Key strategies to avoid in benefits communication

Effectively communicating benefits to a workforce can represent a huge challenge for employers and there are some common pitfalls that many may inadvertantly fall into.

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  • Employers should refrain from using uniform approaches to benefits communication.
  • If employers only communicate using one method, it may negatively impact the take-up and comprehension of benefits.
  • Business jargon and failing to consult staff about preferred communication methods should be avoided.

Some 40% of employees say their employer communicates benefits through channels they are not interested in, according to the Employee Insight Report by Capita Employee Benefits, published in July 2015. This demonstrates that many employers are missing the mark when it comes to benefits communication.

For benefits packages to be engaging and advantageous to staff, employers need to ensure they communicate consistently and effectively to increase awareness of the perks available. Ant Donaldson, global product expert, benefits at E.On, explains: “Good communication helps workers see the true value of their benefits.”

Avoid a blanket approach

Individual employees have different communication preferences, whether that be email, text message, face-to-face communication or another channel. Therefore, employers should avoid using a one-size-fits-all method, because it is likely to disengage a sizeable chunk of their workforce. Steve Sykes, client director at employee communications provider Shilling, says: “Cover all demographics of [the] workforce and don’t take a blanket approach; always segment with employee data, especially because some benefits may not be relevant to all.”

Failing to separate out communications to different sections of a workforce may have a detrimental effect on the messages that the employer is trying to pass on. Jamie Mackenzie, marketing director at Sodexo, says: “Employers could segment staff by gender, age and what technology they have access to. The more specific [they] are, the more successful the communication will be.”

However, employers need to avoid stereotyping staff. Nick Throp, director at employee communications provider Like Minds, explains: “Segmenting is great if it’s done well, but employers shouldn’t stereotype. Instead, they must understand that employees’ attitudes and behaviours trump age and level of service.”

Do not use just one communication method

Employers should also ensure they are not delivering messages through just one method of communication. David Pugh, managing partner at Lemonade Reward, says employee benefits communication needs some variety to be fruitful. “A good mix of different types of content, and sending out teasers and links to more information makes it more of a campaign to create appetite,” he explains. 

According to research based on Lemonade Reward’s financial education seminars, published in June 2015, 48% of young and single employees prefer face-to-face communication, 45% with a young family prefer digital, and 44% with a mature family are happy with either of the two methods.

Mackenzie believes that direct communication is the most effective way to engage employees. “An intranet message or email just won’t do, but roadshows and workshops can be really useful in getting people information, giving them the chance to ask questions and boosting engagement,” he says.

Use timely communication

The time that workplace benefits communications are sent can also greatly influence their reception, according to the aforementioned Capita Employee Benefits study. It found that 49% of employees open workplace benefits-related emails on Tuesday, compared to 34% on Monday, and 32% on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Donaldson says: “[Employers] can’t communicate about something once and expect people to get enthused. [They] have to remind people in new and exciting ways.”

Avoid overcomplicated language

Some employers may find it is easy to fall prey to using corporate-style communication and business jargon when interacting with staff. For example, email may be an instant and easy way to communicate with many employees at once, but the messages may be ignored if they are not captivating enough. This style may also lead to lacklustre staff engagement. “Some employers’ corporate style of communications is not very helpful. How can employees know what’s important for them and what isn’t if everything looks the same?” says Throp.

Pugh adds: “Being too technical or detailed really puts employees off.”

The fact that 50% of workers find pensions-related terminology confusing, according to the Capita Employee Benefits study, illustrates the importance of using simplistic language when it comes to informing staff about benefits.

Do not make presumptions

Another communications pitfall employers need to avoid is making presumptions about communication styles. Shilling’s Sykes says: “Employers can make the mistake of not involving employees in how they decide to communicate and what will actually resonate. This creates engagement from day one.”

To achieve this, employers could offer focus groups for a handful of staff to get together and discuss how they would like their benefits communication to be modified, or utilise employee engagement surveys, whether these be online polls or otherwise, to ensure the benefits communication that is implemented is impactful. Keeping track of the responses can help employers comprehend what employees want and appreciate.

Paul Bissell, head of reward at Three UK, says: “Understanding [the] employee population is enormously valuable. It helps [employers] find out employees’ values, preferences and [benefits] buying preferences.”

Employers also need to understand the importance of their employees’ views. “Get staff feedback before and after a communication campaign to find out what employees want and how they want it delivered, as well as what they thought of the communication,” says Pugh. ”People like to be asked rather than told.”

As Mackenzie states: “It’s all well and good investing time and money in the benefits package, but if [employers] don’t communicate it well, it can be ignored. The more [they] can understand what motivates and engages staff, the better equipped [they] are to deliver benefits and rewards that employees want and need.”


Case study: CNH Industrial keeps communication simple

CNH Industrial aims to keep communication for its 71,192 staff as simple as possible, to avoid overcomplicating benefits.

The agricultural and construction manufacturer held focus groups for employees prior to its September 2013 merger with Fiat Industrial and CNH Global to ensure employees were involved with the design process and implementation of a consolidated benefits proposition.

Its vice president of compensation and benefits, Rob Gerdes, says: “If a benefits concept is complex, employers could map it out into a picture so it’s easier to understand.”

Many of CNH Industrial’s workers do not speak English as their first language, which makes having a visual benefits brand imperative. Gerdes says: “As we have such a global [workforce], we use a lot of pictures to describe and explain benefits so things don’t need to be translated so much.

“We have a very careful balance between the various shades and levels of technical employee benefits language, and simplifying it too much. Good branding gets the message across quicker.

“Overcomplicating should always be avoided and communication should be succinct.”

CNH Industrial categorises its employee benefits and themes them around concepts all its staff can easily understand. For instance, it uses a cog as one of its main symbols for benefits branding to represent employees achieving as they earn.


Louise Aston: Benefits need to be regularly promoted

Many employers offer a wealth of benefits to staff, but too often employees do not take them up.

Classic benefits packages often miss a trick by not being placed alongside broader wellbeing benefits, such as flexible working arrangements. By thinking in terms of ‘bits of people’, rather than looking at the whole person, benefits can be one-dimensional and unappealing. However, packaging benefits together in a holistic framework makes them more ‘human’ and enables staff to cherry-pick those relevant to them.

Too often, information about benefits is only communicated once, making it hard for staff to find out what is actually available. Positioning benefits under a recognisable internal brand and promoting it regularly will boost visibility and recognition while keeping the offer relevant.

Moreover, if just one person is responsible for communicating benefits, it is unlikely they will cover everything. By engaging with HR and occupational health teams, benefits are likely to become more integrated into organisational practices.

And do not forget line managers; having a one-page document outlining benefits for them to discuss with staff during one-to-ones or annual reviews can help signpost staff to under-utilised benefits.

Good communication of benefits can boost employee engagement and improve staff survey scores, and by having an open, transparent and accessible employee benefits offer, organisations can position themselves as an employer of choice.

Louise Aston is wellbeing at work director at Business in the Community