Mixed media should boost impact of perks

The launch of a major perks offensive should borrow techniques from marketing and communications teams, such as teaser campaigns and messages that use a variety of media channels.

In many ways communication is the most important part of introducing a new benefit – if no-one knows about it then no-one will be able to take advantage of it. But it is a two-way process. The company needs to listen to what its people want and then tell them about what they can offer. It’s easy to become totally involved in benefit design only to worry about telling everyone about the scheme a week before launch. In reality, this could mean the failure of your initiative before it has even begun.

Communication should be a continuous thread running through any initiative from the start. Consultation with your people is just as important as informing them of what you have decided, and can make the second part easier by increasing awareness, and may help uncover needy areas.

A few years ago, O2 began a journey to improve its reward communications. We started by explaining the value of the complex parts of the reward package, then we focused on communicating the value of the total reward package and we are now seeking to offer employees greater choice within that total reward context. We hope to achieve this through the roll out of flexible benefits in 2007.

The aim is to help employees get a better understanding of the total value to them of working at O2. We started work on the most complex parts of the package: pensions and share plans. We took the jargon out of our communications, strengthened the branding, made application forms more user friendly, and ran “surgeries” where employees could ask questions. These changes have helped us to increase participation in the pension plan and improve employees’ focus on business performance and its link to share price performance.

Having improved the communication of these complex areas, we wanted to ensure employees understood the total value of their reward package, and knew what benefits they are entitled to and how much they are worth. We felt this to be a pre-requisite to launching flexible benefits.

To ensure that people understood their total reward package, we introduced interactive total reward statements which detail what is included in each person’s total package and how much each benefit is worth. We piloted this first to a small group of senior managers across the business to ensure it worked well and, after tweaks were made, rolled it out to all UK employees in spring 2006. The launch involved a comprehensive communication campaign. Borrowing techniques from our communications and marketing teams, we began with a teaser campaign, identified “total reward champions” from the business to spread the word and used virtually every medium available to us.

When we do roll out flexible benefits we will already have a great communication tool in place in the form of the total reward website. Our people will be able to go online and experiment with different benefits and instantly be able to see how much they will gain or loose by changing them.

Another aspect of reward communication highlighted by this example is how you communicate your message. Using only one method can limit the number of people you will reach as different people will respond to different media and even with the best will in the world, people can still miss emails or be away on the briefing day. But what is perhaps more important is the snowball effect that the use of many different media can have: if people receive the same message from multiple sources it serves to reinforce it, making it more likely that they will take it on board. The only possible pitfall is consistency of message and this is where strong branding comes in. Many organisations already run their internal communications as tightly as external and in the future this is likely to spread. Benefit communication campaigns will routinely use a wide variety of media, utilising anything from text and CD-Rom to roadshows and chat rooms.

The right communications let your employees know how much you value them; this not only increases employee engagement and motivation, but also helps companies attract and retain talent.

Sally Ashford, director of compensation and benefits, O2