Business of Well-being

Creating Effective Benefits Communication

Digital technology has transformed most aspects of employees' day-to-day lives - and workplace benefits programs are no exception. Yet while it's easy to think technology has displaced live communication, the reality is, technology acts as a complement to human interaction. However, technology is only one variable instigating rapid change in employees' benefits communication preferences, and there is no one-size-fits-all model that will match every organization or employee's unique needs.

In order to be successful, HR and benefits managers today must have a keen understanding of what their employees expect when it comes to benefits, health, and wellness program communication, and design their approach to match.

Navigating a Sea of Benefits

Many organizations offer a diverse range of benefits that employees must navigate. The majority of full-time workers have access to at least medical, dental, vision, retirement and life insurance benefits, among others. A recent Health Advocate survey of both employees and HR leaders found that, from an administrative perspective, 42 percent of HR leaders partner with a minimum of four to six benefits vendors to maintain these programs.

Faced with such a wide range of distinct benefits and policy options, organizations need a communication plan that mitigates the complexity of healthcare rather than adds to it - while meeting the needs and preferences of their workforce. Employees may be overwhelmed by the variety of benefits available and unsure how to access the appropriate resource.

Further, their communications channels of choice may differ depending on the issue at hand, as well as demographic details such as age or gender. In order to effectively connect employees with available resources that can help them take charge of their health, it is critical to communicate and offer access via a number of channels to address employees' unique needs and preferences.

High-Tech vs. High-Touch

Despite the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, wearable devices, apps and more, it's important to recognize that people still value the human, expert touch. Communicating strictly via the latest technology is not guaranteed to reach all employees. Whether they're inquiring about healthcare claims or looking for support managing chronic conditions, employees consistently prefer speaking with a professional by phone rather than using self-service websites.

Data from Health Advocate's recent survey indicate that live phone and in-person conversations are often favored over other sophisticated digital tools including mobile apps, email and instant messaging. However, it's important to note that web-based interaction was a close second, indicating that what employees crave most of all is not one particular medium, but multiple options - and the autonomy to choose the right platform to fit their needs.

This perception of choice also lets employees feel that they can customize their experience, rather than be pigeonholed into a generic customer category.

Personalizing Benefits Communications

Forty percent of employees cite the lack of "communication personalized to my specific health needs" as a core flaw in their organizations' benefits and wellness initiatives. Interestingly, almost two-thirds (65%) of HR managers claim that their employees do receive personalized wellness information, suggesting that what business leaders consider "personalization" is not up to their staff's expectations.

Accustomed to the increasingly individualized experience brands in retail, travel, and hospitality are laser-focused on offering, employees expect more from their corporate benefits programs. In order to effectively reach employees with benefits information, organizations need to consider the frequency of outreach, types of communications, and how to offer options for both to meet the varied needs of the workforce.

Implementing a personalized approach to benefits communication that tailors outreach based on the type of message and employee preference is more likely to cut through the clutter of information people receive on a daily basis. For example, the channels HR uses to convey benefits information don't always match with employees' personal preferences.

Though employees lean toward live phone conversations and website portals for benefits communication, few organizations offer these options (9% and 26%, respectively). Instead, benefits program managers favor email, meetings and printed materials. Reconsidering how, when, and where benefits information is communicated may make outreach more effective and have a bigger impact on helping employees access the resources they need to maximize their benefits.

The Impact of Third-Party Support

Transforming benefits communications can be challenging, but HR departments do not have to go it alone. Engaging an external benefits partner can go a long way toward augmenting HR teams' bandwidth, ensuring that the day-to-day of managing a benefits program doesn't come at the expense of consistent internal communication.

Third-party benefit support services can make benefits communications easier for HR departments and the employees they support. Employees who have access to these services through their employers are more than twice as likely as those without to say they receive well-being or benefits communications on a monthly basis. Having a benefits partner also correlates with an organization's ability to offer more personalized benefits messaging and digital communication channel options.

According to Health Advocate's recent survey, 70 percent of HR managers with third-party benefits partners say their employees receive tailored wellness communication, compared to 56 percent of those without. With a benefits partner at their disposal, employees are also less likely to contact their insurers with benefits questions (28% vs. 50% of employees without similar resources).

These workers benefit from the one-stop simplicity of connecting with a single partner for a range of resources, from estimating care costs to setting up test reminders and tracking personal health goals. When organizations invest in services that take the pain out of historically tedious health and insurance processes, they're really investing in their people: 92 percent of employees with third-party benefits support say their employer values their health and well-being, compared to 66 percent of those without.

In the realm of benefits communication, employees want their employers and service providers to meet them where they are. Understanding employees' needs and preferences, and aligning communications to meet them, can go a long way toward enhancing engagement in available resources and realizing positive health and cost outcomes.

HR and other business leaders tasked with vetting new benefits vendors may be inclined to invest in digital-first options, but the people they support want something more personal. Though health and benefits technology, processes and vendors will inevitably continue to change, one important principle will stay constant: benefits program success starts with satisfied people.

About the Author

Marcia Otto is Vice President of Product Strategy at Health Advocate. She is a Silicon Valley software veteran whose expertise is in healthcare transparency strategy and solutions aimed at reducing healthcare costs for businesses and empowering their employees to become more engaged and effective in their healthcare.

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