT BUCHER
HNI Relationship Manager

Open enrollment. These two words likely strike terror into the hearts of many employees and leave HR and benefits pros feeling as cold as a cadaver.

Why the anxiety? Well, the subject matter  benefits — can be as dry as a pile of old bones. And the folks tapped with delivering the message — human resources — feel as misunderstood as Frankenstein's monster.

The thing is, employee benefits communication really matters to employers and their talent. When it's done well, employees are educated and appreciative of what they're getting. When it's done poorly, it's a nightmare for everyone.

For your enjoyment, we've paired a "trick" that employees put up with year after year at open enrollment time with a "treat"  something that will make them as happy as a kid with an overflowing haul of Halloween candy.

Trick: Employee benefits communication drives employees to madness!

OK, so we're being a bit melodramatic. But let's face it: Lots of communication is confusing and not written for civilians (that is, folks outside HR and benefits administration).

Treat: Stop speaking with that ridiculous Dracula accent. And what we mean by that is you need to drop the acronyms and dry terminology. Try this strategy: When you're explaining a concept (for instance, co-pay) start with an example of a co-pay, then move to the definition, and finally name the concept. Capture their attention with something relatable and they'll understand what you're getting at.

Trick: Employee benefits communication is boring employees... to death!

We hope you've never had an employee expire during an open enrollment meeting. We're willing to bet, though, you've seen more than a few zombies with glazed-over gazes. (Maybe they just wanted brains?)

Treat: Skip to the third act right away. Formulaic horror movies are told in three acts: 1.) the monster is introduced; 2.) the monster terrorizes the main characters; and 3.) the main characters fight back. When it comes to employee benefits, get to the good stuff right away. Tell employees how your offerings affect their bottom line and give real-life (out-of-pocket) examples of packages in action.

Trick: Employee benefits communication fails to fully explain the monster!

In this "trick," the monster is not really a monster at all  it's your own benefits offerings. Fully explaining the monster includes sharing how much benefits cost you, the employer. Believe it or not, employees generally value their benefits at half of what they actually cost employers.

Treat: Drive a stake through the heart of misconceptions. Please — share how much coverage actually costs you! If employees don't get this, they can't really value their benefits. And if employees don't value their benefits, you can't use your offerings to retain or attract talent. Benefits are a huge factor when people decide to work where they do. Transparency here is a life-and-death issue for your long-term success.

Trick: Employee benefits communication is a house of horrors!

All the benefits options run together, leaving employees disoriented. A bubbling cauldron of noxious alphabet soup (HSA, FSA, COBRA, etc.) turns their stomachs. And health care reform is just plain scary. Benefits are getting more complex all the time, and employees are shutting down and not asking questions.

Treat: Turn on the lights. We suggest enlisting your marketing team to help you chase the shadows from benefits communication. Discover where your employees are coming from and tailor your messages to maximize comprehension for each unique segment. For instance, give your benefits plans catchy names  "Little Tots" for young parents, "Cityscape" for young urbanites. And in each benefits plan description, don't use jargon.

Over to you: What's the scariest thing you've witnessed at during open enrollment? What treats are you sharing with employees this year? Please sound off in comments!

[ Slide Deck & Webinar Recording ]  BENEFITS COMMUNICATION  BOOTCAMP:  How to Engage & Inspire  Your Employees This Year  at Open Enrollment  -Click here if you've struggled to get employees to understand  and appreciate your benefits offering-

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Photo by Jason OX4 via Flickr

Topics: Construction Transportation Manufacturing HR / Employee Benefits