As employers increasingly customize their human resources, benefits and pension communications campaigns, how are these methods connecting with employees?

Long gone are the days of chunky tomes of group benefits and pension information. Once the norm, those pages and pages of minutiae have gradually been replaced by more personalized and targeted communications.

“Direct communication is far more meaningful. It makes employees feel more valued,” says Lizann Reitmeier, associate director of health and benefits at WTW. “If the information is tailored to them to start with, there isn’t the same wading through the excess.”

Read: Sounding Board: Ground is shifting, benefits plans must focus on individuals

The world is changing quickly and, as employees balance competing priorities, connecting with communications from their employers may not be at the top of their to-do lists. At the same time, organizations are looking to get the most value out of the benefits programs they offer to staff, says Joey Raheb, senior vice-president and national leader of growth and client engagement for health solutions at Aon.

“All those factors combined makes it more relevant and more important for employers to make communications more directed to the plan member in a way that resonates with them, so they understand what’s available, what it means to them, how they can engage, how they can use it, the value components of it, all those pieces. So for an organization trying to achieve the best [return on investment], that’s [the] opportunity.”

In addition, advances in technology have helped employers cater to employees’ individual needs, using a variety of communications methods, from chatbots or avatars to targeted emails or texts. “Firms have gone as far as creating avatars that can speak directly to the individual based on specific situations or information that [they] know about them — whether they’re a family, the type of coverage they’re in or if [they’re] trying to talk about a particular benefit,” says Raheb.

By the numbers

79% of Canadian benefits plan sponsors said they’re interested in their providers sending targeted communications to plan members.

62% of plan members said they’d consent to receive health-related information based on their personal use of benefits from the insurance company that manages their workplace benefits plan.

• Among those plan members who said they’d consent to these communications, 45% are interested in recommendations from local health-care professionals or experts, followed by information about their medications (44%), help managing their health conditions (44%) and learning how to stay healthy (43%).

Source: 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey

Indeed, technology has changed how people communicate as well as expectations, says Reitmeier. “We’ve always been in a world where one size doesn’t fit all. It’s not new, but it’s something that we’re a lot more aware of because we now have the technology, we now have the awareness that everyone is not the same. As a society, we’re addressing it differently.

Read: A look at consumer-grade benefits plan technology, communications

“When we deal with our carriers who aren’t at that point or if we need to know something and we need to look on page 42 of a booklet, it’s just not where we are anymore,” she adds. “We need things quicker. I’d like to say it’s a function of the modern world, but I’m sure there have always been impatient people. It’s about making sure people get the right information at the right time and through the right channel.”

Also, while the ways employers communicate with employees have evolved quickly, the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the process. “For two years, employees have been bombarded by electronic communications,” says Reitmeier. “If employers want them to get the message, it has to be direct and meaningful to them. They don’t want to wade through a long email to get to one action item that belongs to them.”

So how are employers’ communications campaigns evolving and how are these methods connecting with employees?

I Am Human

In 2020, Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd. launched its ‘I Am Human’ campaign, which was designed to let all employees know that: “We may not look alike, celebrate the same holidays or have the same journey as others, but we all value acceptance, connection and community. Our differences are our strengths. Our acceptance of each other allows us to make space for others. We belong. We have a voice. We matter. We are human.”

The concept of the campaign was initially introduced in 2019 during a meeting with the company’s senior leadership team, then it evolved and was ready to roll out across the organization in March 2020. Of course, the pandemic was declared that month so the campaign was postponed to September 2020.

Read: Two years later: Employers prioritizing social connection, employee engagement amid pandemic

“These have been very difficult times for a lot of people,” says Jennifer Leduc, Coke Canada’s director of capability and talent management. “This campaign would have done well in any time, but I think it’s even more needed at a time like this, when people may be struggling a little bit more with isolation or with disconnection to the people they work with. The timeliness is perfect and it’s something that has allowed us to see what is possible with this kind of thinking.”

Launched during Coke Canada’s diversity and inclusion week, the campaign consisted of daily educational workshops featuring the company’s own employees. “We had stickers and wrist bands and t-shirts that we sent out to all employees,” says Leduc. “And then we had a big digital and print campaign that had these ‘I Am Human’ slogans.

Communications campaigns

Since Coke Canada hosted its first ‘I Am Human’ day in January 2021, 96% of people leaders reported the event was a success in driving employee engagement and that their teams were excited to participate.

Since Scotiabank introduced its ‘Money Chronicles’ campaign in 2019, it’s been viewed by nearly 30,000 employees.

“Not only were they on the walls, but they started to become part of our routines as it related to meetings. We even had our supervisors take these slogans and bring them right to the floors with our hourly employees so they were hearing these messages firsthand. It’s all about this notion of belonging and that, at Coke Canada, the one thing that unites us all is we are human.”

