Here are a few stats that really drive home just how critical benefits communication is for HR pros. According to a recent Towers Watson study:

  • When employees that were offered rich employer benefits received poor communication, just 22% of those workers reported being satisfied with their benefits.
  • On the other hand, when employers with less-rich benefits communicated those benefits effectively, 76% of workers reported being satisfied with their employers’ benefit offerings.

Check out what Ellen Anreder of BCI states about the importance of communications in the HR Practice:

To help assist in your efforts, here are some of the most common — and costly — benefits communication mistakes:

  1. Having boring employee benefits information available only at work. There’s a common misconception among workers that anything about benefits is going to be boring. But when HR pros don’t make the effort to make their benefits presentations interesting, the message is bound to be lost on employees. Also, employees should have access to benefits material at home, via mail or employee portals.
  2. Having all of your communications across one platform. In today’s communication marketplace, there are cost-effective tools that allow communicators to draft compelling and engaging messages across a variety of media. Try a variety of low-cost items like interactive PDFs, video, and rotating PowerPoint presentations on your intranet to allow your employees to comprehend and understand the key points of the message. 
  3. Not allotting enough of the budget to the benefits communications. Upper management often doesn’t have a handle on just how much solid benefits communications are going to cost — at least not in the same way HR does. 
    As Anreder noted, “it’s critical that the employees are informed, and they’re educated on the value of benefits.” Benefits communication must be more detailed than standard inter-office communications.
  4. Believing all workers will bring their benefits info home and discuss it with their family members. They don’t. Effective benefits communication should always try to include spouses and family members. And, the messaging should include encourage this discussion, and have employees compare their plans with their family members’ plans.
  5. Assuming employees will simply act on the messages in the benefitcommunications. It’s up to HR to specifically tell staffers what they should do with the benefits info as well as why.
  6. Believing workers will read their open enrollment materials cover to cover on their own time. The more HR can go over during the actual open enrollment meeting, the better. Of course, enrollment time shouldn’t be the only time benefits info should be addressed. Communication should be a year-long process.
  7. Let Legal draft all of your benefits communications. When employers let a legal department write all your benefits communications, there’s a very good chance the documents will be littered with legalese that confuses employees, bores them to the point of tuning out or both.
  8. Opting for “professional-sounding” language instead of simple “plain-speak” English. Sure, HR pros’ world is filled with jargon, buzzwords and benefits-related acronyms, but rank-and-file employees’ worlds are not. Keep the benefit communications as simple as possible.
  9. Covering too much info. It’s only natural to try and cram everything possible into your open enrollment materials, but when there’s just too much being thrown at employees, they suffer from information overload — and retain little (if any) of what was covered.

Remember, continuous education is a proven way to improve employees’ decision-making regarding their benefits, which should be the goal of every communication effort.

Why Communications Plans Fail

Communications professionals understand that the strategic planning process is a vital part of any project. A comprehensive plan not only helps manage the project, but includes all of the research and results necessary to demonstrate value of the communications team. 

So what keeps these professionals from completing a good strategic plan? In my experience, one of the biggest factors is time. Internal professionals are bombarded with “urgent” action items. They’re often proceeding directly to a solution without understanding the “why” behind the message.

They also neglect some of the most vital components. While each step is important, some steps frequently get missed. Here are some of the most frequent mishaps I’ve encountered that, with some time, can drastically improve a communications strategy: 

1.  Not having a goal or objectives. Goals are broad statements that include the intended results. Objectives support the goals and are more clearly defined. When crafting goals, you should consider what you’re trying to achieve. What outcomes do you want to see as a result of your communication efforts? This sounds obvious, but it’s often missed. 

Objectives state definitive outcomes and are usually time-sensitive. They should include as many of the 5W’s and the H as possible. Good communicators measure the success of their plans against well-established objectives.

For example,  “Start an IT security program” is not the best goal. It doesn’t state the audience outcome. 

“To generate awareness and compliance with our new IT security program” is an example of a good goal. It states the expected audience outcome and connection to the company.  “98% of our U.S. organization will complete the new online security program training by the end of Q1” is an objective to support that goal.

2. Not conducting enough research.  Many communicators feel their research is complete once they’ve taken a look at their audiences. Yet, they frequently forget to examine the organization itself.

What is the story of the organization? What is its situational analysis? Where is the organization headed and how can it achieve sustainability? Asking the tough questions, and staying the course, will only enhance the deliverables and increase results.

3. Thinking you know more than the research. Research is essential to any communication plan—whether conducted to identify a goal or to understand the audience, situation and environment. 

Researching the organization and the audience comes into play. Surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other mechanisms provide clearer focus on the audience. Communicators learn who they are, and if thorough enough, understand their habits, concerns and preferences. All this data is invaluable when planning communications.

When communicators believe they know better than their research, the situation can get hazy. Communicators often take a “shotgun” approach, not aligning the audiences with the proper channels. They try different media, rather than focusing on what is most effective. 

Moving forward

With the 24/7 onslaught of complex communications, sometimes its best to review the basics. New approaches, ideas, apps, and media channels are developed every day, mucking the water and distracting professionals from the tried and true plan. Keep your goals, objectives and research in mind. This will help you stay the course.