The art of successfully communicating a flexible benefits scheme to employees can prove challenging if employers do not have the right strategy in place from the outset, and there are some key issues to consider before communications begin.
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- Targeted communication is vital to the success of a flexible benefits scheme.
- Employers can optimise employee engagement by using a range of media to communicate the flex scheme to their workforce.
- Flex scheme communications should be kept updated to keep staff reminded of the scheme’s existence.
Employers should start by ascertaining how, why and when they are going to communicate their flex scheme, as well as exactly what they want to convey. A communications workshop involving a range of stakeholders, such as HR, internal communications staff and employees, can be a good place to start.
Matt Duffy, head of online benefits at Lorica Employee Benefits, says: “The session would look at what communication methods there are internally that [an employer] can maximise; what tools the organisation has tried previously; and ask employees how they like to receive communications in the workplace.”
Employee support is key to the success of any workplace strategy, and flex communication is no different. To optimise employee support, employers must engage staff by ensuring they are aware of the benefits available to them.
Waste of money
Alex Thurley-Radcliff, strategic consultant at Shilling Communications, says: “Whatever [an employer] does, it’s all about awareness, so get employees to take genuine action themselves, otherwise [the flex scheme] just fades into the background. Employers can spend all that money setting it up, and even if it’s meant to be cost-neutral, it can be a waste of money.”
Debby Hannaford, benefits consultant at NorthgateArinso, adds: “The key phase is to engage with employees and their expectations so that they know what is going to happen, why it is going to happen and how it is going to affect them.”
No two employees are the same, even if they are performing the same job, so communication strategies must be tailored to employees’ preferred methods of communication. These may include emails, desk drops, posters, briefings, roadshows, videos, and one-to-one meetings.
“Communication of flexible benefits is becoming more and more online,” says Duffy. “However, people need a range of communication tools so that they know what flex is, how to access it and why they should make their choices.”
Employers must explain the underlying message of their communications strategy to maximise employee engagement. Nick Throp, co-founder of communications firm LikeMinds, says flex has to be seen as part of the employee/employer narrative.
“In other words, why does [the employer] have flex and why does the scheme make sense for this organisation?” he says. “Why does it make sense for the employee? What’s the value and how does it fit in with the overall story of why an employer rewards and recognises its people?”
If an employer fails to keep its communications strategy updated, this can result in employees making passive choices about their flexible benefits or, worse still, the flex scheme being forgotten altogether.
Throp adds: “The annual enrolment comes round again, and the danger is that employees just tick the same boxes and make the same choices that they did last year, and they don’t necessarily engage with it, but employers would like them to.”
Self-service communication tools that enable employees to dip into their employer’s flex scheme when it suits them can help keep the scheme at the front of their minds, says Duffy. “Things like podcasts, online video tutorials, presentations available via YouTube or the organisation’s intranet site, can be quite good, and employees can digest [information about the scheme] in their own time.”
Case study: Holiday Extras uses phased approach to spread the word on flex
Holiday Extras took a phased approach to communicating its flexible benefits scheme when it was launched in 2011, with the aim of engaging as many employees as possible.
The first phase was designed to inform employees that the scheme was coming and involved newsletters and intranet announcements, as well as tasking staff representatives, known as people ambassadors, with communicating the scheme’s launch to colleagues around the business.
The second phase was designed to communicate details of the scheme and involved posters, the organisation’s intranet site and face-to-face sessions with its flex provider, Thomsons Online Benefits.
Anouk Agussol, head of people at Holiday Extras, says: “We are a young business and very relaxed in many ways, so we wanted to make sure our communications were jargon-free and stuck to our employer brand.”
The organisation began the third phase of communications when the flex scheme was launched: all employees were emailed a quick guide to explain all the benefits on offer.
Holiday Extras now communicates with employees on a monthly basis with presentations, one-to-one meetings, posters and emails because, as well as an annual enrolment window, it operates monthly enrolment windows for certain benefits.
“I think it’s really important to communicate well and let everyone know what’s on offer,” says Agussol. “We want to be able to provide people with all these benefits, so they can make the most of working for Holiday Extras and that it impacts on their daily lives. If you don’t communicate it properly, you run the risk of people not being aware, or not being sure, of what they can have.”
Case study: E.On gives staff powerful messages about flex scheme
Energy firm E.On undertook a segmented communications campaign to ensure the right messages about its flexible benefits scheme reached the right employees.
With about 12,000 staff across 80 sites in the UK, including wind farms and customer contact centres as well as field-based employees, the organisation was keen to ensure its benefits scheme was communicated in an engaging way.
Its campaign used a network of employee representatives, known as local champions, as well as targeted emails and home mailings. It also gave line managers comprehensive briefings to help them promote the scheme by conveying information to employees.
Ant Donaldson, senior specialist, employee benefits, UK HR, at E.On, says: “Having different communication channels means people are exposed to at least one of the channels they are receptive to. There is a degree of targeting, but it also involves sending things out through lots of different mediums so people have got the right things they can respond to.”
E.On operates an annual flex enrolment window, but communicates with staff regularly about the scheme. It also provides total reward statements (TRS), which are updated monthly. Employees are encouraged to check their statements before making their flex choices so they can see the value of their package.
“It helps get the message out that our reward packages are not just the salary,” says Donaldson. “We try to differentiate ourselves by the quality of our benefits, so getting people to have a look at their TRS is a really positive message.”