While the campaign started as a six-month initiative, it evolved so that everything Coke Canada does is linked back to the idea that ‘We’re all human.’ Recently, for example, the messaging was woven into Black History Month and International Women’s Day. “We are growing it because, at the heart, it’s such a meaningful theme or slogan and I think it resonates really well with all the employees,” says Leduc. “I really do think it’s changing the culture for the better.”

Read: Majority of benefits plan members agree workplace culture encourages wellness: survey

Daryl Murphy, a merchandising supervisor based in Regina, has been with Coke Canada for eight years and leads a team of about 30 merchandisers who work individually at grocery stores across the country.

“When this campaign was launched, that ‘we belong, we have a voice, we matter, we’re human’ — those are . . . life skills. It’s something that makes us stop and think. Personally, it has helped me become a high performer in the way that I feel. And that I am able to bring my whole self to work and I’m not afraid to do that. When you’re leading a team of 30-plus people, everyone gets to see that as well and they bring their whole selves to work.”

Murphy believes the campaign has affected his life outside of work as well. “I believe I’m more understanding, more capable to support others, so that’s what this campaign means to me.”

He notes employees across the organization save the posters or table cards, using them as reminders to return to when they’re needed. “I have one of the ‘I Am Human’ messages on my desktop screen every day. I also have my lock screen that talks about being a team and having each other’s backs.

“I have benefited both professionally and personally from this ‘I Am Human’ campaign. It’s not just a benefit, it’s a lot more. I think there’s a lot to it and it encompasses quite a lot.”

Money Chronicles

In 2019, Scotiabank launched a communications series called ‘Money Chronicles,’ which featured anonymous bank employees sharing how they’re using their benefits, pension plans or employee share ownership plans.

Read: 2021 CAP Suppliers Report: Helping employees plan for retirement while saving for a rainy day

These real-life examples are then paired with insights from the total rewards team on opportunities or options employees can consider to better maximize the bank’s various financial programs. “We give them an opportunity to learn more about the plans versus reading a guide,” says Simon Cabral, the bank’s director of global defined contribution plans. “It’s a lot of, ‘Did you know you can do this? Did you know you can do that? Here’s how other Scotiabankers use . . . [their] health plans, wealth plans, what we call our life plans or banking benefits.’

Key takeaways

• As organizations look to get the most value out of their HR, benefits and pension programs, there’s an opportunity to make communications relevant and direct so they resonate with employees.

• Advances in technology have helped employers cater to employees’ individual needs and have changed how people communicate.

• And while the way employers communicate has evolved quickly, the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the process.

“It’s a fun series,” he adds. “It gets people talking about pensions and benefits a little more than they normally would, particularly pensions. It’s not top of mind for people . . . and this is just a tool to make sure we get people thinking about it a little more and making decisions now that are going to benefit them in the future.”

The series, which has had nearly 30,000 views, has helped make personal scenarios more relatable. It has covered a range of situations, such as a single mom saving for tuition, a newly married couple saving for a house and a new hire learning to navigate the extensive benefits offered by the bank.

Read: Supporting employees’ workplace health, financial wellness during coronavirus

“That’s really the goal of it — to take in employee questions and show them how they can practically use the various programs we offer within our well-being solutions,” says Cabral. “Everything within our well-being solutions has a financial aspect to it. Our benefits plans have financial implications. So how do you use them for your personal situation? Then we draft the story around that, we host it on our workplace page and our internal intranet and people comment on it.”

Jhon Zentner, who works on the total rewards team, says the ‘Money Chronicles’ series is relatable and engaging because they’re real-life scenarios and real people. “It’s broken down into their current situation, how much they contribute to the different programs, etc. and after that, it’s what’s their financial goal, whether it’s short term or long term. I think it’s so relatable to hear those stories because other people are in the same boat.”

Once employees read about one of these real-life scenarios, they’re directed via different links to learn more about the programs. “It’s really beneficial as an employee,” says Zentner. “For example, all these types of financial programs and benefits the bank provides, whenthey all come together, really impact your financial well-being and also your mental well-being. I think that’s really important as well.”

Zentner is looking to enter the real estate market and will take advantage of a number of programs available to Scotiabank employees. For example, employees can divide their contributions between the DC plan, the group registered retirement savings plan and the ESOP, using the ESOP to help with a down payment on a home, while using the RRSP for the government’s first-time home buyers’ plan.

Read: Head to Head: Should the U.S. ESOP structure be brought to Canada?

“It’s putting that type of information out there for employees and the different benefits of these programs and how you can use them as well,” says Zentner. “One thing I didn’t know, for example, was that, after you use the home buyer’s plan, the repayment process for the group RRSP can also be done through the ESOP. Those are little details that may not be common knowledge. The bank really does a good job touching on
those points.”

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.